Lew Lehr: “Monkeys Is the Cwaziest Peoples!”

Lew Lehr (1895-1950) is someone many classic comedy and animation fans know about…without realizing that they do. Homage was paid to him in no less than 8 Warner Brothers cartoons between 1937 and 1949. Sometimes he was directly caricatured, sometimes one of the main characters (usually voiced by Mel Blanc) would quote his catchphrase (or a variation) “Monkeys is the cwaziest peoples!”

Lehr was a Dutch (mock German) nut comic who had come from vaudeville and musical comedies. His stage career lasted over 20 years. He is known to have played Simple Simon in a vaudeville version of Mother Goose produced by J.C. Mack. He became extremely well known to our forebears in the 1930s and ’40s, through the media of radio and newsreels, and this is he has fallen into such obscurity, as scarcely anyone encounters his body of work any more. It is said that he appeared in nearly 300 film shorts from 1932 through his death. Interestingly, scarcely any of it is liMonkeyted on his IMDB entry. I can only think that this is because his appearances occurred in the context of newsreels. He wrote, edited and performed in Fox Movietone News shorts. It was humor, but on a news show. (A more modern equivalent would be something like Andy Rooney’s segments on Sixty Minutes, but much zanier). His bits were not unlike Robert Benchley’s shorts, or Joe McDoakes. His various series had named like “Dribble Puss Parade”, “Lew Lehr’s Inventions”, and “Lew Lehr’s Unnatural History”. Lots of these clips are available to watch on Youtube.

On radio he was heard on Ben Bernie’s program, Camel Comedy Caravan, and the popular game show Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. He also performed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and made a comedy record about it, “Lew Lehr at the Fair”.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube