Saturday, May 17, 2014

Still Foolin' Em (insert long subtitle here)

Still Foolin' Em by Billy Crystal
(Macmillan Audio, 2013)
Format: Audio CDs via library (narrated by the author)

From Goodreads: "Billy Crystal is 65, and he's not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like "Buying the Plot" and "Nodding Off," Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, and his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Listeners get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever "test positive for Maalox"), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion ("the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac"); grandparenting; and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal's reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived."

Miracle Max! Harry! Other stuff, too, of course. It's hard not to have a soft spot for Billy Crystal just based on those two roles, both of which I've enjoyed repeatedly, neither of which gets stale. Which is why I was able to grit my teeth through the opening chapters about how being old means [insert jokes about bodily malfunctions, memory loss, and kids these days with their texting here]. Not that they were agonizing or anything, just not terribly funny. He's got great patter and does superb character work and has led an enviable life, but the stand up didn't really work for me. Anyway, that all passes like an old man's gas, and the book moves on to his early years, family, wife and kids, and a career that grew in fits and starts until it was chugging along at quite the clip.

The stories are interesting and reinforce that eternal idea that to make your dreams come true, you have to just keep at them, accepting every opportunity, until it happens (or, I suppose, until the dream changes.) Crystal can tell a story, and does so with humility and poignancy and wit and an expansiveness towards the world. And obviously he has the perfect voice for narrating this book. He does voices some, and keeps the humor up front but settles back real gently when it's time for me to cry.

I've been listening to a lot of Aisha Tyler's Girl on Guy podcast, as well as Julie Klausner's How Was Your Week (both so great, y'all, and fascinating to me because of their up-front and intense interviewing skills as well as the previously-unexplored worlds where they bring me; NSFW), which has led to my hearing a lot of stories of how various comedians in particular get their start. Crystal's origin story predates most of those, and I was so intrigued by his stories of the earlier generation of comedy clubs and late-night tv spots.

This is the last nominee I listened to in the Narration by Author or Authors category for the 2014 Audies. I'll be doing a summary of for the Armchair Audies team soon, but I can assure you that, of the four celebrity memoirs in the category this year, Crystal's is by far the best-told and best-narrated. Even with the prostate jokes.

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