The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Australian Coalition for Equality have called for an apology after Jerry Lewis, who is in Australia performing a stage show, made the remark and mimed swinging a cricket bat effeminately at a televised press conference.

It is not the first time the comedian, whose big break came as the slapstick half of a double act with Dean Martin, has created controversy. During a telethon last year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which he has presented since 1966, he pointed out one of the cameramen and called him an “illiterate fag”. He immediately retracted the remark and later issued a full apology, saying that, “I obviously made a poor choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudices in this regard. In the family atmosphere of the telethon, I forgot that not everyone knows me that well.”

He had already stunned an audience in 2000 by saying explaining his dislike of women working as comedians by saying: “I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world.” A decade earlier, he described those with muscular dystrophy as “being like half a person.”

Lewis has also been awarded the Boston University School of Law’s prestigious Neal Pike Prize for Service to the Handicapped and was inducted into the French Legion of Honour by decree of President Mitterand in 1984.

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