MELISSA DOYLE: There’s nothing like having a good laugh, and few comedians have generated so many laughs over such a long time as the ultimate funnyman, Billy Crystal. He is an all-round entertainer, a writer, director, actor. He’s in movies, on TV, does stand-up and is a nine-time host of the Academy Awards. His closest mate was the comic legend Robin Williams, who died in shocking circumstances nearly two years ago. In a heartfelt interview with Sunday Night’s Rahni Sadler, Billy opens up about all the laughter and the tears and how after Williams’ tragic death, he was determined that the show must go on.
(ORCHESTRA PLAYS FANFARE)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Crystal!
RAHNI SADLER: Now, here’s a guy who knows how to make a big entrance.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.
RAHNI SADLER: A master of one of the world’s biggest ceremonies.
BILLY CRYSTAL: So, let’s get going. Gentlemen, start your egos!
RAHNI SADLER: But making an entrance for us…
RAHNI SADLER:..didn’t quite go to plan.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I didn’t do that.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I didn’t do that.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Hi, Rahni. Good morning.
RAHNI SADLER: Hi, Billy. How are you?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Good. Good to see you.
RAHNI SADLER: Good to see you. Come on in.
BILLY CRYSTAL: So, THAT’S an entrance! As soon as the doors open, we’re rolling. Doors didn’t open. OK. This is gonna just be fine.
RAHNI SADLER: It’s the beginning of a madcap day…
BILLY CRYSTAL: Where are you going?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Hi. I’m Hugh Jackman, and I’ve had some work done.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I’m Billy Crystal, and I’ve been bitten by a deadly funnel-web spider. Please, pl…
RAHNI SADLER:..that even included an indoor game of cricket in a New York hotel. It’s an Australian spin on his favourite thing in the world – baseball.
MAN: (ON TV) # Take me out to the ball game…
RAHNI SADLER: You went to college on a baseball scholarship.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I was a good baseball player. I still play a couple of times a week as part of my daily workout. Just throwing the ball, running around, fielding ground balls, you know. It’s better to me than being on a treadmill or some sort of Zumba class.
RAHNI SADLER: (LAUGHS) Billy Crystal does Zumba.
BILLY CRYSTAL: So it’s what I know. It’s what I love to do. And I’m the oldest Yankee to ever have an at-bat in a game. They… Right before my 60th birthday, I had an official at-bat in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, um…and that, to this day…
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
BILLY CRYSTAL: ..is the single greatest moment of my life – performing life.
RAHNI SADLER: That is amazing. Because I thought there would be no greater high on this earth as a performer than hosting the Oscars.
BILLY CRYSTAL: It’s a different high.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Everyone has been coming up to me saying, “Hey, Bill, are you gonna sing one of them “Best Picture medleys like you always do?” And the answer is, “Yeah!”
(ORCHESTRA PLAYS) # It’s a wonderful night for Oscar # Oscar, Oscar # Who will win? #
BILLY CRYSTAL: The nominees for Best Picture are…
BILLY CRYSTAL: When you’re the host of the Academy Awards and you grew up watching Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and now it’s your turn and you get a chance to run with the baton on the relay for a while, I really embraced it and just really loved being there. I felt that every time I walked out there was, “Alright, right now, I’m the captain of show business. “I could ask them to do anything right now, couldn’t I?”
You sang in Paint Your Wagon # Please don’t sing no more… #
BILLY CRYSTAL: If I said, “Alright, everybody stand up. “Everybody go like this.” I could have played Simon Says with the biggest stars in the world if I wanted to.
RAHNI SADLER: The famous Oscars when you arrived in the Hannibal Lecter mask, you were sick as a dog. You had a, like…above what we would say 40-degree…
BILLY CRYSTAL: I had pneumonia that night and a terrible sinus and ear infection. I couldn’t hear very well. And I did not know if I was gonna make it. I didn’t rehearse all week. I was really sick.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I’m having some of the Academy over for dinner. Care to join me?
ANTHONY HOPKINS: Yes. Anytime.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Anytime! (LAUGHS) They called Tom Hanks to, like, “Alright, you may have to do this if he can’t go, “and he’ll give you all of his jokes.”
BILLY CRYSTAL: We are here to celebrate the movies, going to the movies.
RAHNI SADLER: Billy went on with the show. But what viewers didn’t know was that in between appearances, he was hooked up to an IV in a dressing-room.
BILLY CRYSTAL: And Paul Newman was there, who I’d never met at that point, and it was like, you know, he’s getting dressed and I’d come in with a guy who’s putting this thing in my arm to give me fluids, and it’s, “Hey, Paul! How are you? Anything I can do for you?” “Would you put that pillow behind my head?” Thank you very much. I was so woozy, I really didn’t care what I said.
RAHNI SADLER: You hosted it nine times. How different is hosting the Oscars now there’s social media?
BILLY CRYSTAL: You know, when I first started, there were, like… ..two or three critics that you thought, “Alright, I hope I get a good review from them.” And now there’s millions of them. So you’re trending. What are you wearing? They don’t like what you’re wearing. They don’t like your face. They don’t like this. Oh, he got old…. And they kill ya!
In olden days… #
RAHNI SADLER: Since Billy was a little kid, he loved making people laugh, especially his fun-loving parents, Helen and Jack. His family ran a jazz record label in New York City where all of the greats of the time recorded.
RAHNI SADLER: And you got to meet a lot of them, didn’t you?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Well, the house was always… They were always over. And so the house was filled with these great musicians, and for, you know, a middle-class Jewish family to have African American friends who liked to drink and occasionally smoke a little pot and then play jazz in your living room was thrilling, you know? So it was very easy for me as the youngest of three brothers to want to be the loudest, ‘cause I was also the shortest.
RAHNI SADLER: Billy got married when he was 21 and in short order began a family. He looked after his baby daughter during the day and worked the clubs at night.
ANNOUNCER: The very wonderful and very, very talented Mr Billy Crystal. So let’s welcome now. Come on – Billy Crystal!
RAHNI SADLER: On the comedy circuit, he met the man who would become his best friend, Robin Williams.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: (SILLY VOICE) That Robert De Niro is such an incredible man.
BILLY CRYSTAL: (SILLY VOICE) Did you see Bobby?
ROBIN WILLIAMS: Bobby. That was Bobby, wasn’t it?
BILLY CRYSTAL: No, that was Woody Allen.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: Oh, forgive me! I don’t know these things. Look at him!
BILLY CRYSTAL: I loved him MORE than a brother sometimes. It was different. You know, we were just really special together, on stage and off. We really loved being with each other. We’d have these fantastic, um… battles on stage.
JAY LENO: Do you guys ever do each other? Can you do an impression of Robin?
BILLY CRYSTAL: (AS ROBIN) Ohhh! Ohhh! Ohh! Oh, I can’t!
BILLY CRYSTAL: (WILD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) Something stopped me.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: Quiet! Aarggh! (JEWISH ACCENT) Oh, like… (MOANS)
ROBIN WILLIAMS: Oh, with the eeh-ah!
(WILD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BILLY CRYSTAL: I knew how to work with him. Uh, I understood when he wanted
to go, where he wanted to go. And there was a great respect between the two of us.
RAHNI SADLER: From stand-up to TV to movies, both their careers soared.
BOTH: # Hey, hey, hey! #
RAHNI SADLER: At 41, Billy starred in one of Hollywood’s all-time favourites,
RAHNI SADLER: When Harry Met Sally, opposite a young Meg Ryan.
MEG RYAN: (HONKS HORN) Sorry!
BILLY CRYSTAL: And our chemistry from the first time we met, when she came into… I was cast first, so when she came in to read, it was like, “Are you kidding me? This is, like… “This is gonna be… This is easy.” ‘Cause she’s so good. It just felt so right.
BILLY CRYSTAL: (SILLY VOICE) But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.
MEG RYAN: (LAUGHS) Oh, no!
BILLY CRYSTAL: (SILLY VOICE) But I would be proud.
MEG RYAN: (SILLY VOICE) But I would be proud.
BILLY CRYSTAL: To partake.
MEG RYAN: To partake.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Of your pecan piiie.
MEG RYAN: Of your pecan piiie.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Pecan pie.
MEG RYAN: Pecan pie.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Pe-can pie.
MEG RYAN: Pe-can piiiie.
RAHNI SADLER: Some of the best-loved scenes were adlibbed and improvised with director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron.
BILLY CRYSTAL: You don’t think that I could tell the difference?
MEG RYAN: No. Get outta here.
BILLY CRYSTAL: So, as we were developing the piece… Rob is a very open director. He likes to play and do things. And Nora was as, you know… as good as it gets, and, um… ..she brought up the fact about faking orgasms, and Rob got offended. “Well, it never happened with me.”
MEG RYAN: (PANTS, GROANS)
MEG RYAN: Oh, God!
BILLY CRYSTAL: So And she goes, “How do you know?” And I said, “This is a scene. We’re already doing… “This could be a great scene.” And then Meg said,
“I should fake an orgasm.” And I said, “Yeah, like, in a public place.” And he goes, “Yeah, like a restaurant or something like that.”
MEG RYAN: (SCREAMS) Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
BILLY CRYSTAL: And Harry doesn’t know what to do, and then she does it, and then we cut to this woman – she’ll be right there, an older woman – and she’ll say… I’ll have what she’s having.
RAHNI SADLER: City Slickers.You not only came up with the idea for City Slickers, but you and the other cast members actually drove 450 herd of cattle.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Of cattle, yeah.
RAHNI SADLER: Every day for months. Tell me about being in the water with the calf.
BILLY CRYSTAL: See, when you say ‘kahf’… ..it…it means a gentle… ..it sounds like a beautiful thing.
RAHNI SADLER: Yeah.
BILLY CRYSTAL: A ‘kaff’ is really different.
(CRIES OUT, GRUNTS)
BILLY CRYSTAL: It’s 90 pounds of wet suede. Who doesn’t want to be in the 52-degree water. And I had this wetsuit on underneath, and the only way you could stay warm, the stuntman said to me, was, “Well, you know, pee in your wetsuit.” I said, “What?!” He goes, “Yeah, well, listen, it’s 98.6, so that’ll warm you.” So that happened.
RAHNI SADLER: (LAUGHS)
BILLY CRYSTAL: Look how we’re bonding, Australia. See? Now you know what I make in my pants.
RAHNI SADLER: I want to ask you about Analyze This. Robert De Niro has made a very successful career in comedy in recent years.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Yeah.
RAHNI SADLER: But he’d never done a comedy. And all the studios told you with Analyze This that he’d never do it.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I didn’t know, um… ..’Bob’… (CHUCKLES)..that well at the time, and I said, “Listen, this thing could be really funny. “I think it’d be a great thing.” Um…”It’s a different thing for you. “See what you think.” Two days later – only two days later, which is amazing – he called and said, “I love this thing.”
ROBERT DE NIRO: You. You! (CHUCKLES) You got a gift, my friend You got a gift.
BILLY CRYSTAL: No, it’s nothing.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Oh, yeah.
RAHNI SADLER: And you were terrified of acting in front of him.
BILLY CRYSTAL: That was scarier than the cows!
“FRIENDS” CAST: Hey! Oh!
“RACHEL”: How’d it go with Pete? Tell us.
“MONICA”: You’re not gonna believe this, OK? So I go…
BILLY CRYSTAL: I’m sorry.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: Excuse me.
RAHNI SADLER: Still some of his most fun memories are the times he shared with Robin Williams.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: (SILLY VOICE) It’s a feeling you get, you know?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Like when you go bowling and you know you’re in somebody else’s shoes?
ROBIN WILLIAMS: That’s the one!
RAHNI SADLER: Do you still find it hard to believe he’s gone?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s… You know, it’s… What’s it gonna be, two years…
RAHNI SADLER: In August.
BILLY CRYSTAL: In August. Um, it’s…it’s… It still makes no sense. It still makes no sense. Um… (CLEARS THROAT) You know, I was in Europe when it happened, I was in Rome, and we were on vacation and we had been communicating, and he wasn’t feeling well and he was… ..he was having some problems. He had told me about the Parkinson’s diagnosis, and then… But I never… I wasn’t around him… ..you know, as apparently this descent was happening, and so I was totally shocked and, um… You know, he was my closest pal. And I think the hardest thing I ever had to do was go on the Emmys 10…I think it was 10 days after he was gone – and try to make some sort of sense
out of it.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Well, as Geena says he was on stage, he was the greatest friend you could ever imagine. Supportive. Protective. Loving. It’s very hard to talk about him in the past, because he was so present in all of our lives.
BILLY CRYSTAL: ‘Cause people, to this day, want answers. And I don’t have answers. I don’t know. I just have more questions and I just have more pain, you know?
RAHNI SADLER:..so freaking funny? The bit where you guys are in the water…
RAHNI SADLER: Now 68, Billy is reminiscing on his own life. He’s most proud of his 46-year marriage, his two kids and four grandkids. And as ever, he’s mining his life for new material, now making his age the butt of his jokes, creating his own text short cuts.
RAHNI SADLER: You’ve got your own ‘LOL’s, don’t you?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Yeah, ‘cause all of those, like, they’re so annoying when you get them. So I thought, you know, for people over 60 or over 65 – whatever you may be –these are abbreviations for when you text. So, this is like… ‘GNIB’ would be ‘Good news – it’s benign’.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I think that’s, like, a great one.
BILLY CRYSTAL: ‘WAI’. This is one essential for people over 75. WAI, which is, “Where am I?”
BILLY CRYSTAL: ‘DTLSTY’. This may be my favourite. “Does this look swollen to you?”
BILLY CRYSTAL: As you reach a certain age and you can figure out your phone, you can text those.
RAHNI SADLER: And what do you get the ultimate baseball fan who’s about to tour Australia?
BILLY CRYSTAL: A cricket set.
RAHNI SADLER: Oh, my God! Look at this.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Look what they did! It’s got all Yankee stuff on it!
RAHNI SADLER: Maybe I’ll teach you. Push forward.
BILLY CRYSTAL: OK. Oh, this is great. You brought this all the way?
RAHNI SADLER: Mm-hm.
BILLY CRYSTAL: Wow.
RAHNI SADLER: Out! (CHEERS) Wow!
BILLY CRYSTAL: See, in New York, though, this is, “What do you want, a slice? I just made this one.” Alright. It’s like a thing they take the pizza out with.
I don’t like cricket… #
BILLY CRYSTAL: Whoa!
Oh, no… #
RAHNI SADLER: What are the things you celebrate about ageing?
BILLY CRYSTAL: Well, the big thing is I’m still here.
BILLY CRYSTAL: I love this. Thank you so much.
I love it… #
MELISSA DOYLE: Rahni Sadler reporting. If you’d like more laughs with Billy, his new live show heads Down Under in July and August with stops in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. Tickets are on sale from tomorrow. More on our website.