Thanks for the laughs

Published 7:15 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dear Editor,

Another part of my childhood is gone. Jerry Lewis died at 91.  He fascinated me. He made me laugh. Sometimes I watched him without laughing. He was unbridled. I would just watch.

I was mesmerized by his screen presence. The faces he made. I was a pre-teen who just wanted to laugh and have fun.  As I’ve stated before, the first appearance of Algebra, or pre-Algebra (sixth grade, Harwell Avenue) made me more than a little nervous.

I would wake up with a knot in my stomach every morning … every morning! I relate those early algebra days to hearing Jimmie Rodgers sing “Honeycomb” on one of the local LaGrange radio stations.

People like Jerry Lewis were a source of escape. My friends and sports were a source of escape. Weekends were a source of escape. I would play basketball with the guys for hours on end.  When my friends started dating I would shoot basketball by myself well into the night. Somewhere there’s a photo of me standing next to my Mom. I was making a Jerry Lewis face. I’m pretty sure she never understood my comedy side.

As far back as I can remember, she would observe me in a comedy mode and say “Rich, you’re gathering momentum.” I’m also pretty sure my gathering momentum was a much discussed topic in the teacher’s lounge.

I swear I did not mean any harm. That’s the way I was, and I can’t change it now. If I had it to do over, I would make a concerted effort to tone down the gathering of momentum.

I still wish I had a pack of Sweet Tarts for every time I made a “Jerry Lewis face.”

Then came Carson. Johnny Carson became “The Man.” His delivery was as smooth as silk. If a punch line in his monologue failed to draw a laugh from the studio audience, he would give a wide eyed look, back up a couple of steps, as in subtle retreat, and the desired laugh would would come. There were times I needed to do a subtle retreat, and the guys who made me laugh were easily accessible: Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson and Richie Mahaffey.

I have a visual of Richie that has stayed with me for half a century. I was standing in the parking lot of Horace Carter’s Dairy Queen in the early sixties. All of a sudden here comes Gary Webb driving his black station wagon with Richie in the back seat by himself.

Richie’s back window was rolled down and he was making portrayed a wide-eyed child who was excited about being out in public. Thank you Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson and Richie Mahaffey.

Rich Simpson