Not just ANY jerk. THE Jerk, as in the one portrayed by Steve Martin, a 1979 comedy written by Martin and directed by Carl Reiner (although I spent years thinking it was a Mel Brooks movie and to this day remain convinced that he has an uncredited cameo in the pool scene – but I digress). I learned about family, love, capitalism, homelessness, bigotry, sex, the value of a Thermos… I don’t think there’s a topic that The Jerk didn’t cover, and this post isn’t enough room to cover them all. Navin Johnson taught me so much. If you haven’t watched the movie, you might not understand everything here, so go watch it!
FAMILY: I learned through Navin Johnson that we all have a “special purpose” and are meant to do great things individually, but regardless of our achievements, family is key. Whether you’re at the top of your game ordering drinks with an umbrella or down on your luck with only a dog as a companion, your family is who you rely on to get you through.
LOVE: Navin Johnson wasn’t a ladies man, by any stretch, but his goofiness was endearing. I’ve spent a lifetime honing my skills in just such a way as to get a woman like Bernadette Peters to look at me the way she looked at Navin in that movie. You’ll have to ask my current girlfriend how I’m doing in that department. I can lick the hell out of a face, though (right, Jennifer?).
CAPITALISM: Navin Johnson – Inventor of the Opti-Grab™. Fortunes won and lost, but none of it possible without being in the greatest country in the world for opportunity. I’ve got a million ideas, someday I hope to create my OWN Opti-Grab™.
HOMELESSNESS: Granted, it didn’t actually TEACH much about it, but it showed me, at age 10, that homelessness exists. And that not taking a bath and laying around in alleyways all day makes you stinky. Good lessons for a pre-teen. “PEEE-YOUUUU!”
RACISM: When I watched this movie, I didn’t know what a nigger was. My dad was a little bigoted against blacks and Puerto Ricans, and we all have our share of bigotry and prejudice in some fashion, but the way The Jerk tied together color, family, love, and prosperity, I honestly was able to better decipher Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” quote. Thank you, Navin Johnson.
SEX: Never sleep with a woman who eats a corn dog like that. Enough said.
COMEDIC TIMING: Steve Martin wrote this movie, but I don’t think anyone else could have played the role of Navin Johnson any better than Martin. In 1978, Steve Martin released his comedy album “A Wild and Crazy Guy” and I spent hours, DAYS, hiding in my older brother’s room when they weren’t there, with headphones on, practicing my stand-up routine as I learned every line from that record. I mean, I’m no Michael Loftus, but watching Steve Martin channel that Crazy Guy through Navin Johnson allowed me to pick up mannerisms and timing that have helped me break the ice and fit in throughout many occasions. I’m an office worker by trade so you see how well that’s worked out for me.
The Jerk taught me everything I need to know, about everything. I should probably come with a warning label, and apologize to my kids, huh?