If Billy hasn’t worked with the greats, he’s known them outside the studio. If he hasn’t acted in or written it, there’s often a connection between himself and some of our most cherished films and events. This is a guy with stories.
It would have been easy for Billy to breeze into town (QPAC, Brisbane, 18 July), tell a few, old jokes, and wander back into the LA ether. It’s generally what comedians do. Instead, ‘Billy Crystal’ is a night of conversation and laughter, an insight into a living legend that all the biographies in the world couldn’t do justice to.
And unlike many a self-indulgent applause fest, Billy focuses his attention not on singing the praises of his own talents, but on the people who have changed his life immeasurably. You get the sense that, even decades later, Billy is still rather shocked that he’s been able to call such people his friends.
This isn’t your usual stand-up routine, though Billy keeps audiences laughing throughout the evening. Even at his most serious, it’s impossible to hide the sparkle of mischief we’ve come to know and love. The tour isn’t a stand-up routine so much as a living, evolving piece of memoir.
Though there are some stories that are clearly on high rotation, it’s only the pre-arranged props that give it away. There’s no hint of rehearsals or faked laughter; both Billy Crystal and interviewer Andrew Denton make it feel like effortless, intimate conversation between hilarious, old friends.
Denton, of course, is an iconic Australian comedian in his own right, and one with a reputation as a top-notch interviewer operating well above the capabilities of many of our current crop of reporters. He’s hardly the ideal if you’re after a five-minute interview that stays with the same questions everyone else asks. But in those moments where you’re looking for emotional, honest conversations around the best and worst parts of life, Andrew Denton is perfection. It’s hard to imagine anyone else so successfully acting as interviewer.
Together, the pair are charming rogues, quick to banter, yet somehow able to be both funny, and heart-achingly honest. They’re quick to celebrate the good times, but just as willing to explore the sadder moments in the Billy Crystal story.
We forget, often, that celebrities and heroes have dark nights of the soul, just like the rest of us. We see the successes, not the failures, or the decades of hard work that go into becoming an ‘overnight success’. Billy Crystal is a man who has been friends with some of the biggest, most iconic names in the business.
But he’s also had to eulogise far too many. It’s hard to hear Billy talk about his beloved friend Robin Williams without your heart breaking all over again at the loss. Yet even here, you can’t help but laugh.
There’s something humble and wondrous in watching a man, a legend in his own right, talking openly about the people who have helped him find his way in a complicated, competitive industry. What could easily have been just another celebrity, name-dropping exercise becomes an emotional, often tender, look at the people who have challenged and inspired him.
In a world where we tend to fetishise and dehumanise celebrities, Billy quietly, powerfully, returns their humanity. It’s staggering to watch.
‘Billy Crystal’ isn’t your conventional night of comedy, and yet it’s hard to see a moment that goes without a touch of humour. As once-in-a-lifetime events go, it’s pretty impressive.
Billy Crystal Tour DatesTue 19 Jul - QPAC (Brisbane)
Sun 24 Jul - Adelaide Festival Centre
Mon 25 Jul - Riverside Theatre @ Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
Thu 28 Jul - Riverside Theatre @ Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
Mon 1 Aug - State Theatre @ Arts Centre Melbourne
Tue 2 Aug - State Theatre @ Arts Centre Melbourne
Thu 4 Aug - State Theatre @ Arts Centre Melbourne