Henry Holt and Co.
Billy Crystal is a wonderful storyteller – that’s what’s always served his comedy best, that’s how he’s been best at serving it; delivering. And that’s what works best for the parts of this memoir (the majority) where he hurtles through his upbringing and career highlights, careful not to trace around the same material from his fabulous 700 Sundays and eager to keep the pace brisk, to not bog the reader down with anything too heavy, too overtly sentimental.
But Crystal can do heartbreak, he opens up, offers pathos, talks of death and grieving and troubles.
The weak moments – and this is nit-picking, really – are in the sometimes almost-cringe moments of what feels like trialled/rejected stand-up bits about turning 65. He even has the odd killer line there to though, wanting to not die because he can’t stand the thought of not outliving those he hates, and reality-checking Americans: “Have you been to Disneyland lately? It’s not a small world after all. It’s a big, fat, sweaty-ass-crack world”.
Such potshots are for humour only of course as you can tell Crystal’s a nice guy, takes his work seriously but doesn’t ever take himself too seriously, cares for his family and his craft (and in that order, crucially).
But still the moments where he breaks the timeline up and interjects with bits Bill Cosby would have snubbed feels, sometimes, like (lazy) padding, like a strange twist on the memoir. Because Crystal’s story is good enough – he could have played it straight in the telling and you’d still be laughing with the fantastic highlight reel of a life that’s seen highs and (relative) lows in showbiz.
It almost feels like two different book ideas are having a slight tussle, the silly thoughts on turning 65 and the wise reflections on an interesting life. Oh well, it works, for the most part.
Crystal started by schlepping out on the travelling comedy circuit, making ends meet as he opened for bigger names and drove 500 mile round trips to do his half-hour set.
After a few lucky breaks he found his way, the momentum just continued to build, he was a talented MC and character player, he had a part on the TV show Soap, his famous Muhammad Ali impersonation (sometimes alternated with his Howard Cosell) had him on roast panels and Ali tributes and from there it was to SNL for a stint, to more writing and hosting gigs and Hollywood’s logical treadmill dropped him off at the movies.
He’s had some duds but the big hits were very big and in this book he tells great stories about the making of breakthrough comedies like When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers. Meg Ryan took her orgasm direction from Rob Reiner performing his own forged excitement to cast and crew; Charles Bronson turned down City Slickers, incredulous that his character was set to peg it on page 65. He told Crystal to go fuck himself and hangs up the phone. Jack Palance takes the gig and wins an Oscar.
Crystal’s biggest Oscar success has been in hosting the show – a likely thankless task, an all-eyes-on-them gig that he’s always managed with some aplomb and great comedy writing.
I could have done with just a little less forced comedy ‘bits’ in this book. But then I could also have done with twice as much book, more stories about the stars and Crystal and his seemingly unique humility – given his success; his place in Hollywood.
An easy read, a wonderful read – one for all the family and an easy-choice as a stocking filler.