Jenifer Lewis might be thinking of amending the title of her new book, after she’s come to be known for more than her Hollywood chops.
“Mama will give you a kick, Talking about ‘Walking in my Joy.’ I’m kicking in my joy,” she says over the phone between breakfast and pilates.
“Walking in My Joy: In These Streets” (Amistad, 320 pp., out now) is Lewis’ second book and contains serious accounts of Lewis’ time in lockdown, including when the actress slept by Kathy Griffin’s side after the comedian overdosed on sleeping pills. While some stories are grim, others stories are hilarious, swear-laden, cautionary tales – including how she learned the hard way to listen to a health clinic’s advice on keeping near a bathroom after having a wheatgrass enema.
While the cover reflects a vibrant Lewis who seems prepared at any moment to perform her Rockette-style kick, another image opposite the title page contrasts the actress’ joy: a black-and-white photo of herself in a hospital with a swollen jaw right as the pandemic was brewing.
“I wanted to shock everyone after that beautiful cover. I have wanted to pull the reader right back into reality. COVID affected us all and stress levels went beyond the rooftop,” Lewis says “It was a time that we all contemplated our death.”
While her stories are often interjected with “I’m kidding. No, I’m not” after wild statements, Lewis says everything written is “pretty accurate.”
She adds: “You know, I exaggerated a few little things, but no, it’s pretty accurate.”
She clarified that the enema accident was 100% true.
Activism is Jenifer Lewis’ main stage
Lewis built her career on Broadway and screens big and small with credits that include “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Black-ish.” But the star writes how the 2016 election, paired with a conversation during an Antarctica cruise, tipped the scales of her career toward activism.
In “Walking,” Lewis writes how three years ago, in an effort to escape the state of the world, she hopped on a cruise to Antarctica. She didn’t know a casual conversation with the French captain of the boat would result in marching orders “to go back to your country and tell whoever will listen that we are in fact in trouble. The Arctic is melting at the speed of light.”
Lewis writes that soon after that conversation, she went to an empty lounge on the boat and started writing “Climate Change Is Real,” which she later posted on Instagram, leading the way for many other warning songs from the actress on the social media platform.
“I sat there at the piano resolved, feeling like a revolutionary. I had a platform and a plan,” she writes.
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“I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think that I didn’t do everything I could to save democracy,” Lewis says. “I stand with everyone and say ‘How about we give everything we’ve got to the next generation, isn’t that what it’s about?’ … So I’m leaving these books.”
Jenifer Lewis’ ‘perfect day’ getting a Hollywood star
While Lewis has reduced show business to a fraction of her life’s work, she had a grand ceremony to celebrate her Hollywood star on Jackie Washington Day (July 15), an ode to her 1999 Lifetime mockumentary “Jackie’s Back!”
“It was glorious because I knew I had earned it,” Lewis says, adding, “the best feeling” was that “I didn’t have to say I earned it.”
To Lewis, the moment wasn’t glorified by her name (just one “n”) being gilded in the cement of Hollywood Boulevard. Lewis says what really made it “a perfect day” was who showed up for her.
“My siblings were there. All of them,” Lewis says emotionally; she’s the youngest of seven raised in Kinloch, Missouri.”They came even with their health issues. But they all said they wouldn’t miss it. They had to suffer me telling them every day when I was a little girl, ‘I’m going to be a star.’ ”
‘I Love That for You’ is Jenifer Lewis’ ‘best work’
In her book’s nearly 12-page acknowledgments section, Lewis offers gratitude to those she’s worked with over the years, including Dolly Parton, “all my babies on the ‘Black-ish’ crew” and Queen Latifah for “driving me home when I was drunk on the streets of New York.”
Off the pages, Lewis gives the highest praise to the team she’s worked on her most recent show, “I Love That for You.” On the Showtime comedy series co-created by Vanessa Bayer, Lewis plays the ice queen CEO of the home shopping network that is the center of the show, a role Lewis says she’s “having the time of my life with.”
“I’m not gonna lie to you. That’s why you guys are getting my best work right now. Because I’m loving the environment. There’s not a weak link in the cast,” Lewis says of costars Bayer, Molly Shannon, Matt Rogers and more.
While Lewis’ roles have leaned toward feisty matriarchal characters in the past, her Patricia in the Showtime series is a snappy, fierce leader with a cunning (and controversial) business mind.
“You guys are getting the kind of performance you really never seen from me,” Lewis says. “Also I’m the elder (on set) and nobody can (expletive) with me.”