Billy Crystal emerges from the curtains and takes to the table. A lucky few journalists greet him with applause. Crystal urges us to “Keep it going till I get to the table!” Crowd goes crazy. Finally Crystal sits and says “Boy I sounded all-important!” but he’s right.
Crystal is one of the top Oscar hosts of all time, after Bob Hope, has starred in some of the most iconic films in modern times, When Harry Met sally, City Slickers, Analyze This and dozens more, including my personal favorite Throw Mama From the Train. Crystal is a longtime partner with Pixar and his latest project for them is the heartwarming and clever Monsters University.
It’s a sequel, and a prequel to Monsters Inc., and takes us back to the time when Mike and Sully first met. They were in university taking a kid scaring course, which does not run smoothly.
Mike’s just not that scary. Crystal chatted with us and ranged from one topic to another in an afternoon of pure live entertainment.
Here is some of it.
On four grandkids who know grandpa is famous:
• Well the littlest one is 3 months old born on my 65th birthday. I hate to say that. No. I love to say it because I’m still here. It’s good. We were walking at the mall and a paparazzi creep jumped out and started taking pictures and freaked them out. What’s he doing that to you for? I had to explain what I did and I was internationally famous (laughs) what do you do? I showed them Monsters Inc.
• I couldn’t show them the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally. Then I was Grandpa Mike for about a year. There were billboards when I did the Oscars and they’d look and say ... Grandpa! Now they’re kind of used to it. They came to see Parental Guidance because I play a grandfather. My 7 year old said to his mother “Mom do people know Grandma is marred to Billy Crystal?”
• One time we’re watching, they watch the same things over and over and over and over and over again and over again, Dora the something exploring the same thing, and then I was looking at the guide and I saw Cityslickers was on. Let’s see what else is on and there I am. She just looks at me and the TV and says “How?” She was excited.
And now they’re cool with it and its exciting and bragging rights at school. We try to play it down, we live in a town where a lot of kids parents re performers at their school. We come every two weeks to read books and there are a lot of famous parents. How cool? Well okay but Will Farrell read the day before.
On identifying with Mike the one eyed monster:
• I love this guy; he’s my most favorite character I’ve played in anything. I don’t know what it is. I do know. I love his personality, how he stands up for himself , forever positive whatever is in his way he finds a way to go through around over or under and comes out the other side. Every picture he takes is just the top of his head and he doesn’t even see it. His first year of school he’s on the cover of a magazine.
On what scares him:
• Boy, this could get dark. The dark still scares me, not just the dark of a room but the dark of the dark. If you’re Jewish you definitely know what I’m saying. It’s the unknown, time scares me. Having enough time to do all the things in my life forgetting my business with my life and get to know these little ones and get to know them and get as far as I am going with them. We don’t know how long were going to get. Fear is a great motivator.
The 2000 Year Old Man is my Bible like some people have Proust or Mark Twain, a humorist and visionary. In the 2000 Year Old Man, Carl (Reiner) asks Mel (Brooks) “How did you get around?” Fear. Basically fear. A lion would roar and you’d run a mile in a minute”.
The first songs came out of fear “A lion is eating my foot up, will someone call a cop? To me that’s either to have enough time to do what you want to do and defy the odds and to me that’s okay. Those things can overwhelm you, you can’t let them.
On the changing face of fear:
• I was much more frightened back then. I didn’t know where I was going. Now I sort know where I’ve been. I just think I have such a good time and such a hunger to create more things. I’m 65 and I’m busier now than I’ve been in years. By choice, I haven’t done a movie in ten years because I didn’t find anything really good and I was loving doing my one man show. Come and see me, because this is the last time I’m going to do this.
On recording alone and with John Goodman:
• We always worked together. On the first movie I came in my first day and he wasn’t there and they played his tracks, and I went this is not good, I can't go off and a thought comes to me, to improvise something he’s already locked into the tone and the scene and I am just reacting so it’s not going to be natural. Can’t John come in?
You want to work together? And we started working together. They had not done it before, it seemed like a natural. We insisted on being together. When we are in scenes were this close, were acting together. The funny moments have great repartee because were with each other. The scene at the lake, it's a tender moment, tells him it’s not going to work, and he says why didn’t you tell me this before?
Well, we weren’t friends before. It’s heartbreaking, again you’re watching a hard drive and it’s so real. The artwork is so beautiful. You take it for granted how genius their animators and execution is, when Mike's lost in a reflection in puts his hand and in the lake. It took months to do it. I think it works.
On doing comedy with just voice:
• I know this guy and what he looks like and what he’s going to do. Mike is more energy than anything. (Pixar) did screen tests with me on tape. There was Mike but they took scenes from movies and put those scenes into Mike’s face. A line from Harry and Sally, the stupid wagon wheel coffee table, and he was actually standing underneath the coffee table. Then I did a characters on SNL, the “I hate when that happens guys” became Mike’s voice.
On having someone believe in him, the way Mike did:
• A number of people did, but most important, my wife Janice. We've been together since 1966. Anytime anything good or bad happens, she's there. Any moment of self-doubt, she lets me have them and then talks me out of them. That’s most important and along the way managers and agents, the same people since 1974 who are my second family.
It started with Buddy Morra, continues with David Steinberg and we’re a good team and good friends, you need to be told the truth good or bad and in the right way and have someone who is always going to be there for you. You can make mistakes but they don’t seem as bad.
Also along the way my audiences. Very comforting always to know someone wants to see you. I mean I can keep putting this stuff out but if no one wants to see it, what’s the point?