After 30 years as a stand-up comic, movie actor and eight-time Academy Awards host, Billy Crystal cracked Broadway last season, starring in 700 Sundays, a one-man show about his New York childhood and the death of his father. Now he has launched a five-city tour of the show, and a book version ("the director's cut") is due Oct. 31. He talked with TIME's Richard Zoglin.
YOU WON YOUR TONY. WHY TAKE THE SHOW ON TOUR? I'm not done with it yet. And I wanted more people to see it. It's still evolving. I've made changes. I've moved stuff in and moved stuff out. I did 200 performances, and I really thought at the end of it I was ready to open.
WHEN YOU WERE WRITING THE SHOW, WAS IT HARDER TO DECIDE WHAT TO PUT IN OR WHAT TO TAKE OUT? I knew pretty much what I wanted to say. It was a period of time that I wanted to talk about--people I loved and who I met, and people who touched me and made me the man I think I've become. So losing sections became sometimes difficult choices to make, because they were all important to me. But for the sake of a theater experience, you can't keep them sitting there for nine hours. It's not Nicholas Nicklejew.
SO MANY COMEDIANS LOST THEIR FATHERS EARLY ON. DO YOU SEE ANY CONNECTION? Well, I think so much of comedy is based in an anger. We're always looking for approval, looking for somebody to listen to us. So I think when that starts with your parents, if one of them is not there, it'll give you an energy to look for somebody to listen to you.
WHAT OTHER STAND-UP COMICS INFLUENCED YOU? Cosby, Carlin, Robert Klein. Bill Cosby was the one I related to the most. He had brothers; I had brothers. He played ball at Temple; I belonged to a temple.
A LOT OF STAND-UP COMICS WANT TO DO OTHER THINGS--MOVIES OR TV SITCOMS OR WHATEVER. WHY? I don't know why that is. It's funny because now I'm just the opposite. I was so happy doing this play--not that I don't care if I don't do another movie, because I'm going to--but there's no comparison to the work. It's so much more thrilling onstage. You get it right away. When you do a movie, you set up the joke in September, you don't hear it till March.
WHEN YOU STARTED OUT AS A COMEDIAN, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST SUREFIRE JOKE? I never had anything surefire. I was trying to be esoteric. I was trying to be Woody. I hadn't settled on me yet. I talked about not being the class clown; I was the class comedian. The class clown was the guy at graduation who walked out to get his diploma, would hike up his gown, be totally naked, moon his parents and run offstage. That was the class clown. I was the comedian. I was the guy who talked him into doing it. That wasn't bad.
YOU PLAYED A GAY CHARACTER ON SOAP IN THE '70S--PRETTY GROUNDBREAKING. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WILL & GRACE? Well, you can't sound like one of these disgruntled baseball players who 40 years later watch these guys make these salaries and get pissed off and go, "You know, back then, we made $10,000 a year. When we were gay on TV, we would decorate an apartment ourselves, and now they need five guys to come in and do it." It's great that they can say and do what they do. I'm shocked what they can get away with. We were 1977, and I know when we did it, it was rough.