The film was the 9th highest-grossing picture of the 1979 year in the USA. The picture was a massive success at the worldwide box-office grossing over US$100 million from an original production budget of only about US$4 million.
Bill Murray filmed a cameo that was deleted. On the Saturday, December 15th, 1979 broadcast of Saturday Night Live (1975), Murray jokingly reviewed The Jerk (1979), saying: "I was in the movie but cut out of it. That doesn't influence my opinion. The movie is a dog. There's something missing. I don't know who it is, I can't say."
According to his book "Born Standing Up", Steve Martin's favorite line in the movie is ad libbed. When his character is hitchhiking, a man in a truck stops and asks, "St. Louis?" - to which Martin replies, "No, Navin Johnson."
Prior to the film's opening, Steve Martin was delayed in Terre Haute, Indiana. He later recalled this story on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), calling Terre Haute "No Place." The residents of the city objected to this, and ultimately, Martin was invited back to Terre Haute and was given the key to the city and a tour of the local fertilizer plant. Martin repaid the city by opening The Jerk (1979) in Terre Haute. However, in one of the trailers for Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), Martin asks the audience if they'd rather see "Cow Patties over Terre Haute." Also in that film, when Col Kluck throws one switch, it destroys one town in America: Terre Haute, IN.
When Marie is applying the face mask treatment to the older gentleman, she mentions that it will make the customer look years younger. At that moment his wife exclaims, "ahlevai," which means "I wish" in Hebrew.
The gigantic house shown in the film is the infamous Sheik Al-Fassi mansion in Beverly Hills, the first time the residence appeared in a major motion picture. The property was selected over about half a dozen contenders which included the former Harold Lloyd and Marion Davies estates. The tacky rooms shown in the film were actually shot in the mansion thanks to its cavernous size rooms. One reason this abode was chosen was because its very large and spacious rooms meant any filming done in one part of the dwelling allowed great vista shots of adjoining areas at the same time. The mansion also had its own basement disco where the dance scene was filmed. The thirty-eight room mansion no longer exists; it was torched by an arsonist in 1980, the DVD states that the building was demolished with the site becoming a vacant lot.
Hartunian's gas station is actually located on the corner of Halstead St and Rosemead Blvd in Pasadena, CA. The gas station has since been torn down and replaced with a Carl's Jr. restaurant. In addition, the hill that the shooter climbs to fire upon the gas station is "Green Hill," which has been developed into a professional office center.
According to Wikipedia, the movie's origins are that "the basic premise comes from a stand-up routine [of Steve Martin's] (included on his debut comedy album, 'Let's Get Small'), in which Martin claimed to have been 'born a poor black child', and how, after hearing his first Mantovani record, he 'decided to become white'."
The production notes on the DVD state that a Klieglighted world premiere of the film's trailer was held in the Spring of 1979. The production of it came in under budget and on schedule saving the studio $110 and about 200 feet of film. Newspaper ads declared that the show would run from 8.00 pm to 8.02 pm and that no one would be admitted to the screening after the first six seconds.
First of two "Jerk" movies. The second film, The Jerk, Too (1984), was made and released about five years later, and was made for television, considered perhaps to be a pilot for a TV series. Steve Martin did not reprise his role as Navin Johnson in the picture, it being instead being played by Mark Blankfield, though Martin was credited for characters and did act as an executive producer on it. The title of The Jerk, Too (1984), like Splash, Too (1988), played on sequel conventions naming by playing on the word "Two" (meaning Part II) with the word "Too".
Steve Martin adapted several bits of his standup act to fit within the film, such as a monologue in which he emotionally exits a scene, remarking "I don't need anything," but nevertheless picking up each object he passes on his way out.
Steve Martin's favorite moment of the film, as he detailed in his 2007 memoir Born Standing Up, was the scene in which he and Bernadette Peters sing "Tonight You Belong to Me". Martin felt the moment was touching, and waited in anticipation at the film's premiere screening in St. Louis. Unfortunately, much of the audience left during the scene to buy more popcorn.