Billy Crystal on Donald Trump, Muhammad Ali and watching When Harry Met Sally with Princess Diana

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The award-winning comedian will tour Australia in July and August following the success of his last tour here in 2007 for his play '700 Sundays'.

Billy Crystal says he's worried about the damage Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump is doing to his home nation.

"I think about what the world [sees in] America and [how it] looks up to America for some things, and how do they feel about this kind of bully-racist, do-anything, say-anything," he says. "There's no class, no dignity. There's no politician there."

The actor and comedian is Downunder for a month-long tour in which he will be joined by Andrew Denton on stage for conversation, recollections, wit and wisdom, film clips and other insights into Crystal's life and career.

Crystal, 68, is best known for films When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers and Analyze This, as well as being a nine-time ...
REUTERS

Crystal, 68, is best known for films When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers and Analyze This, as well as being a nine-time Oscar host and a stand-up career that goes back to the 1970s.

Crystal, 68, is best known for films When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers and Analyze This, as well as being a nine-time Oscar host and a stand-up career that goes back to the 1970s.

He remains a consummate storyteller through his books and stage shows, including the Tony Award-winning 700 Sundays, which he toured in Australia in 2007.

Crystal says he's been telling stories since he was a child: "So now, at this point in my life and career, I can't stop it," he says. "And there's no urgency to it, like, 'I'm old, I gotta get these stories out.' I just enjoy it."

Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a deli with Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in a deli with Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

Crystal's life is packed full of memorable moments.

He says the first time he knew he'd made it was at the London premiere of When Harry Met Sally in 1989, which was attended by Princess Diana. She was seated between Crystal and co-star Meg Ryan for the hit rom-com which includes the notorious scene where Ryan fakes an orgasm at a deli.

"When the scene started, I was nervous. 'Oh, here it comes, boy'," he says, in mock shame. "And she started laughing so loud and rocking back in her chair and the people in the orchestra, you could see them turning around to see what the princess was thinking. Oh, it was fantastic."

Billy Crystal (R) and Muhammed Ali (L) hold hands together with Lonnie Ali at the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night ...
RALPH D FRESO/REUTERS

Billy Crystal (R) and Muhammed Ali (L) hold hands together with Lonnie Ali at the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Awards XIX in Phoenix, Arizona in 2013.

Crystal had the most extraordinary upbringing as the youngest, shortest and "loudest" of three sons. His father, Jack, and his uncle Milt Gabler were pioneers in jazz through the family label, Commodore, promoting concerts and a record store.

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He grew up surrounded by jazz artists and performers – Billie Holiday took him to his first movie. At one family dinner, Crystal witnessed his grandmother ask Louis Armstrong, "Louis, have you tried just coughing it up?"

"You can't choose the people that you come from the hospital with but if I could, I would choose them every time," he says of his family.

"To be brought home into a world of music and laughter and the combination of the jazz musicians and the music and my relatives, all of these amazing spirited people that embraced each other as a family, what a wonderful message I was given."

It was performing skits in front of these visitors in his family living room that took Crystal down the path of entertainment.

Sadly at age 15 he lost his father, who died of a heart attack. 700 Sundays, when it emerged in 2004, was a moving tribute, detailing the time he spent with his family, and named after Crystal's estimate for the amount of free time he spent with his father.

He says performing 700 Sundays was hard, but cathartic.

"I loved feeling as an actor that I was bringing the audience to those moments," he says.

"I was very open about those moments. It was painful but there was a sense of power that came with that. There are moments in the show where I'm just sitting on a little chair in front of [an image of] the house I grew up in and talking about the night my father died, and there's not a sound in the theatre, except for the sniffling.

"The women sniffling and the men coughing, because that's what men do when they try not to show that they're crying. And that sense of just sitting there and having this big amount of people listen to this and be riveted to it was something I'll never be able to forget or recreate."

Last month, Crystal gave a heartfelt eulogy at Muhammad Ali's memorial service, paying tribute to the "tremendous bolt of lightning". The pair had been friends since 1974 when Crystal imitated him at a television special honouring the boxer.

The skit, 15 Rounds, is Crystal at his theatrical best, deftly darting between impersonations of Ali and US sports broadcaster Howard Cosell. Ali referred to Crystal as "Little Brother".

"I never could get over the fact I knew him and that it was more than a celebrity relationship, it was a real friendship," he says. "That was always beyond my comprehension sometimes. He was the most extraordinary human being you've ever met, what he meant to the world, how he shook us all up at times."

Robin Williams was also another friend of Crystal's – the pair had known each other since the 1970s on the stand-up circuit. Crystal said Williams, who died in 2014, brought a joy and an energy never before seen on stage.

"He worked as hard at his craft as anyone I've ever seen. To be next to him on stage for all the hours that we were, it was always the greatest test of all. 'Can I hold my own with him? Where's he going?"' he says.

"I miss him terribly but when I think of him, I do smile, but there are other times when I just shake my head and go 'Goddamnit"'.

Crystal's latest show will also include observations on ageing and family life. He has been married for 46 years to Janice, and says the secret to their longevity is "we have fun".

They have two daughters and four grandchildren, with whom he loves creating stories.

He says the greatest gift he has ever been given is his imagination.

"The fun part is creating characters, jokes, funny stories, short stories, remembering them in a different way. It's like paintings, you take a simple story and then you add all this colour and splash to it and then suddenly it's not just a story, it's a show."

A selection of Billy Crystal's life lessons

* Never have surgery done by a doctor of philosophy.
* Try to have rich children.
* Just because you can't see a funnel-web spider doesn't mean he's not hiding in your pants.
* If you're looking to invest all your life-savings and your friend says, 'I've got a guy', don't listen.
* Try to make love at least twice a week, unless you're in prison.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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