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Jerry Lewis ousted from MDA telethon -- and comics are outraged

August 4, 2011 |  5:32 pm

Comedian Paul Rodriguez is joined by other comics at the Laugh Factory on August 5, 2011 to announce a campaign to have Jerry Lewis reinstated as host of the annual MDA Telethon. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Lewis has been ousted from the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. telethon he has hosted for nearly half a century -- and the comedy community is outraged.

On Wednesday night, the MDA released a statement saying it was severing its association with the 85-year-old performer. Lewis won't appear on this year's Labor Day weekend telethon.

The announcement provoked an outcry from the comedy community, even as the circumstances surrounding Lewis' departure remained mysterious.  Here’s what some of L.A.’s comics had to say:

Tom Arnold: "Younger comics were coming out [to the show] for Jerry Lewis. Jerry let them fly. They would use the word ‘genius’ -- and he certainly is. It’s been handled so poorly. To me, Jerry should be able to come back and say goodbye.... It's probably time for him to retire.  But he should get to say goodbye. They screwed up. If they'd promoted this as Jerry Lewis' final telethon they could've gotten guys like George Clooney, which would've opened the door to God knows who. It would've been a big deal and showbiz loves big deals."

Tom Dreesen: "I’m appalled. When they find a cure to muscular dystrophy, if they don’t build a monument to this man, there’s no justice.  I know stand-up comedy -– this man’s career was shortened because of the telethon.  Jerry was a hot stand-up comedian. Once we saw the clown cry, at the end of the telethon, we knew the rest of it, his show, was an act. That hurt his career. This is unconscionable." 

Paul Rodriguez: "As a fellow comedian, it’s really crappy the way they treated him. The man is an institution. They should have found a better was to let him go. The way they did it, it’s gonna hurt their charity."

Jamie Masada, owner of The Laugh Factory in Hollywood:  "The MDA said, at the [Ellis Island Medal of Honor] award in May, that after 30 years he’d raised over $2 billion. The way they treat him, they don’t show him any respect. When I saw Jerry last, he was alert and funny and hilarious. He’s the face of the telethon. Without him, there’s no show."

Albert Brooks: "In the early days, you’d stay up at all night just to see what Jerry would do at 4 a.m. There were telethon parties for that purpose. If he wants to do the show, there’s no reason on the planet he shouldn’t be allowed to do it. It’s his gig."

Arsenio Hall via Twitter: "@BarackObama -- The US job market is so bad, children from the Muscular Dystrophy telethon just told Jerry Lewis not to come this year!"

MDA chairman of the board R. Rodney Howell:  "Jerry Lewis is a world-class humanitarian and we're forever grateful to him for his more than half century of generous service to MDA.  We will not be replacing him as MDA national chairman, and he will not be appearing on the telethon."  

The MDA is expected to name a new host for 2011, who will join a quartet of co-hosts that includes entertainment personalities Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O'Dell.

RELATED:

Photos: Jerry Lewis

Hollywood Star Walk profile: Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis reveals a method to his madness

Jerry Lewis has hosted his last MDA telethon

Jerry Lewis plans to sing MDA closing song one more time

 -- Deborah Vankin and Steven Zeitchik
Twitter.com/debvankin
Twitter.com/zeitchiklat

Photo: Comedian Paul Rodriguez is joined by other comics at the Laugh Factory on August 5, 2011 to announce a campaign to have Jerry Lewis reinstated as host of the annual MDA Telethon. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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