A new interview of Jerry Lewis has been released following the unearthing of rare footage of Lewis’ buried pet project The Clown Who Cried.

The Clown Who Cried is one of cinema’s most talked about lost films. Filmed in 1972, long after Lewis had made a name for himself as a comedian, The Clown Who Cried is thought to be a dramatic and emotional film, and rumors have been popping up for years as to why it was never released.

The film is about a clown, played by Lewis, who also acted as director of the project, who is sent to a concentration camp after making fun of Hitler during his act. After catching the attention of the Nazis, the clown is brought to Auschwitz and tasked with performing for the children and families waiting to be led to the gas chambers. When the clown realizes that his new audience is being slaughtered, he enters the gas chambers with them to try to calm their fears, according to The New Yorker.

Whether because of production and economic conflicts or screenwriting credits, the film was never released after Lewis had completed filming. And though very few screenings took place, rumors that those who had seen the film had deemed it unwatchable soon spread. Lewis himself seemed to confirm these rumors this summer at the Cannes Film Festival.

“[The Day the Clown Cried] was all bad and it was bad because I lost the magic. You will never see it, no-one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work,” Lewis said.

Comedian Harry Shearer, who claims to have seen the film (though if he did, it was shown to him without Lewis’ knowledge), has also publicly denounced the film.

Though Lewis has done everything possible to keep the film out of the public eye, behind-the-scenes footage recently surfaced on YouTube, giving audiences the first look at this lost film.

The news of this mysterious footage has prompted Entertainment Weekly to release a 2009 interview with Lewis in which he broke his silence on The Day the Clown Cried, a topic Lewis is known for avoiding in interviews completely.

In this interview, Lewis confirms that he is in possession of the one copy of the film, and denies that he has kept the film hidden because he believes it simply doesn’t deserve to be seen. Still, he maintains his position that the film never again be shown to an audience.

“No one’s ever gonna see it. But the preservation that I believe is that, when I die, I’m in total control of the material now. Nobody can touch it. After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I have the legalese necessary to keep it where it is. So I’m pretty sure that it won’t be seen.”

Lewis also admitted that, though he does not want to share the film, he is proud of it. When asked if the reason he refused to complete and show the film was because he was worried about how audiences would interpret the piece, Lewis said no.

“No. I have no fear of any of that [of it being misinterpreted],” he said.

Lewis then opened up about why he decided to make such a drastic departure from the comedy he is known for in the first place.

“I thought when I read it, This is not your bag. Well, yes it is! I was still fairly young at the time. But not so young that I didn’t get that thing that all men must get some time: the decision to either be a part of something that should be spoken or not. My Judaism has always been a great pride with me. But it felt like such a challenge. That sounds so trite. But a challenge to show people that there’s more to me than that,” Lewis explained.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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