The Complete Martin Lewis Story
Though Lewis is a comparative newcomer as a performing humorist and TV personality, he brings to his work over 20 years experience on 'the other side' - as a successful filmmaker, producer, writer, manager, journalist, human rights activist - and as a pioneering organizer of benefit events.
He gained considerable renown for his extensive work producing top British comedians, including Monty Python, Peter Cook, Billy Connolly and Rowan Atkinson for the benefit of Amnesty International. Working closely with John Cleese, he conceived, developed and produced the legendary Secret Policeman's Ball series of benefit shows for Amnesty. These grew from one small show in 1976 to become a regular series of galas featuring the cream of Britain's comedians and rock stars. Lewis produced all the stage shows, and the resulting feature films, TV specials and record albums. The benefits raised several million dollars for the then-fledgling organization, and considerably raised the worldwide awareness of Amnesty and the human rights issue.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, he personally recruited some of the world's top rock musicians to Amnesty's ranks - including Pete Townshend, Sting, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Donovan and Bob Geldof - and produced their landmark benefit performances for the organization.
Lewis suggested the then-radical idea that the musicians perform their hits acoustically - and the striking sets by those artists (which in the case of Townshend, Sting, Collins and Geldof were also their first-ever solo live appearances) are frequently cited by Pete Townshend and others as having been the inspiration for the Unplugged phenomenon which followed a few years later.
The Secret Policeman's Ball albums which Lewis produced - featuring Townshend's Pinball Wizard and Won't Get Fooled Again; Sting's Roxanne and Message In A Bottle; Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight, Bob Geldof’s I Don’t Like Mondays and the Sting-led all-star Secret Police's I Shall Be Released among the many tracks - were highly-successful, critically-acclaimed releases.
Lewis' productions for Amnesty are also widely credited with having contributed to the increased involvement of rock musicians in social and political issues in the succeeding years. Bob Geldof (who subsequently created Band Aid and Live Aid), Peter Gabriel, Sting and U2's Bono have all publicly attributed their initial activism to Lewis' Secret Policeman's Ball benefit shows.
His work with Amnesty culminated in the 1988 Human Rights Now! World Tour featuring Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman - a tour which he conceived - and subsequently developed with Amnesty USA Executive Director, Jack Healey.
He has been an eclectic participant in the entertainment world - and has gained a rich diversity of experience. During his long career, Lewis has been: a freelance music journalist (Britain's New Musical Express, Disc and Record Mirror); a music publicist and marketing executive (mentored by legendary Beatles press agent Derek Taylor); a personal manager (discovering and guiding to British stardom, new wave comedian Alexei Sayle); the founder/owner of his own comedy record label (discovering and producing the first work of Absolutely Fabulous' Jennifer Saunders and Britain's Young Ones/Comic Strip comedy troupe); a producer of unique events at exotic locations (including the first-ever rock concerts held at the 900-year-old Westminster Abbey, Britain's National Theatre and Victoria & Albert Museum); an occasional independent film distributor (The Atomic Cafe); a movie marketing consultant (The Living Daylights, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Baby Boom, Child's Play and Bright Lights - Big City); and a music marketing consultant (at one point he was simultaneously advising on marketing campaigns for The Beatles, The Monkees, The Rutles and The Sex Pistols!)
As a young music publicist he worked under former Beatles press agent Derek Taylor on campaigns for artists ranging from the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper to Neil Young, James Taylor, Carly Simon and Van Morrison.
(Lewis continues to be much in demand as a music marketing consultant - and is frequently engaged to advise on marketing campaigns for such '60's pop and rock legends as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Monkees, The Turtles and Eric Burdon of The Animals.)
Lewis is widely credited with spearheading the successful revivals of two musical genres in Britain during the 1970's. His promotion of recordings and concerts by American Scott Joplin pianist, Joshua Rifkin, led to a major resurgence in ragtime music. Lewis also conceived and promoted a season of nostalgia nights at London's famed Rainbow Room - recreating the glamour of the 1920's and 1930's nightclub scene - and this resulted in a full-scale renaissance of pre-WW II dance-band music.
He discovered, managed and produced The Portsmouth Sinfonia - the unintentionally-comedic classical music ensemble often described as 'The World's Worst Orchestra.’ With a diverse membership ranging from professional musicians - such as top rock producer Brian Eno (U2’s producer) - who also produced their first two albums - and film composer Michael Nyman (The Piano and The Draughtsman’s Contract) - to totally incompetent beginners - the Sinfonia became cult favorites with their out-of-tune renditions of works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Handel and Bach. Lewis promoted their landmark concerts - including their sacrilegious debut at The Royal Albert Hall. Lewis also produced their parodies of the London Symphony Orchestra's symphonic rock albums and Classical Massacre! - their Top 30 hit spoof of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's dire Hooked On Classics single!
His credits as a film producer encompass four theatrical releases featuring members of Monty Python - including the very successful The Secret Policeman's Other Ball ; two productions with the late Lindsay Anderson; and the last works filmed by the late Sam Peckinpah.
His television and home-video credits include music documentaries such as Foreign Skies - the chronicle of George Michael's 1985 concert tour of China (with Wham!) - which was premiered in front of a world record film audience of 100,000 fans at London's Wembley Stadium - and which subsequently broke home-video sales records; Stand By Me - his 1985 film portrait of Julian Lennon (which he also directed); and TV specials profiling The Beatles and Paul McCartney.
He has also produced numerous entertainment specials, documentaries, music videos, movie trailers and TV commercials - many of them promoting films featuring stars such as: Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Billy Connolly, Peter Cook, Timothy Dalton, Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks, Diane Keaton, John Malkovitch, Keanu Reeves, Meg Ryan, Keifer Sutherland, Marisa Tomei and Damon Wayans. In 1998 he produced and directed an acclaimed first-ever music video of As Time Goes By from the classic 1942 movie Casablanca.
In 1982, having edited and produced a special version of his The Secret Policeman's Other Ball film for the American market, Lewis was subsequently engaged by then newly-launched film distributors Miramax Films - to devise and execute the movie's publicity and marketing campaign.
Lewis conceived a witty and provocative campaign satirizing the recent censorship troubles Monty Python and others had suffered at the hands of The Moral Majority. He wrote, directed and produced a series of TV commercials featuring Monty Python’s Graham Chapman as the outraged leader of a spoof fundamentalist organization named The Oral Majority - calling for the movie to be banned. When ironically the TV commercials themselves were banned by American networks and TV stations (fearful of offending the religious right) - Lewis turned the controversy into a publicity bonanza and secured immense free media coverage for the film. Though filmed and marketed on a shoestring budget, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball became Miramax’s first hit movie - and is referred to in the company’s official history as the launch pad for the company’s success.
Lewis is perennially credited by Miramax founders and Co-Chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein for providing the inspiration and prototype for Miramax’s subsequent movie marketing strategies. On receiving the prestigious Britannia Award for their contributions to independent cinema at a star-studded Hollywood ceremony in 1996 - the Weinsteins’ acceptance speech included a special thank you to Lewis for having been the first to show them the value of free publicity - and for having taught them how to take a left-field film and cross it over to a mainstream audience.
"Back in 1982 when we were starting Miramax Films, Martin Lewis was the producer of what became our first hit movie - The Secret Policeman's Other Ball starring the Monty Pythons. Martin had a background in publicity and marketing and came up with a great campaign for the movie, creating a huge buzz and getting us free publicity, which was crucial to the film's success. We learned a lot about publicity and marketing from our experience with Martin Lewis."
Lewis is President and sole owner of his own company - SPRINGTIME! - through which all of his performing, writing, production, marketing, management and other professional activities are channeled. The company was established in Britain in 1977. Since 1987 it has been headquartered in Los Angeles - with satellite offices in New York and London. (Springtime! is named in homage to the Springtime for Hitler! sequence in one of Lewis' favorite films - Mel Brooks' The Producers).
His formal education ended at the age of 14, when he was expelled from one of Britain's most exclusive private schools for inserting the - very premature - death notice of his Latin tutor in the world’s most famous newspaper The Times (of London) ! (This episode subsequently inspired his stage monologue Murder, He Wrote!)
He lived and worked in London until moving to America in 1982. After 5 years in New York (including time off for good behavior!) he re-located to Los Angeles in 1987.
Away from work, Lewis enjoys a wide variety of cultural, political, social and sporting activities.
He is a member of the Board of Trustees of The American Cinematheque - a Board on which he serves with Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Jane Fonda, Mike Nichols, Goldie Hawn, Barry Diller and other senior members of the film and television community.
He is a former Chairman of The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Los Angeles) - the American wing of the London-based Academy. He served on the Academy's Board of Directors from 1989 to 1996. During his term of office, Lewis created, hosted and produced film festivals, tributes and events saluting Monty Python, Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Graham Chapman, Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg, Hammer Films, Britain's Channel Four, The Beatles and Absolutely Fabulous. He also conceived the British Academy's Annual English Tea Party honoring British Oscar nominees - and produced and hosted the first event in 1994.
He initiated The Academy's collaborations with several American organizations, including The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Directors Guild, The Writers Guild and The American Cinematheque - and served as liaison with those entities.
He also instigated, and represented The Academy's involvement in, The Freedom of Expression Network - the amalgamation of organizations (including ACLU, HWPC, People For The American Way and The Creative Coalition) concerned with arts censorship and First Amendment issues.
He is a keen but intermittent sportsman - occasionally engaging in racquetball, tennis, bowling, soccer and cricket. He is a member of the famous Beverly Hills & Hollywood Cricket Club, and the founder of The British Academy Cricket Club.
He 'works out' for five or six hours every day - though his definition of 'working out' is simply doing all his work outside - on his sun-deck - sweating over a hot PowerBook and telephone! However - as a concession to his doctor - he forces himself to spend one grueling hour every day on his stationary recumbent exercise bike - often pedaling it for greater effect.
His other interests include collecting kitsch '60's movie posters; collecting and wearing kitsch 60's clothing; studying British and American psephology; vamping Beatles tunes on his baby-grand piano (with more enthusiasm than expertise); gourmand (!) cooking.....and defying his nutritionist.
Happily divorced after a brief marriage that "had a great opening weekend - but then went 'straight-to-video'" - Lewis lives in the Hollywood Hills "without the comfort of any cats, dogs or wives."
He has also recently taken to the description of him by some as The World's Least Reserved Englishman - though personally he feels that this title is something of an understatement. He has been referred to as the Token British-Jewish-Liberal on American TV - and for his ardent support of President Clinton and savage attacks on right-wing conservatives during the impeachment - he was described as a "Brutal Liberal" who "makes James Carville seem like the tooth fairy." Lewis is very proud of these descriptions.
He describes himself as: "Howard Stern - without the subtlety... David Letterman - without the humility... and Robin Leach - without the class."
Referring to his various roles as a humorist-TV & radio host-commentator-actor-columnist-writer-producer, he eschews the customary tag of multi-hyphenate, preferring instead a more modest Latterday Renaissance Man. Lewis had never anticipated a career as a performer - and is agreeably bemused by his rapid progress: "I suppose I'd been a comedian for 39 years. But the first 38 years I was in denial."
He attributes most of his success to the scarcity of direct competition: "There are very, very few British-Jewish humorists in the 323 area code."
Incidentally, Lewis claims to be an avowed opponent of 'surfing the net.' He describes this obsessive activity as 'cyber-bating' - and he believes that there are more pleasurable ways to go blind. Lewis has selflessly volunteered to lead the 'resistance' to this "World Wide Web of abomination" - and in direct opposition to The Internet - has anointed himself The Anti-Net. However, declaring that: "if you can't join them - beat them" - he has created and hosts several websites - including his own website www.martinlewis.com - and delighting in the incongruity - he intends to promulgate his Luddite philosophy on his website!
Asked to explain his philosophy of life, Lewis responds: "I'm constantly searching for the substance of life.... the pith of reality. I try to take the pith out of reality." He enjoys living in Hollywood because "....it constantly lulls one into a false sense of in-security." He summarizes his ambition thus: "I'm just seeking my 20 minutes of fame..... That's the statutory 15 minutes - with a 5 minutes grace period."