There’s a reason Billy Crystal has hosted the Oscars nine times—more than any other performer besides Bob Hope. He nails the opening monologue, neither kissing ass nor going for the jugular, then gets properly solemn during the memorials and helps make movie stars look funny or insightful when they’re onstage. He does his best work when he’s given a microphone and allowed to speak freely.
A rare talent that can seamlessly swing between the absurd and serious, Crystal comes to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on March 2 to perform his loosely structured one-man show—which despite his films and stand-up comedy—is the medium where he is the strongest.
He delivered one of his finest moments at the beginning of his career. In 1979, he performed a tribute to his retiring hero Muhammad Ali by impersonating Ali, announcer Howard Cosell and a half-dozen others, impeccably matching their aura and cadence.
He covers The Greatest’s career, starting when the boxer was still Olympian Cassius Clay, touching on his religious conversion, his conscientious objection and his wins and losses before ending with a soul-stirring proclamation, “No matter what you is in life … it’s never too late to start over again.” He made Ali giggle, mist up, then rise to his feet in a standing ovation. Like much of Crystal’s work, he draws the audience in with laughs, before putting a tickle in their throats.
From there, he would steal a scene in the Princess Bride as Miracle Max, a warlock devoid of confidence after getting banished, who revives Westley while hamming it up in a performance that smacks of Mel Brooks’ instincts.
Then (despite not being particularly handsome) he would star in a flagship romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, acting as the sleazy foil for Meg Ryan’s iconic faked orgasm in Katz’s Delicatessen, before ultimately falling satisfyingly in love with her.
And after passing on voicing Buzz Lightyear (!), he redeemed himself by bringing Mike Wazowski to life in Monsters, Inc., imbuing the crusty, one-eyed wheeler-and-dealer with a soft center that cracks open as Pixar sticks the landing.
The New York Times best-selling author and Tony/Emmy-winner will reflect on his life and career in a show that balances “stand-up” with “sit-down” storytelling and a few film clips. It’s a one-man show that doesn’t fit neatly into comedy or drama, but rather the space in between, which few have filled better than Crystal.
Mar 2, 7:30pm, $83+
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts