Still Foolin' 'Em by Billy Crystal Book jacket

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Excerpts from Billy Crystal's "Still Foolin' 'Em”

  • October 19, 2013 - 2:00 PM

On his first appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1975: “I heard Johnny introduce me, the curtains parted, and then, as if I were a bull rider in a rodeo, I was let out of the stall and into the ring, trying to hold on for dear life. I walked to my mark on rubbery legs, feeling like I had to cough up a hairball. Wow, there’s Doc and the band, I see Johnny to my right — it was very surreal. I had been watching this show for so long, and now I was on it. The piece played very well, and when it was done the audience gave me a big hand, and I looked over and son of a bitch if he wasn’t waving me over. I tried not to run, to act like I did this all the time, but inside I was a parade.”

On playing Jodie on “Soap”: “Playing a gay man in front of a live audience was difficult. My boyfriend on the show was played by Bob Seagren, a former Olympic pole vaulter. We had scenes where we said we loved each other, and the audience would laugh nervously. That was new information for people in 1977, and it made them and me uncomfortable. The lines were difficult to deliver, and hearing that nervous laughter made me angry. I felt they were laughing at Jodie, not with him. Sometimes, I wanted to stop and yell at the audience, ‘What are you laughing at?’ But as time went on, and the character developed, viewers at home cared about Jodie, even wanting him to get sole custody of a child he had fathered.”

On snoozing in public: “Movies and plays are an important part of my life, and now every time I go I’m fraught with terror that I’m going to nod off. On the drive over I start to worry: Will I stay up, or will Janice break another one of my ribs? She doesn’t mean to hit me so hard, but at my age, it qualifies as elder abuse.”

On the famous scene in “When Harry Met Sally”: “When Nora [Ephron] brought up the issue of women faking orgasms during sex, Rob [Reiner] couldn’t believe it. ‘Well, they haven’t faked one with me,’ he said. It was Meg [Ryan’s] idea to have a scene where Sally tells Harry about this, and, like Rob, Harry can’t believe it, so she fakes one in a public place. I said, ‘Like a restaurant,’ and then Rob said it should be a loud orgasm, with everyone watching her, and then I said, ‘When it’s done, an older woman says to a waiter, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’ And that’s how it happened. In retrospect, it may be the ­longest orgasm in history.”

On the opening of “700 Sundays” at the La Jolla Playhouse, a run that sold out in an hour: “I’m quite sure there has never been an opening night for a play that had no script, just a detailed eight-page outline. The opening night arrived, and from the moment I went out there, through the front door of my ‘house,’ I was in heaven. The audiences laughed hard, cried harder, and at the end of each show didn’t want to leave the theater. I felt connected to my work and my pain in a way I hadn’t before. Like losing weight on some miracle diet, I could feel the grief I’d been wearing like a tailored suit melt away. I’d stopped doing stand-up so many years ago, and I knew why I was back. I had something to say.”

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