When Lewis comes to club headquarters on 55th Street in Midtown Manhattan, "it's like Dad came home and he's got presents for everyone in the form of laughter," said Friars Club spokesman Barry Dougherty.
Lewis has been the club's leader since 2006. The late comic Alan King held the post previously, following Frank Sinatra's 20-year tenure. As Abbot, Lewis oversees the annual roasts and helps with fundraising, continuing the philanthropic tradition he started with the Muscular Dystrophy Association more than 60 years ago.
The comedian's abrupt departure as national chairman of the organization and face of its Labor Day telethon still hasn't been explained, and Lewis refuses to talk about it.
"He's thrilled to channel those particular energies our way," Dougherty said of the Friars Foundation, which provides scholarships for aspiring entertainers and brings comedians to military hospitals to cheer up wounded veterans.
As abbot, Lewis also offers guidance to up-and-comers. One tip? Appreciate your fans.
"I never took them for granted, which is a mistake young performers make," he said. "Those that are interested in what your life is about, you have to give them time... It's all part of the business. If you don't like that part, get out of the other part."
Though Lewis has come under fire in recent years for his bias against female comics and can be cantankerous and unpredictable in interviews and on stage, his abiding love of connecting through comedy is clear. When asked what he loves about it, he said, "watching people laugh — especially when the people are seeing you for the first time and they're laughing and they're laughing good. It's an incredible feeling."
He feels the magic again when he talks to fans after the show, describing the connection as "a moment of infinite care, and it gives you a moment of infinite understanding."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .