Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Billy Crystal tells life story on stage -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Billy Crystal tells life story on stage

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: Billy Crystal is one of the outstanding comics of his generation, with successes
that range from the most daunting one night stand in comedy, the Oscars, to movies with the likes
of Robert de Niro, Woody Allen, Robin Williams to his debut as a director in the highly acclaimed
Mr Saturday Night. Billy Crystal has returned to his roots on the stage, with the Tony
Award-winning one-man Broadway show called 700 Sundays, the story of an unusual childhood that
spawned the future comedian and, in particular, his relationship with his parents. 700 Sundays
opens in Sydney tomorrow, and I spoke with Billy Crystal earlier today.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Billy Crystal, you've written about a childhood filled with love and laughter,
family, good food, Jews and jazz, brisket and bourbon.

BILLY CRYSTAL: Well, you know, I was very fortunate. You know, you can't pick the family you're
born into, but if I could pick these people I'd pick them over and over again because they were
eccentric, funny, charming and entered me into a world of music and musicians and an era in
America, or in the world, I should say, in the mid '50s when I start to really remember most in my
life. My dad was in the music business and the whole family business was jazz. So I was always
around these amazing musicians. Saw my first movie with Billie Holiday. My uncle produced her
records, Dad produced some of her concerts and other great concerts so I was around great
musicians. So that was just lucky.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And your mother once suggested to Louis Armstrong, maybe he should just spit it out?

BILLY CRYSTAL: That was my grandmother. My grandmother said to Louis Armstrong, have you tried just
coughing it up? We were around them. So it was a really eccentric group of people, what I referred
to as Jews and jazz, and the house always smelt of brisket and bourbon. That really started me
performing, was being around them. My brothers and I loved these guys and we would perform and I
would imitate them. I was the youngest and the shortest, which meant that I was the loudest. I just
had no fear. I was always up on stage some place and I think it was about these guys.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've worked with some of the great legends. Let me throw a few of those names at
you, and ask what you might have learnt from them. Woody Allen?

BILLY CRYSTAL: Don't ever stop your creativity. Don't ever stop writing, performing.

WOODY ALLEN IN DECONSTRUCTING HARRY: You dare to match your powers against mine?

BILLY CRYSTAL: You want to know why? Forgive me for laughing - why?

WOODY ALLEN: I'm more powerful than you because I'm a bigger sinner, because you're a fallen angel
and I never believed in God or Heaven or any of that stuff.

BILLY CRYSTAL: I think he's in many ways the ultimate American filmmaker of our generation. Hit or
miss, there's a movie made a year. It's amazing to me, the quality of the writing. Certainly, there
are going to be some better than others. I look at Picassos and say I don't like this one, but I
love this one. But they're still Picassos. And to me Woody is the giant of American filmmakers that
way, along with Martin Scorsese and Coppola who've made epic, great movies, Woody has made 20 great

KERRY O'BRIEN: What did you learn from Robert de Niro?

BILLY CRYSTAL: He never stops inventing, finding, trusting how to work small.

ROBERT DE NIRO IN ANALYZE THIS: Nah, you're good doc. I'll going to be getting in touch with you.
Just one more thing, if I talk to you and you turn me into a fag, I'm going to kill you, you

BILLY CRYSTAL: Can we define fag, because some feelings may come up.

ROBERT DE NIRO: We go fag, you die.

BILLY CRYSTAL: I begged him for two years to do this. That he needed to be funny in a movie, people
should see him funny. I said, when I'm around you, you make me laugh, so you'll make people laugh,
and he said, "I don't know if I can do this character again, a gangster guy." Yeah, but if you do
it funny it'll open up a whole new thing. People look at you differently. He said yes, and he did
it, and now he's the comedy king and he's getting all the parts I should be getting!

KERRY O'BRIEN: Robin Williams. So, when you and Robin Williams work on a film like 'Father's Day',
I wonder how much of the original survives?

BILLY CRYSTAL: We were very true to the script, but what you learn from Robin is embrace the danger
he's fearless. I so admire that in him. We're very different in certain ways, but we're so alike in
our pursuit of getting a laugh. He has a brilliance that is pretty astounding to be around.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Because when he takes off, nobody would know, I assume, including him, where it's
going to go?

BILLY CRYSTAL: No, and that's what's exciting about him. I love to be his partner, in that way, in
the stuff that we've done in Comic Relief over the years, I know how to sort of ground him and ask
him the right questions and it becomes like Joe Frasier and Muhammad Ali. I can take the punches
and throw a couple of shots and then weather the storm. What I learned from Robin is, trust the

KERRY O'BRIEN: I don't know how someone can exist like that?

BILLY CRYSTAL: No, no, no, Robin has a wonderful, quiet, incredibly intelligent, well read side of
him. So knowledgeable about so many things. He's the most curious person in the world. Yes, he's
got this torrid kind of manic brilliance that spews out of him but on the other side of him he's
actually a very quiet kind of guy. Then there's the guy who goes out and howls at the moon. He'll
do that too.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You haven't chalked up 700 performances yet of '700 Sundays' but you've certainly
done an awful lot. That would add up to a great deal of self reflection.

BILLY CRYSTAL: Self affliction or self reflection?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Reflection.

BILLY CRYSTAL: Yeah, you know, the show was written out of grief. And it's going to sound funny,
why is a funny show about grief, but it was. My mum had just passed away, my father had died when I
was 15, which is what the title refers to. He worked two jobs, sometimes three. Sundays was our one
day together and he dies when I'm 15. So as I approached 50, I realised, wow, we only had, like,
700 of these days. It became a way to guide into the story. When I lost my mum in 2001 I said,
"I've got to get rid of this stuff, these bags are getting too heavy to carry around." So we turned
it into this show, and I started improvising these wonderful stories that I remembered and started
just doing them to music jazz music that I had. I thought, "This is a good one, this fits this,
this sounds good, this sounds right," and then we put it together. In a short period of time and
then debuted it in a little college in a university, worked in like a lab with graduate students,
asking them questions, "What do you think of this, this and that?" We ran to only 12 shows and
three months later were on Broadway and we had a tremendous success, toured across America and now
we're here. But the catharsis is to relieve the pain I was feeling, and every night this is now
five years later, after she's gone I find that I miss her less, because I'm with her more. That's a
great thing. I feel like I've done a great visit every night.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And do you still get a joy out of making people laugh, or is it more you're watching
to see that they do laugh and then relax that you're still funny?

BILLY CRYSTAL: No, Kerry. There are moments in the show where there's really big laughs that I
still get that little buzz in the back of my neck and I'll feel on stage, "Oh, man, this is good".

KERRY O'BRIEN: Billy Crystal, thanks for talking with us.

BILLY CRYSTAL: It's been a pleasure. Come see the show.