Skit Synergy

When Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin met all those years ago in the late 1940s, it was pure genius in the making. Their undeniable chemistry while delivering slapstick comedy and vaudeville jokes created a partnership that lasted 10 years, a career that quickly made them the hottest act in America in the early ’50s, and a friendship that lasted a lifetime, despite their very public break-up.
All those skits and bits, the sketches and films were examples of their brilliance as a comedy duo, humor that had people doubled over with laughter, without the need for naughty words and questionable content.
So to recreate all of that, Tony Lewis (Jerry Lewis) and Tom Stevens (Dean Martin) had their work cut out for them, especially considering Stevens lives in the states and Lewis lives in Australia. But when the partnership was clearly meant to be, somewhere in the universe forces were working to bring these two together.
Separately these artists captured the essence and magic of these legendary performers on opposite sides of the world, yet when the two met, the chemistry was reignited and it’s as if Martin and Lewis had a hand in it. Their story in coming together is as comical as the vintage material they breathe new life into.
Having spent the last 30 years performing throughout Australia, Tony Lewis has created a name for himself as the quintessential Jerry Lewis tribute artist. His one man show has sold out countless venues and has earned him the respect as one of Australia’s best entertainers.
Since his first appearance at the Dean Martin Festival in 1998, Tom Stevens has earned his title as “The Best Dean Martin Tribute Artist”, even Martin’s daughter Deana said “I’ve never seen anybody look and sound more like my daddy.” Having spent the last 16 years in Las Vegas, Stevens has amazed audiences with his uncanny tributes to over 100 celebrities.
We talked to both tribute artists about the show they’ve spent the last eight years performing and perfecting — and now they bring to the Riverside Resort for the first time. Here’s their take…

How in the world did you two find each other geographically and careers apart?
Lewis: I live in Australia, I’d been doing the Jerry Lewis show for about 27 years and my dream throughout that whole time always had been to find a Dean Martin. I exhausted every avenue possible in the 27 years. I could never find anyone that looked or sounded like Dean, and I guess in the 23rd or 24th year I started looking stateside in America. I thought maybe the right guy is there, but everyone I found was terrible.
I just continued doing my own show and then one night in the 27th year I was on tour in Sydney, and a friend had posted, “hey, check this out, I found the best Dean Martin ever. This guy’s amazing.” I’d heard that so many times over the years. But anyway, I pressed play on this link on YouTube and low and behold it was Tom Stevens. I could not believe how much he looked and sounded like Dean, to the point where I thought this guy’s miming, there’s no way anybody could sound that close to Dean. And so I played it again, and realized he was singing live and he was talking like Dean as well, which was a bonus, and the triple bonus was he was moving exactly — the mannerisms — the little slight subtleties that only a real Dean Martin aficionado could see — Tom had those down completely, perfectly. The next day I did something I never did before, I wrote to him to compliment him on his performance. And that was the end of it from my point.

Stevens: I got that email and I typed back, “Thank you very much,” and asked, “What do you do?” I don’t get an email back, I get a phone call on my cell phone and it’s Tony from Australia. We start talking and he starts doing his Jerry Lewis impression over the phone to me and I said, “gee, that’s really great, it’s amazing how you guys can mask your accent so well.” Then he sends me a link to a video of him doing the “typewriter sketch,” and “who’s minding the store.” First I watched it and my jaw hit the table, I was like, “Oh, my goodness, this guy is incredible.”
I never thought of doing a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis tribute show in the states here because I’d never seen anybody do Jerry Lewis like he does. So then we start to talk and he sent me some photos of him in different poses as Jerry. So me, being the Photoshop nut that I am, I Photoshopped a picture of him and me next to each other as Dean and Jerry. As just a gag, I sent it back to him.

Lewis: I happen to open up the picture on a laptop while my tour manager was walking past me. He said, “What’s the matter with you? What are you doing Photoshopping yourself with Dean Martin? That’s really tacky.” I said, “That’s not Dean Martin, that’s a guy called Tom Stevens.” He put his glasses on and came over to the laptop and said, “Get this guy on the phone and see if he’s interested in flying over to Australia and we’ll do a show for sh–s and giggles and see what happens.”
A week later my tour manager puts up a gigantic poster the size of a door on a venue and the venue almost completely sells out in nearly three hours. We didn’t have a show, we hadn’t met, we really didn’t know what our capabilities were, apart from what we told each other. Then they book another venue the second night. Tom said, “Oh, sh–, we’ve got to do some work.”

Stevens: Tony knew a lot of the early routines that Dean and Jerry did together, because he studied Jerry so much, especially with Dean when his aspirations were to put together a Martin & Lewis show. He starts to send me some of the dialogue of some of the bits that they used to do together. And I watched and studied them, and then I said, “This is great, let’s see what happens.” And we put some songs together, we kind of “Skyped” with each other. The first call was in May of 2012, our first show was in October 2012. So we had just that bit of time to put together a show, get to know each other over Skype, and then I flew down there. It was a crazy flight, 42 hours, and they even lost my luggage, thank God I brought everything I needed for the show with me on the plane.

Lewis: Tom lost his luggage, but he also lost a kidney.

Stevens: I did. A month before I was supposed to be in Australia, I lost my right kidney, to kidney cancer. I told the doctor, “I’ve gotta go through surgery now, because I gotta be in Australia in a month.” And I was there.

Lewis: We’d only just met and we were running some lines and just going through some dialogue, then in the end, we both realized it was lug and bolt moment. You know, let’s just go out and do it, because luckily Tom knowing the Dean so well and me knowing the Jerry stuff so well, we got on stage — we planned a 90-minute show and we did about two hours and 15 minutes. We just completely spontaneously put together the show — while it was in progress. It was terrific. Tom didn’t know what I was going to say, but he knew how to reply, how to respond, he had the perfect straight-man timing, and his pitch was perfect. It just worked really well from that point on.

Stevens: I never thought a guy I’d never met would turn around and kiss me on the lips on stage. I wasn’t expecting that when he does that to me. The audience went nuts, just as they did when Jerry and Dean did it. We work together so well. What’s amazing, Tony and I are both the same height Dean and Jerry were, and Jerry and Dean were eight years apart. Tony and I are eight years apart. The similarities are so uncanny that it’s just like it was meant to be. And our sense of humor, when we get together and not on stage together, we just crack each other up.

How has the show evolved over the eight years?
Lewis: The show has changed over the years to a point where now it runs like a well-oiled machine. Initially from our first meeting, we used a lot of their material and now the show is a stand-alone show. We borrow Dean and Jerry’s look and sound, but we do our own jokes and our own material because we both realized what would be the point of doing their stuff when you can go and buy a DVD or download them doing it? What would be the point in coming to see us? This is our approach where if they were still together, what would they look and sound like and what would they be doing? Yes, we do the classic songs, because that’s expected. But the material is fresh, and it has references of today.

Stevens: You know what’s nice is that I respect and appreciate the work that Tony has put in and he respects and appreciates the work that I’ve put in. It’s so comforting to know that when he’s out on stage alone, I know he’s taking care of that audience and he’s doing his job. I try to say things that will catch him off guard, and he comes back with a right hook and a line that knocks my socks off.
What’s nice is that we’ve added things that Dean and Jerry never did together. After they broke up, Jerry created “The Nutty Professor” and we also have the “Bellboy” in the show. Then we have Dean himself as if it was his TV show. It really incorporates and touches on their life from the early days and after they broke up — as if they never broke up.

Best compliment you’ve received?
Lewis: I think it was New York — one of the audience members approached us after the show and said, “Gee, it was great to see you guys in color!”
Rich Little gave us a nice endorsement, too, in Vegas. Tom and I having that from Rich Little was fabulous. Both Tom and I as young impressionists back in the day, we looked up to Rich Little. He was the voice man and we wanted to be like him.


MARTIN & LEWIS

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 16-20 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info