Who says it takes a Frenchman to truly love Jerry Lewis? Not the scads of whiny, annoying Jerry wannabes who auditioned for a Lewis look-alike contest Tuesday in Hollywood.
The, er, winner gets to be on the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. telethon during the Labor Day weekend. Standing right next to the man described as the cloying connoisseur of fine whines.
Mercifully, Lewis wasn't on hand when 20 impersonators took his shtick to a rehearsal stage at the CBS Television City in the Fairfax District. He was said to be on a London stage, giving new meaning to the term "Damn Yankees" for the British.
Most of those auditioning--at least those who had hair--sported Crisco-slick coiffures, too-tight tuxedos and buck-toothed grins from Lewis' slapstick persona of the 1950s and '60s.
"I've looked like Jerry Lewis forhours," explained J.T. Barry, a 32-year-old talent agency mail room clerk who lives in Hollywood. "Ever since I put in these plastic teeth."
Barry had kind words for Lewis and for Frenchmen--who have puzzled most of the world by embracing Lewis astheultimate comic genius.
"The French have good taste. They're not as jaded as a lot of Hollywood people are," Barry explained.
Impersonator Damion Mora, a West Hollywood nursing student who is also 32, said he never tires of Jerry Lewis jokes.
"I don't find him as annoying as people find me when I'm doing him," said Mora--who performed a Lewis-style tap dance after a CBS technicians searched the studio to find an extension cord to power Mora's tape-player boombox.
Technicians videotaped the auditions. Each tryout included an interpretation of the performer's own favorite Lewis routine, plus a reading of a disjointed tale of a sock-eating cat that coughs up argyle hairballs.
Each performer assured telethon producer Lee Miller that he had been a Jerry Lewis fan forever.
Scotty Hauser said he has enjoyed Jerry Lewis movies since he was 7. But then Scotty, a Tarzana fourth-grader, is only 8. ("Actually, his favorite comedian is Jim Carrey," confided his mother, Susan Hauser.)
While Scotty was the youngest contestant, booming-voiced Michael Sherman may have been the most seasoned. He's a 53-year-old stand-up comic from Sherman Oaks who took Lewis' style further than anyone else in the room.
"I actually shook Jerry's hand in 1961 on the set of 'Ladies' Man,' " Sherman started out. "And I haven't washed my hand since."
Warming up, he launched into a parody that ended with Lewis wailing at the tote board. "We need one more million!" Sherman yelled, almost flinging himself into the microphone. "We have 33 million and we need one more million! I pledge myself!"
Professional mind-reader Marc Anthony, 43, of Beverly Hills, divined that producers were looking for a look-alike who looked like Lewis. So he came in a white tuxedo, a pair of "The Nutty Professor" reading glasses and the requisite Bucky Beaver prop teeth. He also brought his fiancee, Lucina Kotlarz, who performs in his psychic shows.
She fanned the perspiring Anthony with a Manila folder filled with 8-by-10 glossies of him in his mind-reading show outfit.
"It's all in the makeup," Anthony said of his dead-ringer Lewis look.
Another look-alike, TV memorabilia collector and actor David Wolf of Newbury Park, also had the "Nutty Professor" look. He pantomimed Lewis' classic "Typewriter Song" skit to a scratchy record played on a toy phonograph.
"I like playing Jerry at parties. You get to spill food and drink on everybody," explained Wolf, 29.
Two performers--film writer Bobby Herbeck of Santa Monica and television producer Tom Amundsen of Northridge--showed up as a joke on telethon producer Miller. Herbeck has a blond, aging-surfer look. Amundsen, 43, is the size of two Jerry Lewises. ("My weight is somewhere between 250 and a wing at Jenny Craig's," he said.)
Miller enjoyed the audition so much that he said he may include snippets of the tryout tape in the telethon. And three or four of the losing Lewis look-alikes may be invited to appear.
There may have been only one downside to the day. "I was surprised no Frenchmen came to audition," Miller said.