Billy Crystal, the comedian, actor, director and nine-time Oscar host, gets a lot of laughs out of the indignities of aging in his new book that's not quite a memoir.
Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? (*** out of 4) links 21 short essays that begin with Crystal's 65th birthday party. A few hours later, his fourth grandchild was born.
"I told Lindsay (one of Crystal's two daughters) no gifts," he writes, "but you know kids, they never listen."
As an essayist, Crystal writes mostly stand-up comedy. He's alternately cranky, nostalgic and sentimental. He's not above being scatological. Mostly, he's funny, especially on life as a senior citizen:
"At sixty I could do the same things I could do at thirty, if I could only remember what those things were."
But he remembers a lot, including a happy childhood that ended, he writes, when he was 15. That's when Crystal's father, a record-store manager in New York who would bring home comedy albums, died. Crystal writes, "I never felt young again."
He remembers all the highlights and a few disappointments in his career, which began when he was a substitute teacher and led to starring roles in When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers. He offers only a few glimpses of the business part of showbiz and how hard he's worked at making it look easy.
Many names are dropped. As a kid on Long Island, his family doctor was Don Rickles' cousin, "which is not why we chose him."
At the film program at NYU, "my fellow students were kids like Oliver Stone and Christopher Guest."
He boasts of and marvels at his friendships with his athletic heroes, Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali, and reveals how he was once punched by Joe DiMaggio. (Speaking at a Yankee Stadium ceremony after Mantle's death, Crystal failed to introduce DiMaggio the way he liked: "the greatest living player.")
Crystal recalls sitting next to Ali at the funeral of bombastic sports commentator Howard Cosell (whom Crystal imitated so well). In front of Cosell's casket, Ali nudged Crystal and whispered, "Do you think he's wearing his hairpiece?"
Crystal, holding in his laugh, replied, "I don't think so."
Ali asked, "Then how will God recognize him?"
"Once he starts complaining," Crystal replied, "he'll know."
Despite all of Crystal's own comic complaints, he writes that at 65, life is good: "I have had one house, one wife, my real nose, my real name, and most of my teeth."
And if you like the book, you'll love the audio. Seven chapters were recorded live by Crystal at an NYU fundraiser. Not many books come with their own laugh tracks.