Someone once asked me who my least favorite comedian was. That is, they were about to ask me, but before they even opened their mouth, I said, “Billy Crystal.” My answer to that question is so emphatic and so definite that I answer it before it’s even asked, which often amazes people, especially if what they were really going to ask me is why I wasn’t wearing any pants.
Billy Crystal is the horrifying mutant hybrid of the old-style Catskills lounge comic and the hip young “funny dude.” He’s like what would happen if Shecky Greene got into telepod A and Mario Cantone got into telepod B and they were fused together in telepod C. Billy Crystal should answer his home phone by saying, “Hello, telepod C. Genetically-fused a-b combination of Shecky Greene and Mario Cantone speaking.” But then it would just become another one of his catchphrases, and he would say it all the time.
The first time many people saw Billy Crystal was in the sitcom “Soap.” I had already seen his stand-up act on TV, so I already didn’t like him, but “Soap” sealed the deal. Norman Lear’s “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was the first series to spoof soap operas, and it did so by actually being a soap opera–five episodes per week, no laugh track, and everyone more or less playing it straight. It was a brilliant show. But it was in syndication, and hardly anyone watched it. Then “Soap” came along, landed a network time slot, and became a big hit. “Soap” was nothing more than a standardly stupid sitcom, including a laugh track and goofy characters mugging it up all over the place, with just enough soap opera trappings tacked on so that they could advertise it as a “comedy soap opera.” Instead of imitation soap-opera music, it had a jaunty little “aren’t we cute” theme that made me sick. Instead of a title that cleverly spoofed soap opera titles, it was called “Soap.” I began to hear the words “Soap!” and “funny!” so many times in my everyday life that I wanted to start attacking people. Waves of pure, burning hatred eminated from the very pores of my skin. And one of the major elements that made the show so horrible was Billy Crystal. He played “Jodie.” GRRRRRRRR!!!
Later, of course, there was the phase in which Billy Crystal became “Mr. Catchphrase.” It all started when, for some ungodly reason, he was hired to be a regular on “Saturday Night Live”, and he came up with his “Fernando Lamas” character. “Fernando” hosted a schmoozy celebrity talk show, and would repeatedly tell all of his guests, in that heavy Latin-lothario accent: “You look mahvelous.” Billy discovered that people laughed when he said “You look mahvelous”, so he started saying “You look mahvelous” all the time.
Some talk show host would say “Welcome to the show, Billy,” and Billy would say “Thanks, and may I just say…you look mahvelous”, pausing dramatically right before the “you look mahvelous” to build up audience anticipation for his hilarious catchphrase. And the audience, damn them, would laugh. When the next guest came out, Billy would say to them, “You look mahvelous.” If somebody had told him his whole family just got wiped out in a gas explosion, he probably would’ve said, “OH, MY GOD! You look mahvelous.”
Another one of his catchphrases was “Can you dig it? I knew that you could.” Billy was imitating an old, black blues musician or something when he did that one. It wasn’t a funny character, and he never said anything funny, but every once in awhile after he’d said enough unfunny stuff to justify saying the catchphrase again, he’d say “Can you dig it? I knew that you could.” And that alone was supposed to be funny. And sure enough, people laughed, DAMN THEM!
Billy Crystal thinks that he is a master impressionist because he does a good Muhammad Ali, even though almost everyone in the world has one good impression of somebody in them. I do a pretty good Casey Kasem. My brother can imitate the Werewolf of London. But Billy Crystal has fashioned entire segments of his stand-up act around his Muhammad Ali impression, turning them into “performance pieces.” I hate it when he does those. People like Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo, Danny Hoch, and Lily Tomlin do that kind of stuff too, which is why I can’t stand to watch them, either. Performance pieces are supposed to impress the audience more than regular “jokes”, because they’re longer and they have a “story”, and when they’re over, you’re supposed to applaud instead of laugh. I hate it when people applaud comedians instead of laughing. It kills the joke and messes up the comedian’s rhythm and timing. But since Billy Crystal doesn’t have any rhythm or timing, he simply basks in the applause.
When Billy Crystal poses for publicity photos, his telepod A Borscht-belt side takes over. He does the “serious” pose with his arms crossed and a fake smile, and then he does the “funny” one with a his hands out and his eyes wide open in mock surprise, like something funny just happened. Or he does the Jack Benny thing with a pained expression and one hand lightly brushing his cheek. I’m sure Billy thinks he’s the new Jack Benny. He probably has thought to himself on more than one occasion while eating breakfast cereal or pulling on clean underwear: “I am the new Jack Benny.” I’m surprised he never created a character called “The New Jack Benny” just so he could use “I am the new Jack Benny” as his catchphrase and be able to go around in public saying “I am the new Jack Benny” as many times as he wanted to.
Billy Crystal was in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, but his part got cut out. HA-HAAAAAA!!! He was in the sequence where the record company executives were having a party to celebrate the release of Spinal Tap’s new album, and the waiters were all mimes. Billy played the head mime, and in one deleted scene he’s dressing down the other mimes. One of his lines is, “Come on…mime is money.” Think about it: Billy Crystal thinks “mime is money” is funny. In a movie that features some of the most hilarious improvised dialogue in film history, Billy Crystal uses his big moment to say “mime is money.” He probably lay awake in bed all night before they shot that scene, thinking, “Mime is money. Mime is money. Can they dig it? I know that they can. I’ll…look…mahvelous.”
Actually, I was intending to write today about “pet peeves”, in a general sort of way, and Billy Crystal was just going to be one of them. But I should’ve written about my other pet peeves first and saved Billy Crystal for last. Anyway, some of my other pet peeves are when people dip their tortilla chips into my hot sauce, and being able to hear some idiot’s car stereo blasting away down the street when I’m sitting in my house with the TV on. Oh yeah, and Billy Crystal movies.