We didn’t travel much when I was a kid. Summer vacations for me were just trips to my grandparents’ homes in central Kansas for anywhere from two to six weeks. So I was pretty much always home Labor Day weekend, with three days to kill before school started on the day after the holiday. Since my mom was generally working two jobs, she’d go in both on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and on Labor Day itself. So I was stuck at home, with four channels of TV to entertain myself.

But actually three channels, since Labor Day weekend meant the Jerry Lewis telethon knocked out one station for most of the weekend. Sadly, that station was the one our TV, which was in our basement, picked up best. Despite my general lack of interest in any of the entertainers Jerry paraded out, I often found myself watching anyway. And, man, did I hate it. A bunch of has-beens and never-weres rolling out to banter with a cheesy comedian. Even if I recognized the good cause behind the whole thing, whatever entertainment value the show offered was lost on me.

I think my experience mirrors most of my generation’s. Even if you traveled on Labor Day weekend, or had cable years before I did, you still ran across the telethon at some point, and likely hated it as much as me. Maybe you went to see your grandparents and they loved Jerry, or hoped that Frank or Johnny or some other old favorite would pop in, and thus kept their TV tuned to the telethon for your entire visit.[1]

Like most old, kitschy things, though, today I can watch clips of the old telethons and at least chuckle. They hold no nostalgic value for me, but they do recall a time not terribly long ago when our popular culture was dramatically different than it is today.

So this AV Club collection of notable telethon clips was a good way to spend my morning.

The utter insanity that was The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon

  1. I had an aunt and uncle who often hosted a Labor Day gathering that did this. The TV would be cranked up in the family room, and if an especially appealing guest strolled onto the stage, all the adults scampered back in to watch.  ↩