by Michael Mello
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
ORANGE – It took comedy legend Jerry Lewis 40 seconds to draw the first roar of laughter from a crowd at Chapman University on Monday night.
"I'm auditioning tonight," he said, leaning earnestly over the podium. "They've asked me to be on the faculty, but they don't know what I do."
Lewis, 84, is a self-proclaimed fan of Chapman, having appeared at last year's annual scholarship fundraiser, "American Celebration." On Monday, he spoke for two hours in an auditorium filled mainly by students from the university's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
Lewis spent just as much time laughing along with the audience as he did talking.
"It's been a glorious ride," the 84-year-old said of his seven-decade career.
(Lewis says he will live to be 101 years old – "I swore I'd beat George Burns.")
He noted the eight director-of-the-year awards he's won in Europe.
"I know it doesn't mean that much in Romania, but the trophy at my home looks really good," he quipped.
Lewis has performed on the big and little screens, even starring in a comic book series. His annual telethons and other fundraisers have brought in millions for charitable causes.
"I don't think there's a part of show business he hasn't been a part of, from film and television, to music and dancing – not to mention philanthropy," film college Dean Bob Bassett said.
Lewis told the crowd he's had a passion for performing and film from the age of nine, and that passion has earned him satisfying success.
"The joy I get from going to Tokyo and the children call me 'nuddy pofessa,'" Lewis said in a characteristically exaggerated accent. "It's incredible."
He urged the aspiring film directors and producers in the audience to have that same fervor.
"Shoot anything and everything at all times without stopping, except to review what you've shot. That will tell you what to do next," Lewis said. "The young man who thinks he's a great filmmaker – you want to beat on his head to be a good man first. A good man produces good film."
Second-year production student Joyce Zylberberg knew she'd be impressed with Lewis.
"He's an international figure," the native Chilean said. "The most important people on television in Chile were inspired by him. It was a privilege to be here with him."
During his presentation, Lewis played clips from the earlier part of his career alongside Dean Martin, and told the audience he believes the 1963 film "The Nutty Professor" to be his finest work.
He praised Robert DeNiro's steely, all-business attitude on the set, and told stories about the fun that happened away from the cameras.
One audience member asked Lewis about a $15 check he sent then-President Ronald Reagan for Reagan's birthday: Did he ever cash the check?
"He sent it back," Lewis deadpanned, "with a note: 'You crazy Jew. What in the hell do I do with $15.18?'"