Born: March 14, 1947
BlueMeter: Tame

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1996 Comic Relief VII

This album is a compilation, featuring multiple comics.

1989 Best of Comic Relief, Vol. 3

This album is a compilation, featuring multiple comics.

1985 Best of Comic Relief, Vol. 1

This album is a compilation, featuring multiple comics.

1985 Mahvelous!

Specials (and other video)

2014 Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays
2006 Comic Relief 2006

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1998 Comic Relief VIII

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1995 Comic Relief VII

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1994 Comic Relief VI

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1992 Comic Relief V

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1991 Comic Relief IV

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1989 Comic Relief III

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1989 Midnight Train to Moscow
1987 Comic Relief '87

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1986 Comic Relief

Benefit show that features multiple comics.

1986 Billy Crystal: Don't Get Me Started
1984 Billy Crystal: A Comic's Line

Books (by and about)

2013 Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?
2005 700 Sundays


The youngest "old-timer" in show business, Billy Crystal never forgot his comedy roots, which were buried deep in the 50's. While most stand-up comics his age took on counter-cultural topics (Robin Williams) or addressed modern life (Whoopi Goldberg) Crystal remained thirty years behind the times, parodying 50's actors (Fernando Lamas), 50's movies ("The Bible" starring Yul Brynner), 50's comedians (his "Buddy Young Jr." character) and his 50's childhood in imitations of his home movies and his grandparents.

Clean cut, curly haired and cute, Crystal looked like "the nice grandson" of any grandma's dreams. As even Charles Bronson said to him, "I like you. You're not like the other pig comics." In a market dominated by abrasive newcomers, Crystal, along with David Brenner and Garry Shandling, had great success in replacing aging 50's comics in resorts, casinos, fairs and other family venues. That he was clearly the best looking of the bunch, rarely covered anything controversial, and had the talent to break up his show with mime and different characters, helped him rise to the top. His advice to aspiring comics was simple: "Don't curse if you don't have to. Think television."

Crystal's awe for show business began in childhood when celebrities like Billie Holiday visited the home of his father, a music producer, and his uncle, who was an executive for Decca and the founder of Commodore Records. With his father providing the costumes, Billy and his brothers used to dress up like the Nairobi Trio of the Ernie Kovacs Show. Billy's later style of comedy—precocious, gentle and sometimes coy, clearly came from trying to please a doting family audience.

His father was a great influence—his death from a heart attack when Billy was 15 was worse than devastating. Billy and his father had an argument just before it happened; his last memory was of conflict. Billy later realized that the experience "forced me to become a man before I should have."

In school, Billy wasn't the class clown: "I was the class comedian. The difference was that the clown dropped his pants at halftime. The comedian was the one who talked him into it." A wiry athlete, Crystal was on his high school baseball and wrestling squads. He attended Nassau Community College and worked the college circuit as part of a three-man improv troupe, "Three's Company." When Billy happened to entertain solo at a college party, two agents saw him and expressed interest.

Crystal won some acting roles (he played Mike's best friend on a 1976 episode of "All in the Family") and one his first fame as a comic actor playing gay Jodie Dallas on "Soap." It was one of the first times a homosexual character appeared in a continuing series role. Some fans were surprised that Billy (married since college) wasn't really gay. These were probably the same people who were surprised that, in the movie "Rabbit Test," he wasn't really pregnant.

Billy's comedy variety show lasted just five weeks in 1982, but when he got the chance to join "Saturday Night Live," he made the most of it, filling the screen with a flurry of characters, many aided by latex make-up. A consummate pro, Crystal made sure each creation had a memorable catch-phrase. Loudmouth Buddy Young Jr. threatened, "Don't get me started." Crystal's black jazz musician character asked, "Can you dig that? I knew that you could." The goofy street kid Willie said, "I hate when that happens!"

Most successful of them all was "Fernando," the utterly insincere and foolish interviewer who would tell anyone and everyone, "You look mahvelous!" The character was based on actor Fernando Lamas, who once said on a talk show, "It's better to look good than to feel good." Lamas died before the "Fernando" character became popular. His widow, Esther Williams reacted to the parody with irritation, then acceptance. This distressed Billy, who said, "I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings." He insisted all his characters "have an underlying sweetness and sadness at the same time." This was Crystal's charm—his slickness tempered by sentiment, his aggression tempered by boyish enthusiasm.

Taking over host duties for Academy Awards broadcasts in the late 80's and early 90's, Crystal earned praise for his easy presence and mild irreverence. On the 1990 broadcast he sang, "Gee it's great—in a segregated state—to be driving Miss Daisy back home." Comfortable in front of crowds of any size, he set a record of sorts in May of 1990 when he led some 30,000 fans at Shea Stadium in a group recitation of "Take my wife—please."

Crystal's warm and schmaltzy 1991 HBO special, a visit to Moscow, earned critical praise. "It's as good as anything I've ever seen on HBO, by far," said Rob Reiner. It included a travelogue in front of Lenin's tomb ("Hi. Bob Vila, for "This Old Tomb." Just Kidding!") and his version of a Russian singer, "Nicky Nukie and the Meltdowns." In live performance, he coaxed the crowd to do "the wave," and told them, "Growing up in the United States, we were taught that you were the enemy. You were taught that we were the enemy. And we're both wrong. It's the French!"

In film, Crystal had some of his best recent success. Once a student in Martin Scorcese's film class at New York University, Crystal came to understand the media, moving from the standard ("Running Scared," a buddy cop film with Gregory Hines) to co-writing "Memories of Me" and starring in Rob Reiner's romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally," more in keeping with his boyishly attractive personality. "City Slickers" was another effort that played on his sympathetic character who means well, has heroic dreams, and an overpowering amount of energy. In real life, Crystal admitted that he had a bit too much energy. An insomniac, he addited, "If I get three hours, I'm okay."

He planned to concentrate on writing and directing more films in the future, trading in on his new leading man status. Or as People Magazine put it, "Onscreen he is a modern girl's modern man—senstive, romantic, warm, someone you can trust."