Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis

Filmmaker Gregg Barson grew up following Jerry Lewis, believing no one in the world was funnier or more talented than he was. “I’ve been a fan since I was very young. I’ve seen all his films and there’s honestly no one in show business I admire more.”

“I had the opportunity to meet Jerry Lewis in 2004, while I was working on Goodnight, We Love You a documentary featuring the legendary Phyllis Diller. It was her final live concert performance, and Jerry Lewis was in the audience. After the show, my wife and executive producer, Julie Ashton persuaded me to introduce myself to Jerry and tell him the impact he has had on my life.”

“He really is the Marlon Brando of comedy films, he’s the Marlon Brando.  Everyone apes Brando; everyone apes Jerry.” – Alec Baldwin

“I approached him and explained who I was, and he could not have been more gracious. I gave him my card, and we went our separate ways,” explains Barson. “The next morning, I was in my office, and was told Jerry Lewis was on the phone for me. I thought it was a joke! But when I heard that unmistakable voice, I knew it was him and from that moment on, we developed a relationship.”

Over that summer, the two had sever a l conversations that culminated with a visit to his yacht in San Diego. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I just kept thinking what an amazing subject he would be for my next film.”  Every time he broached the idea, Jerry seemed interested. “He never said ‘no,’ but our schedules were always off.”

“As his 80th birthday approached, I phoned Jerry to tell him how much I enjoyed his bestselling book, “Dean and Me.” It was at this point I decided to make one last pitch to make a documentary film about him.”

Jerry responded: “There’s about 16 or 18 people in front of you that all want to do what you’re talking about. I have to make a decision.”

Gregg immediately responded, “No one will do what I do.” The response seemed to surprise Jerry, who didn’t miss a beat when he said, “No one’s going to say what you just said, either…which I like. We should spend some time together and eyeball each other, which I think is very important. We should see if we hit it off.  You believe in yourself,” Lewis added, “so I have a great chance to be inspired.”

“He’s from another planet. It’s hard for anyone to understand Jerry in the entirety of who he is as a man, an artist, an industry, a philanthropist. He’s like a mountain and some people get caught in the foothills, but you have to scale the peaks to get the phenomenon of Jerry Lewis.” – Richard Belzer

So began the three and a half year journey to produce Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis. Beginning in 2008, Jerry offered unprecedented access to his personal archives of photos, outtakes, deleted scenes, television shows and memorabilia that appear throughout the film. He also granted incredible access to interviews from ages 82 to 84. Shooting wrapped during the summer of 2011. Interviews were taped in various locations, including: Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Las Vegas and Cannes, France, where he made a triumphant return to the Cannes Film Festival.

“It’s a different kind of documentary,” says Jerry Lewis. “This kid brought so much energy and spirit and passion and compassion to the whole project. He came to me with an enthusiasm and spirit that couldn’t be denied. He got me hooked from day one. I respected his work, and we collaborated closely for over three years. He’s awfully good. And it’s hard to get an old-fashioned filmmaker appreciating a young one. I believe we’ve done something extraordinary.”

“He’s a very gifted genius.” – Carol Burnett

“My goal was to keep the film grounded in the present,” says Barson. “My filmmaking technique allows the audience to seamlessly look back at his illustrious career without ever breaking the contemporary flow.”

“I remember thinking ‘That’s what I did as kid – make funny faces, sounds.’ Everybody does it, but there’s nobody better at it than him.” – Chevy Chase

Method to the Madness of Jerry LewisThe backbone of the film is presenting new footage that hasn’t been seen before. Barson wanted to explore this superstar from a fresh perspective. Jerry granted unique behind-the-scenes access into his world of performing and an unfiltered reflection on an 80-year career in show business. “Through this exclusive access I was able to weave a storyline that looked back on the past while remaining firmly planted in the present.” Barson also included classic clips from all of Jerry’s biggest movies, including: The Bellboy, Cinderfella, Nutty Professor, and many more (complete list below).

“If you don’t like Jerry Lewis, I have no interest in hanging with you. That’s all I need to know. We can’t even have a relationship.” – Woody Harrelson

There are so many varying impressions of Jerry Lewis that Barson wanted to capture an intimate look at him today, while at the same time, delving into his career as a member of the hottest comedy duo in history, a solo comedian, an actor, a film producer, a writer, a director, a singer, an innovator, and more. “I wanted to illuminate that he is all of these things. I wanted people to learn about the real person behind the public persona.”

“I also wanted to share the experience of seeing Jerry perform live in concert today,” continues Barson. “I wanted to see Jerry making audiences laugh and entertaining them just as much now as he did for decades. I chose to make the viewing audience feel like they were experiencing the living legend firsthand, as spontaneous as ever, and live in concert today, by documenting a concert tour.”

Barson was also able to convince some of the biggest stars in Hollywood to talk about the influence Jerry Lewis had on them. Eddie Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Alec Baldwin, Carol Burnett, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal and more were excited to share their thoughts on the man who is truly “The King of Comedy.” Millions of people have seen his movies, but the goal was to show audiences a different perspective. Combined with Jerry’s behind the scenes narrative, along with an untraditional documentary editing technique, I wanted to add layers of insight into the creation of some of his most enduring classic comedy scenes.

“It has been a lifelong dream to make a “Jerry Lewis movie,” beams Gregg Barson, “and with Jerry’s full support and blessing, that is exactly what I have been able to do.”

“People that aren’t historians don’t realize how powerful he was at such a young age. He was directing, writing, and starring in his own movies. He was the biggest star in the world for years because he had this magnetism and a different energy than anyone on screen at the time.” – Billy Crystal

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis includes clips from these classic Jerry Lewis films:

The Bellboy

The Geisha Boy

The Nutty Professor


The Disorderly Orderly

The Patsy

The Errand Boy

The Stooge

The Caddy

The Family Jewels

You’re Never Too Young


The Ladies Man

Scared Stiff

and more…

“If you don’t get Jerry Lewis, you don’t really understand comedy, because he is the essence of it. He is the diamond.” – Jerry Seinfeld


On Martin and Lewis: “Their success was like—they were the first big rock stars. There were no rock stars back then when they came out. They had rock star popularity. “ – Eddie Murphy


“He was a restless filmmaker always searching for a new way to tell a story. He was trying to redefine the art of the narrative.” – Steven Spielberg


“You can’t do comedy unless you know drama. Comedy is the satire of reality and it can’t be funny unless you know what the reality is. Jerry mastered that early in his career.” – Carl Reiner


“He’s one of the great comedy directors, not only of his era, but of all times.” – Quentin Tarantino


“Jerry Lewis was in the magic position of being a monster box office star. He could do what he wanted and he didn’t play it safe. He has done some amazing things.” – John Landis


“As I kid, I figured Jerry Lewis was part of the Earth, one of the essential things to know about.” – Richard Lewis