Billy Crystal

Actor / Host


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour interview, Billy Crystal talks about his early life, and becoming interested in comedy at a young age. He describes attending NYU to study film, where he learned from Martin Scorsese, and met Christopher Guest. He recounts getting Buddy Morra to manage him, and his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and All in the Family. He recalls his disappointment at being bumped off the first broadcast of Saturday Night Live, only to be picked up as a regular cast member on ABC’s Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. Crystal discusses playing the groundbreaking character of “Jodie Dallas” on Soap, the first regular, gay character on a network series, and the show’s dealing with controversial subject matter on a weekly basis. He details his stint on the 1984-85 season of Saturday Night Live, where he was part of a comedy all-star team selected by producer Dick Ebersol, which also included Martin Short, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer. He outlines his popular character “Fernando” from the show, whose catchphrase, “You look marvelous,” swept the nation. He recalls his series of successful HBO stand-up comedy specials, and his huge success as a nine-time host of The Academy Awards. Dan Pasternack conducted the interview in partnership with the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College on October 25, 2018 in North Hollywood, CA.

"It was said to me by so many people. I sat next to Dr. Henry Kissinger on the Concorde, he goes, 'You look marvelous.' Ted Kennedy in the Senate, when Robin and Whoopi and I went there for Comic Relief, 'Er, uh, you look marvelous.' It was all over the place. People still say it to me."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Billy Crystal on being bumped from the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975
Billy Crystal on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character
Billy Crystal on his early stand-up act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on the popularity of his "Fernando" character on Saturday Night Live, and his catch phrase, "You look marvelous"
Billy Crystal on how he put his own stamp on hosting The Academy Awards
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on his earliest comedic influences, and on working up a comedy act for his relatives as a kid; on the role music played in his household when he was growing up
On being the "class comedian" in his school, and on being influenced by comedians like Johnathan Winters; on the early death of his father; on his college years
On attending the taping of the Jonathan Winters special featuring Art Carney, Wild Winters Night, in 1964; on meeting and marrying his wife, and on getting into acting; on attending NYU to study film, and being instructed by Martin Scorsese
On meeting Christopher Guest at NYU; on performing in a comedy team after college, and on watching the Vietnam War draft lottery on television; on his first appearance on television, when he was a child
On his early comedy troupe's act, and appearing on the special That Was the Year that Was; on being signed by manager Buddy Morra, who worked for Jack Rollins; on his early stand-up act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
On his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; on being hired for a guest spot on All in the Family, where he met Rob Reiner
On being bumped by Lorne Michaels from the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975; on being a regular on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell

Chapter 2

On moving to Los Angeles, and encountering Buddy Ebsen soon after; on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character; on working with Robert Guillaume as "Benson" on Soap, and on learning from the cast of the show
On his character, "Jodie Dallas," attempting suicide on Soap; on professional concerns he had about playing a gay character on Soap, and on his first HBO stand-up comedy special; on the cancellation of Soap being partially due to its controversial subject matter, and on the legacy of the show
On The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour and his HBO special A Comic's Line; on being hired by Dick Ebersol, along with Martin Short and Christopher Guest, as cast members for Saturday Night Live in 1984
On some of his classic bits from Saturday Night Live, including "Fernando's Hideaway"; on the popularity of his "Fernando" character, and his catch phrase, "You look marvelous"; on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Saturday Night Live
On his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live; on the "Willie and Phil" sketches with Christopher Guest on Saturday Night Live; on leaving Saturday Night Live after only one season

Chapter 3

On his involvement, along with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, in HBO's Comic Relief Specials; on paying tribute to Robin Williams at the 2014 Emmy Awards telecast, and on his friendship with Williams; on his HBO special Don't Get Me Started
On his HBO special Midnight Train to Moscow, for which he won an Emmy Award; on hosting The Grammys
On watching Bob Hope host The Academy Awards telecasts when he was a kid; on how he put his own stamp on hosting The Academy Awards; on his recurring Jack Palance jokes at The Academy Awards, many written by Bruce Vilanch
On his ad lib when Hal Roach spoke without a microphone on The Academy Awards; on his filmed pieces inserting himself into the movies on The Academy Awards
On mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins; on advice to an aspiring comedian; on his proudest career achievements
Shows

Academy Awards, The

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Billy Crystal on watching Bob Hope host The Academy Awards telecasts when he was a kid
Billy Crystal on how he put his own stamp on hosting The Academy Awards
Billy Crystal on his recurring Jack Palance jokes at The Academy Awards, many written by Bruce Vilanch
Billy Crystal on his ad lib when Hal Roach spoke without a microphone on The Academy Awards
Billy Crystal on his filmed pieces inserting himself into the movies on The Academy Awards

All in the Family

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Billy Crystal on being hired for a guest spot on All in the Family, where he met Rob Reiner

Billy Crystal Comedy Hour, The

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Billy Crystal on The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour and his HBO special A Comic's Line

Billy Crystal Specials

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Billy Crystal on The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour and his HBO special A Comic's Line
Billy Crystal on his HBO special Don't Get Me Started
Billy Crystal on his HBO special Midnight Train to Moscow, for which he won an Emmy Award

Comic Relief Specials

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Billy Crystal on his involvement, along with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, in HBO's Comic Relief Specials
Billy Crystal on his "Betty's Boys" sketch with Robin Williams on the Comic Relief Specials

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Billy Crystal on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on paying tribute to Robin Williams at the 2014 Emmy Awards telecast, and on his friendship with Williams

Grammys, The

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Billy Crystal on hosting The Grammys

Saturday Night Live

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Billy Crystal on being bumped by Lorne Michaels from the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975
Billy Crystal on being hired with Dick Ebersol, along with Martin Short and Christopher Guest, as cast members for Saturday Night Live in 1984
Billy Crystal on some of his classic bits from Saturday Night Live, including "Fernando's Hideaway" with "Barry Manilow"
Billy Crystal on the popularity of his "Fernando" character on Saturday Night Live, and his catch phrase, "You look marvelous"
Billy Crystal on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on the "Willie and Phil" sketches with Christopher Guest on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on doing the sketch "Jackie Rogers, Jr.'s $100,000 Jackpot Wad" with Martin Short on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on leaving Saturday Night Live after only one season

Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell

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Billy Crystal on being a regular on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell

Soap

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Billy Crystal on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character
Billy Crystal on the reception of his Soap character, "Jodie Dallas," who was gay
Billy Crystal on working with Robert Guillaume as "Benson" on Soap, and on learning from the cast of the show
Billy Crystal on his character, "Jodie Dallas," attempting suicide on Soap, and on working with Harold Gould on the show
Billy Crystal on professional concerns he had about playing a gay character on Soap, and on his first HBO stand-up comedy special
Billy Crystal on approaching Soap producer Paul Junger Witt about the lack of storylines and screen time for his character, "Jodie Dallas," and on writing
Billy Crystal on working with writer Stu Silver on stories for his Soap character, "Jodie Dallas"
Billy Crystal on the cancellation of Soap being partially due to its controversial subject matter, and on the legacy of the show

That Was the Year That Was

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Billy Crystal on his early comedy troupe's act, and appearing on the special That Was the Year that Was in 1973

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Billy Crystal on his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Wild Winters Night

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Billy Crystal on attending the taping of the Jonathan Winters special featuring Art Carney, Wild Winters Night, in 1964
Topics

Advice

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Billy Crystal on his early stand up-act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on advice to an aspiring comedian

Bloopers

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Billy Crystal on the "Willie and Phil" sketches with Christopher Guest on Saturday Night Live

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Billy Crystal on the cancellation of Soap being partially due to its controversial subject matter, and on the legacy of the show

Characters & Catchphrases

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Billy Crystal on the popularity of his "Fernando" character on Saturday Night Live, and his catch phrase, "You look marvelous"
Billy Crystal on his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Billy Crystal on his early stand-up act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on being the "class comedian" in his high school, and on being influenced by comedians like Johnathan Winters
Billy Crystal on mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Billy Crystal on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character
Billy Crystal on the reception of his Soap character, "Jodie Dallas," who was gay
Billy Crystal on professional concerns he had about playing a gay character on Soap, and on his first HBO stand up comedy special

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Billy Crystal on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on his HBO special Midnight Train to Moscow, for which he won an Emmy Award
Billy Crystal on paying tribute to Robin Williams at the 2014 Emmy Awards telecast, and on his friendship with Williams

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Billy Crystal on performing in a comedy team after college, and on watching the Vietnam War draft lottery on television
Billy Crystal on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character
Billy Crystal on the reception of his Soap character, "Jodie Dallas," who was gay
Billy Crystal on professional concerns he had about playing a gay character on Soap, and on his first HBO stand-up comedy special

LGBTQ

View Topic
Billy Crystal on being cast as "Jodie Dallas" on Soap, television's first regular, gay character
Billy Crystal on the reception of his Soap character, "Jodie Dallas," who was gay
Billy Crystal on professional concerns he had about playing a gay character on Soap, and on his first HBO stand up comedy special

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Billy Crystal on his early stand-up act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Billy Crystal on being the "class comedian" in his high school, and on being influenced by comedians like Johnathan Winters
Billy Crystal on mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins

Pop Culture

View Topic
Billy Crystal on the popularity of his "Fernando" character on Saturday Night Live, and his catch phrase, "You look marvelous"
Billy Crystal on his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live

Television Industry

View Topic
Billy Crystal on his early stand up-act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on the cancellation of Soap being partially due to its controversial subject matter, and on the legacy of the show
Billy Crystal on advice to an aspiring comedian

Vietnam War

View Topic
Billy Crystal on performing in a comedy team after college, and on watching the Vietnam War draft lottery on television

War

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Billy Crystal on performing in a comedy team after college, and on watching the Vietnam War draft lottery on television
Professions

Comedian

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Billy Crystal on advice to an aspiring comedian

Performers

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Billy Crystal on advice to an aspiring comedian
Genres

Awards Shows

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Billy Crystal on paying tribute to Robin Williams at the 2014 Emmy Awards telecast, and on his friendship with Williams
Billy Crystal on hosting The Grammys
Billy Crystal on hosting The Academy Awards

Comedy Series

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Billy Crystal on being hired for a guest spot on All in the Family, where he met Rob Reiner
Billy Crystal on playing "Jodie Dallas" on Soap

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Billy Crystal on his early comedy troupe's act, and appearing on the special That Was the Year that Was
Billy Crystal on being bumped by Lorne Michaels from the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975
Billy Crystal on being a regular on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell
Billy Crystal on The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour and his HBO special A Comic's Line
Billy Crystal on his stint as a cast member on Saturday Night Live
Billy Crystal on his involvement, along with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, in HBO's Comic Relief Specials
Billy Crystal on his HBO special Don't Get Me Started
Billy Crystal on his HBO special Midnight Train to Moscow, for which he won an Emmy Award

Talk Shows

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Billy Crystal on his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
People

Art Carney

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Billy Crystal on attending the taping of the Jonathan Winters special featuring Art Carney Wild Winters Night in 1964

Johnny Carson

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Billy Crystal on his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Howard Cosell

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Billy Crystal on being a regular on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell

Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Billy Crystal on his "Sammy Davis, Jr." imitation on Saturday Night Live

Dick Ebersol

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Billy Crystal on being hired by Dick Ebersol, along with Martin Short and Christopher Guest, as cast members for Saturday Night Live in 1984

Buddy Ebsen

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Billy Crystal on moving to Los Angeles, and encountering Buddy Ebsen soon after

Larry Gelbart

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Billy Crystal on mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins

Whoopi Goldberg

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Billy Crystal on his involvement, along with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, in HBO's Comic Relief Specials

Christopher Guest

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Billy Crystal on meeting Christopher Guest at NYU
Billy Crystal on the "Willie and Phil" sketches with Christopher Guest on Saturday Night Live

Robert Guillaume

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Billy Crystal on working with Robert Guillaume as "Benson" on Soap, and on learning from the cast of the show

Bob Hope

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Billy Crystal on watching Bob Hope host The Academy Awards telecasts when he was a kid

Norman Lear

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Billy Crystal on Norman Lear casting him for a guest spot on All in the Family, where he met Rob Reiner

Barry Manilow

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Billy Crystal on some of his classic bits from Saturday Night Live, including "Fernando's Hideaway" with "Barry Manilow"

Lorne Michaels

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Billy Crystal on being bumped by Lorne Michaels from the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975

Jack Palance

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Billy Crystal on his recurring Jack Palance jokes at the The Academy Awards, many written by Bruce Vilanch

Carl Reiner

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Billy Crystal on mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins

Rob Reiner

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Billy Crystal on Norman Lear casting him for a guest spot on All in the Family, where he met Rob Reiner

Jack Rollins

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Billy Crystal on being signed by manager Buddy Morra, who worked for Jack Rollins
Billy Crystal on his early stand-up act, and on Jack Rollins' criticism of his act
Billy Crystal on mentors in his career, including Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and Jack Rollins

Martin Scorsese

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Billy Crystal on attending NYU to study film, and being instructed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Short

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Billy Crystal on doing the sketch "Jackie Rogers, Jr.'s $100,000 Jackpot Wad" with Martin Short on Saturday Night Live

Bruce Vilanch

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Billy Crystal on his recurring Jack Palance jokes at the The Academy Awards, many written by Bruce Vilanch

Robin Williams

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Billy Crystal on his involvement, along with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg, in HBO's Comic Relief Specials
Billy Crystal on his "Betty's Boys" sketch with Robin Williams on the Comic Relief Specials
Billy Crystal on paying tribute to Robin Williams at the 2014 Emmy Awards telecast, and on his friendship with Williams

Jonathan Winters

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Billy Crystal on attending the taping of the Jonathan Winters special featuring Art Carney, Wild Winters Night, in 1964

Paul Junger Witt

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Billy Crystal on approaching Soap producer Paul Junger Witt about the lack of storylines and screen time for his character, "Jodie Dallas," and on writing

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