I think it’s hard to be funny on stage and even more difficult to be funny in print. In my eyes, Billy Crystal has achieved both with his television shows, movies, hosting of the Oscars, and now with his recent book Still Foolin’ ‘Em. I admit I have always liked Billy (Mr. Crystal?). I find his presentations warm and enjoyable and his humor insightful. He has a quality that immediately makes you want to have him as a best friend.
Now that he has reached the age of 65 and is officially a geezer, he has written his personal story and his philosophy on life. His sense of humor is immediately apparent in the subtitle of his book, “Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?
He talks about all of the movies I have enjoyed over his (and my) lifetime; movies like When Harry Met Sally, Throw Momma from the Train, and my favorite, City Slickers. These are not belly laugh movies, but all of them give you a good feeling and make you chuckle. I don’t feel that as a comedian, Billy Crystal ever really tells a joke. What he does is tell you about his life as he sees it. He simply talks about what is odd, unusual, surprising, or ironic. You like him because he is not a dolt, not raunchy, not mean, and not the clown that many comedians are. He is simply an amiable, truthful, nice, and funny man.
For most of the book, Crystal writes about his life and talks about work in movies and television as well as the many people he has come to know during his career. People like Muhammad Ali, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Mickey Mantle, Sammy Davis, Jr., David Letterman, Meg Ryan, and many more. It’s all fascinating, but Billy is at his best when he is writing about how he sees his life as a geezer, what he has come to believe in his lifetime, and what is important to him now.
In a chapter called Conservative, he touches on a range of subjects that include capital punishment, cell phones, basketball players, congress, Iran, soccer, cats, the Internet, super PACs, climate change, pit bulls, NASA, NRA, and old age. It’s hilarious, because it is based on the truths so many people deny or ignore.Then there’s the chapter Grandpa about his grandchildren. I have grandchildren and I find every word on target and now know I’m not the only one mystified by this generation of tots. He writes, “In my mind, I am still the guy (in his 30s) from When Harry Met Sally, but to them I’m the guy who takes more naps than they do.” He also talks about relishing being called “Grandpa.” Boy does that hit a chord. This man, who was born one month after me, thinks exactly (well maybe not exactly) the way I do. Being a grandparent is one of the best things that has ever happened to me and watching those kids work up to where they could actually say “G-Pa” was a thrilling experience (and years later, every time I hear them say it, I feel a little tingle).
The final chapter, Let Him Go, is about the most serious of subjects—death—and it is one long laugh. He talks about what his loved ones should do with his “carcass.” He talks about cremation, burial plots, urns, being encased in plexiglass, being made into a synthetic ocean reef, cryonics, space burial, needing a plot with a view, burial at sea, caskets, and $200,000 mausoleums. After reading it, you can’t but take death a little less seriously.
In the last paragraph of the book, Billy talks about how he wants his life to end. “I’m going to just go on and keep living and laughing and loving. I’d like to think there is a heaven and it starts from the happiest day of your life.” For him that day was when he met his wife for the first time. Imagine that—it was my happiest day as well.
The book is a wonderful and of course funny look at aging and, if you are a geezer, it jabs you in the ribs because you’ve lived some part of every one of his stories. You don’t usually read humorous books looking for life-altering revelations, but if you read Still Foolin’ ‘Em you’ll find a few. I can sum up the philosophy I found in this book in one sentence:
“I hope my last breath on earth is spent laughing.”