Labor Day this year promises to be bland by comparison, with Jerry Lewis now banished from the annual rite he built from scratch and molded in his image.
As if deflated by the absence of its larger-than-life host, “The 46th Annual MDA Labor Day Telethon” will fill just six hours (Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight in each time zone), rather than the grueling 21½-hour endurance contest that Jerry Lewis used to churn through with his viewers in tow.
On 2011 broadcast of MDA Labor Day Telethon, which, ironically, will no longer be actually airing on Labor Day, a quartet of lightweights are standing in for Jerry Lewis:
Nigel Lythgoe (“So You Think You Can Dance”),
Nancy O’Dell (“Entertainment Tonight”),
Alison Sweeney (“The Biggest Loser”),
Jann Carl (billed as “an Emmy-winning journalist”).
Celebrities at the MDA Labor Day Telethon 2011 will include Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Antebellum, Richie Sambora and Jordan Sparks.
It may be entertaining. It may spur contributions. But as a media event, this year’s telethon can hardly match the display of wretched excess Jerry Lewis guaranteed, especially in his epic, unbridled prime.
“Jerry is a ferociously contradictory personality, and that’s what makes him fascinating to watch,” says satirist-actor-writer Harry Shearer, a Jerry-watcher for a half-century. He noted just two of Jerry Lewis’ clashing identities: “the inner 9-year-old, set loose” and the would-be deep thinker “who fancies himself something of an autodidact.”
“It all makes for psychodrama of a high order,” Harry Shearer marvels.
Year after year, Jerry Lewis bounced between the polarities of smarmy sentimentalism and badgering lunacy as if in a weightless environment. He put his multiple identities on raw display, each constantly jostling for the spotlight.