The Tony and Emmy-award-winning actor, comedian, producer, director and writer is touring Australia for the first time since his hit one-man show 700 Sundays visited Melbourne and Sydney in 2007 – and he admits “it’s been too long”.
Seated comfortably in a lounge chair alongside “special guest” interviewer Andrew Denton, Crystal amicably recounts his life and career, from its earliest beginnings working in comedy clubs, to getting his first big break opening for ’60s jazz rock band Blood Sweat & Tears, studying at New York University under producer-director Martin Scorsese, and starring in films alongside Meg Ryan and Robert De Niro.
He speaks of his family fondly, if briefly, explaining with a twinkle in his eye that his youngest grandchild has the shine – not the red rum, “Here’s Johnny” kind, but the shine of someone who can perform.
Crystal interacts with the audience like the seasoned performer that he is; he is earnest, and it feels like he is talking to each person individually. Every story resonates with different sections of the audience, young and old.
The show ebbs and flows at the whim of Crystal, who uses music, sight gags and video footage to keep things humming like a well-oiled machine. Like other talk-show kings, Denton’s best work allows him to appear invisible while simultaneously stimulating the conversation the American is having with the audience.
Sweet moments include Crystal discussing some of his fondest memories of his closest friends. Highlights are stories of imitating Sammy Davis Jr alongside Christopher Guest on Saturday Night Live, basketball games with Jack Nicholson, and time spent with the late great Muhammad Ali – the man who called him “his little brother”.
This is a polished show, yet the whimsical Crystal is relaxed and playful throughout the entire performance.
After two-and-a-half hours of uproarious laughter, he is humbled by a standing ovation and leaves the stage with a smile and a wave.
Billy Crystal performed in Adelaide at the Festival Theatre for one night only as part of his Australian tour, which continues in Perth and Melbourne.