Steve Martin had basically gained a burst of fame before starring in Carl Reiner’s wacky comedy “The Jerk.” Martin was fresh off hosting “Saturday Night Live” a few times, and had made a few albums and stand-up gigs. But “The Jerk” is what established him as an on-screen comedian.
Martin plays a lame-brain fool, who lives with his family on a plantation farm. Only one problem. His family is black, he is white. After coming to facts about his racial status, Martin flees from the scene and heads for the downtown gig. He is suckered out of – and into – many things throughout the film. Not as much of because he is innocent as he is dumb, however. Unlike comedies like “Blast From the Past” where the main character is treated bad and doesn’t realize it because he/she is innocent and has no idea what to expect from life, Martin gets treated bad and doesn’t realize it because he is stupid, not only because he is innocent.
The Jerk starts out working at a gas station. Some of the funniest scenes occur here. One, is when a madman with a sniper rifle is shooting at Martin and misses. Martin, being The Jerk, thinks the man is purposely shooting at paint cans. He says, “Hey! It’s the cans! He must hate the cans! Stay away from the cans!” Another is when he gets a home…living in a bathroom. (“Like it? I LOVE it!”) And one that has always gotten my funnybone is when Martin looks in a phone book and sees his name. “I’m a person now!” He yells. This is true, of course. All of us feel like more than just skin after seeing our names printed somewhere. I recall first seeing my name as a reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes. It feels great to have your name written somewhere, because you know that someone, somewhere, saw that name and put it in. Someone read one of my movie reviews. Though Martin’s character takes it to a new extreme, it is nevertheless true. When you sign your name on a document, the document becomes active and real. So why should it not be the same with Martin’s character? Perhaps while he is a jerk, he is at the same time smart. Nah, he’s just stupid.