Roger Ebert ripped Jerry Lewis's removal as host of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon as comedians rallied in support.
News came Wednesday that the Tucson-based MDA had relieved the 85-year-old comedian of his duties as host, despite Lewis’ assertion that the upcoming labor day telethon would be his last.
Several comedians at Hollywood’s famous Laugh Factory, including Paul Rodriguez, Larry Miller, Tom Dreesen, and Norm Crosby, held a press conference at the club Friday to reprimand the MDA for dropping a man they see as a member of the family.
"If this is the way we're going, we should also tell grandpa we don't need him for Thanksgiving," joked Miller to reporters.
Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada told TheWrap that his club is holding a petition to present to the MDA. "The charity should have a better, bigger heart," he said.
The comedians demand that Lewis at the very least should attend the telethon and be given a proper send-off to commemorate his 45 years as host. They have established a petition that has already gained over 10,000 signatures, but Masada is hoping for 100,000 signers expressing disapproval.
"We don't want to boycott the charity of the kids," Masada continued. "We want to to raise money [for the cause] but they didn't have to be cold-hearted."
While the MDA’s reasoning for replacing Lewis has not been announced, Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada says he and the comedians support Lewis regardless of the reasons for his dismissal.
"He's not dead," said Rodriguez at the press event. "He's very much alive."
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Preparations for the 46th annual telethon are under way as planned at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas, where the event will be held, casino spokesman Tom Mikovits told AP.
MDA’s new host has not yet been announced.
The veteran actor, who struggles with a debilitating back condition, heart issues and pulmonary fibrosis will appear in the documentary “Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis” airing on Encore October 22. The special features rare footage of Lewis in action, as well as comments from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Quentin Tarantino, and Alec Baldwin sharing appreciation for the legend.
MDA did not respond for a request for comment.