With fans of Turner Classic Movies flocking in droves to watch their favorite stars on the big screen, it was poetic to see Bill Crystal immortalized with his hand prints in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater.
Comedy from the heart is a funny thing, or rather, something that is peculiar these days. Most comedy you hear or see these days, is mean spirited, a gross out gag or plain impudence, and not from the heart at all. Modern comedy, anyway. Most comic writers or performers, try to blend a heartfelt sentiment in to the work, but it comes off as more of a synthetic and thus, inappropriate way.
Most comedies produced in the last ten years, will never go down in true Hollywood history, nor will most of the comedians. The veterans, who lent more than their hands (and feet) to the various forms of comedy, are of course not included in this last statement. Movies such as The Hangover, the Scary Movie franchise, and more so all rely on gimmicks, tricks, fads or trends – and usually apply the lowest forms of toilet humor or human degradation as a way to force uncomfortable laughter from their audiences.
When we think true comedy, names that will immediately flash in our minds, range from Mel Brooks, to Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner, Dennis Miller, Ellen DeGeneres, there are many. But in the last 40 years, one of the most ubiquitous and undisputed names is always Billy Crystal. With a career spanning 45 years, built on his work as an actor, a writer, a producer, and all around personality.
If there was anyone today, who was more deserving than the rest for his contribution to the arts and the entertainment industry, that hasn’t been recognized to the order of the embedded establishment, it’s certainly Crystal.
He started speaking comedy in complexity and truth from the start. His humble beginnings were his very honest portrayal of a bi-sexual man for four seasons in the groundbreaking television series Soap. His littered appearances on Saturday Night Live! were plentiful: He famously portrayed Hollywood leading man Fernando Lamas, among other zany, outlandish characters, all with wit, irony and honesty.
His loyalty to the industry and sheer genuine talent has taken form the admiration he has received by his peers – he has hosted the Oscars no less than eight times! It’s worthy to note too, that in the last (nearly) 30 years of the Oscars, Crystal’s hosted evenings have garnered the highest ratings over all the others. Each. Crystal has left more than his footprints in the California sand, but some things you can’t change in this town. One such thing is the prestigious hand/footprint ceremony that is held every year at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival, and this year, Billy certainly got the last laugh (and provided more than a fair share!)
Ben Mankiewicz took the stage for openers, stressing Billy’s unparalleled skill and denoted Crystal’s likeness to comedic legends gone by, such as the Marx Bros., Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, to name a few. And speaking of Reiner, Billy’s frequent collaborator, and longtime friend (and recipient of the same accolade but two years earlier) Rob Reiner set the ceremony further in motion, wise-cracking and anecdoting on how he first met Billy, how Billy got his start and what it was the drove their friendship to being so close.
It was, a statement from the heart, and a celebration of Billy for carrying that same torch. Three iconic films that Billy is well known for, This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally (which was screened as the Opening Night film in the Grauman Chinese IMAX) were given specific detail, and indeed do stand as the example of Mr. Crystal’s rise to a barrel of laughs in prominence.
When the time came, Crystal took the podium, and addressed his public like both the King and his Jester, cracking jokes every minute, while also speaking from his heart. After his thank-yous, a Jewish insult melee with Reiner (which beautifully mirrored a similar experience I had, one night with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner), and delighting the crowd with quotes from Bride, Crystal delved in to what his life in comedy was really about.
It was about making his parents and family laugh, to making his wife laugh during their courtship, to biggest of all, making his children laugh. And so it was, with a proud heart that he named his wife and children as his greatest accomplishment. Truly heartfelt. That, is comedy from the heart. It was equally touching too, in putting his hand and footprints in the cement, he brought a big foot of his character Mike Wazowski, from Monsters, Inc. and proudly stated that Mike, the loveable one eyed monster from the Disney film, was one of his personal favorites, and thus put Mike’s foot as a fellow signature.
Some people are just born to raise vibrations, to bring happiness and joy, and to do so in a way that is objective and totally accessible. They just have class, can urge the most mischievous laughter out of audiences but allow them to maintain their dignity in the process. Some people work to provide comedy as entertainment, and others, like Billy Crystal, are born with comedy in their hearts. And to quote Billy Crystal, “I’ve always tried to make sure my comedy was from the heart”. As if this ceremony wasn’t enough of a reassurance to that, to his satisfaction, his comedy in it’s varied stages, it’s infinite influence in our lives, has come into our hearts, where we can always keep it magical.