Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish on comedy, friendship, and a bat mitzvah
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When correspondent Tracy Smith last met comedian Billy Crystal in 2013, he took her to school at his home basketball hoop. “So let’s see, Last time we talked, you were 65 and you kicked my rear end in basketball,” said Smith.
“Right! That’s right. Yeah. And I’m still playing basketball. Just one-on-me. I’ve been alone for this whole, terrible time, playing basketball alone.”
And while quarantining with Janice, his wife of 51 years, he’s found other passions, like ironing and vacuuming.
Smith asked, “What do you think this says, that you’re so excited about this?”
“It says I’m … it’s sad. I think it says this is really sad.”
For the record he’s also been working on co-writing, directing and starring in “Here Today,” a new film about a legendary comedy writer who meets a young street singer (played by Tiffany Haddish) who won lunch with him in a charity auction.
Watch a trailer for “Here Today”:
The on-screen chemistry is real, and it’s been that way off-screen since the moment in 2017 when Billy met Tiffany.
Haddish recalled, “So, I come in there just, you know, all me. And he’s like, ‘Hey,’ and I’m like, ‘Hey,’ and then we clicked immediately. And as he’s, like, telling me about this story, he’s trying to pitch it to me, sell it to me. And I’m like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, you can stop talking. You had me at hello. I’m doing this movie. It’s done. We’re doing it. It’s in the can, okay? We’re at the Oscars. In my mind we’re at the Oscars already.'”
Even before “Here Today,” Tiffany Haddish was already a movie star. And her star got even brighter when she hosted “Saturday Night Live,” the first Black female comedian to do so.
During he rmonologue she said, “Before I was in ‘Girls Trip,’ I grew up in foster care, and I want to say thank you to anyone who paid taxes between 1990 and 1999, because if you wouldn’t have paid your taxes, I wouldn’t be standing here today. So, thank you!”
A video game tournament features warrior Boo Boo Jeffries (Tiffany Haddish), from “Saturday Night Live”:
Her performance that night earned her a primetime Emmy – and made Crystal sit up and take notice.
“I saw Tiffany host ‘SNL’ and I said, ‘Oh my God,'” he recalled. “‘That’s her.’ I just saw her do this, and then I found out about her. We got her the script. And then we met. And then, here we are!”
Crystal has a few comedy gems of his own, from Meg Ryan’s lunch partner in “When Harry Met Sally,” to the voice of one-eyed Mike Wazowski in “Monsters, Inc.” But in the new movie, two of the funniest people on the planet have to deal with a completely un-funny situation.
Crystal’s character, Charlie Bernz, is in the early stages of dementia, and Haddish’s Emma Payge becomes his rock as his world starts to slip away.
Smith asked, “I know you’ve joked about, Where did I put my car keys? But there are moments when I really think, Okay, am I headed down that road, when I forget something. Do you have those moments?”
“Oh, yeah,” Crystal replied. “I think you reach a certain age where you look for any little pebble in your shoe and go, What is that? Is this– uh-oh. Pass me the … uh … And then you go, Is this it? But it’s hopefully not. But you know, we’re all on alert because it’s a terrible thing that’s affecting more and more people every day.”
In fact, dementia has touched both of their families, including Haddish’s grandmother.
“Sometimes she doesn’t remember me. She’s like, ‘Get away from me, I don’t know you.’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t gotta know me for me to love you.’ You know? And it’s hard.
It’s hard to see her slowly deteriorating, and over these years it’s been not easy.”
And speaking of family: a few years back Haddish discovered that she had Jewish roots on her father’s side, so she decided to convert, and in 2019 she made it official, with a little help from a friend at her bat mitzvah.
“I invited Billy to come, and then I was like, ‘Billy, would you be willing to do my aliyah?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Yesss!'”
Crystal said, “To be asked to do one of the key blessings for her as she was about to read from the Torah was really an honor. And the fact that she asked me to do it really meant a great deal to me.”
“To me, Billy was like the uncle I always wanted,” Haddish said, “like, the family member I needed to, like, help me grow. I feel like I’ve grown so much because of him.”
*Here Today* will open this Friday in theatres only. And for Crystal, that’s essential.
Smith asked, “What is it like to sit in a theater and see your movie and hear people, watch people reacting to it?”
“That’s also a great thrill,” he said. “We’ve all had experiences. We jumped out of our chairs in ‘Jaws.’ I didn’t take a shower after I saw ‘Psycho’ for, like, nine, ten months. I took baths standing up. That’s what you want in a movie. You want that moment. That’s what I want for ‘Here Today.’ I want them to laugh, and I want them to think, What can I do to help somebody if I’m ever in that situation?“
“I do think one of the themes of this movie is telling people how you feel about them while you still have the chance to do it,” said Smith. “So, I’d like to give you both that chance now.”
Haddish started: “Well, Billy knows – and I’ll say it in front of the whole wide world – I love Billy. I love you, Billy. I consider you my uncle, my family, my mentor, my everything. I love you to death, and, you know, if I could have you around me all the time, I would.”
“Well, thank you,” Crystal replied. “And so, as your uncle, can I borrow some money?”
“Yes! I know you’re not gonna pay me back, but that’s OK!”
This is the first film Crystal has directed in 20 years, and although he’s made some of the more memorable films of all time, he says it still feels like the first time.
“In some ways I feel like I’m just starting out,” he said. “‘Cause it’s a whole new world out there. I always feel, and always did, you always have to prove yourself over and over again.”
“You still feel like you have to prove yourself?” Smith asked.
“Oh, yeah. you know, there’s a lot of younger people who only know me as Mike Wazowski in ‘Monsters, Inc.’ So, there’s a lot more to do. There’s a lot more to say.”
Web extra: Billy Crystal on audience reaction to “When Harry Met Sally…”
For more info:
- “Here Today” in theaters beginning May 7
- Billy Crystal on Twitter
- Tiffany Haddish on Twitter
Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: David Bhagat.