In 1995, a small British-American comedy-drama was released to little fanfare called Funny Bones starring Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis and Lee Evans. The Guardian newspaper described it as a film “about being funny and about being yourself, about being funny as an expression, a definition of self.” I struggled to find a theatre that was playing it in Melbourne, but I eventually found an independent theatre that was brave enough to release it. I wont attempt to review the film here, but I will say that it was wonderfully nostalgic.
That said, one of my favourite and perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in the film takes place on the sleepy shoreline of Blackpool, where two of the films central characters, Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt), a struggling comedian and his comedic genius father, George Fawkes (Jerry Lewis), are having a rowdy conversation about life and being funny. In the lead up to the key moment of the scene, we find an angry Tommy finally confronting George for undermining him as a comedian. To make matters worse, Tommy’s also angry at learning about an interesting family secret, but also the fact that his well respected father stole the comedy act that made him famous decades ago. It is here after a short pause that George Fawkes reacts in a way that Tommy probably didn’t expect, in a seething monologue that only Jerry Lewis could ever deliver, that sums up almost everything there is to know about being funny:
“Let me tell you something straight Tommy, about what kills me. It kills me that I got lazy, using writers, not using me. We were funny people. We didn’t have to tell funny stories. We were funny. We had funny bones! And the thing that kills me the most is watching my own son flop, time after time. What kills me is however much I spend on writers and coaches it hasn’t worked for you Tommy, God damn it, it’s like you’re too educated to be funny…..Tommy, I think there are two types of comedian, there’s a funny bones comedian and a non funny bones comedian, they’re both funny, one is funny, the other tells funny. Tommy, it’s time you knew, and this kills me the most, but you’re neither. You’re not funny….”
It is a great scene that opens Tommy’s eyes to the reality of his predicament and his relationship with his father. In many ways it is also an ingenious scene that I like to believe that Jerry was talking a little bit about himself (even though he was in character) and how in his heyday he had those same innate ‘funny bones’ qualities. Now even more so after his death (in 2017), I am glad that his maniacal persona will forever live on through his films, but in the scene that I’ve chosen here for this series, it also show to some degree, what a fine actor he really was despite not always being given enough credit for it. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: The header movie still image of actor Jerry Lewis in Funny Bones is presumably owned by Hollywood Pictures. I make use of the image under the rationale of ‘fair use’ to help illustrate arguably one of cinema history’s greatest scenes. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip.