Billy Crystal says comedy in the age of cancel culture is 'becoming a minefield' — and the woke mob lines up to blast him

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TheBlaze 07 May, 2021 - 03:10pm 13 views

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Comedian Billy Crystal just bombed.

In a New York Post article Thursday to promote his new movie, “Here Today,” the nine-time Oscars host was apparently asked about the state of comedy and cancel culture.

“It’s becoming a minefield and I get it,” he said. “I don’t like it, I understand it. … I just keep doing what I’m doing and that’s all you can do right now.”

The “City Slickers” star got quite a reaction on Twitter, and it wasn’t orgasmic like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally.” It was more like a Bronx cheer for the 73-year-old Yankees fan.

“It’s amazing how many euphemisms and analogies are offered up for ‘we’re annoyed that white dudes just can’t say whatever they want anymore,’” one user wrote.

No, Billy Crystal, comedy isn't a "minefield." You're just mad you can't do blackface anymore.

It's amazing how many euphemisms and analogies are offered up for "we're annoyed that white dudes just can't say whatever they want anymore". https://t.co/LPxbcLH6eQ

comedy is not "becoming a minefield." people just won't accept racist shit and punching down anymore.

Imagine if all the mines were above ground and were labeled “MINE” and you got upset because someone asked you politely not to step on the mines https://t.co/G73KQbCDz0

Billy Crystal thinks cancel culture sucks, calls it a "minefield". Really?

Billy Crystal saying comedy is a minefield now... I dunno, Dave Chappelle seems to be doing just fine.

If the minefield was a metaphor for trying to remain relevant and stepping on a mine was a boost in popularity, Billy Crystal could River Dance across it unscathed

Instead of whining about how people don't think you're funny anymore, Billy Crystal could get off his ass and make Analyze This part 3, where he goes to space to assemble the Freudians Of The Galaxy. It writes itself.

The most shocking part of this story is Billy Crystal thinking he's a relevant voice in comedy in 2021.

Billy Crystal doesn’t want to live in a world where his impression of Muhammad Ali isn’t widely celebrated.

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Tiffany Haddish, Billy Crystal Preview 'Here Today'

ET Canada 08 May, 2021 - 07:00pm

‘Here Today’ Review: Crystal and Haddish Strike an Unlikely Friendship in an Old-Fashioned Dramedy

IndieWire 08 May, 2021 - 07:00pm

@davidehrlich

Here Today” is the kind of movie that people don’t really make anymore, and by the time it’s over, there’s a good chance that even the most old-fashioned audiences will have made their peace with that. Billy Crystal’s first directorial outing in the 20 years since “61*” debuted on HBO is a downbeat but heartwarming dramedy about the unusual friendship that forms between a widowed Jewish writer (Crystal) and the newly single Black woman whose ex-boyfriend was his biggest fan (Tiffany Haddish).

It’s not quite as retrograde as it might sound from its logline, or as flimsy as it might look from the American Typewriter font used for its opening credits. In a film where several of the major story beats fall somewhere between far-fetched and Tolkien-level fantasy, it’s impossible not to appreciate the raw human texture that Haddish brings to her under-written role.

Ditto the unforced chemistry that she and Crystal spark together, which maintains a natural stability even when the low-stakes narrative around it veers towards melodrama down the home stretch; for better or worse, “Here Today” more closely resembles a James L. Brooks tear-jerker told with all the nuance of “The Upside” than it does a riff on “The Upside” told with all the nuance of a James L. Brooks movie.

It’s also important to note that Crystal and co-writer Alan Zweibel, here adapting the latter’s semi-autobiographical short story “The Prize,” are fully aware that this bittersweet tale about living in the now feels so out of its time. Charlie Burnz is nothing if not a human anachronism — a fact made clear to us by the comedy legend’s current job as a very senior writer at an “SNL”-like TV show that’s otherwise entirely staffed by millennials — and the sense that he belongs to a different era is galvanized in the most brutal way possible by the dementia he’s straining to keep secret from his skeptical colleagues and semi-estranged children. Charlie has been able to keep his symptoms in check with medicines and routines, but his memory is starting to fail, and his mind is often tugged back into the same past that threatens to leave him behind.

When someone buys lunch with him at an auction — the winning bid is $22 — it’s surprising that Charlie actually remembers to go. Even more surprising is that unemployed singer Emma Payge bothers to cash in on her ex’s prize (“The Good Fight” actor Nyambi Nyambi is only afforded a few milliseconds of screen-time as the Burnz superfan who spurs this whole story into motion). She doesn’t know or care who Charlie is, but when life gives you a chance to spite an old flame and eat some free seafood in one fell swoop, you take it. And if you have a severe allergic reaction to shellfish, well, maybe the rich old writer sitting across from you will pay for the four-digit hospital bill that follows.

It’s wild to think that actually happened to founding “SNL” writer Zweibel once upon a time, but just about everything that follows in this movie smacks of pure fiction, from the “slippery when wet” road sign that Emma has tattooed on her ass to the interest she takes in Charlie’s life when his symptoms flare up after a retrospective screening of the famous Kevin Kline/Sharon Stone rom-com he supposedly wrote for Barry Levinson back in his heyday (Crystal calls in enough favors to ensure fun cameos all around). Their friendship blossoms with such a light touch that scenes practically evaporate before your eyes, as Crystal’s unfussy direction and preference for cute zingers over deep laughs allows viewers to sink into the movie like it’s an old couch they just pulled out of storage.

It’s refreshing to see the ever-capable Haddish shine in a more grounded role where she gradually morphs into the straight man, and Crystal finds a certain kind of self-reflexive edge in his performance as Sad Billy Crystal. You can’t even read a typical line of Charlie dialogue without hearing it in his voice (try this: “For me, the great outdoors would be a lot better if it were indoors”).

It’s only a matter of time before “Here Today” starts to feel like an elegy for an entire mode of schtick comedy. The variety show where Charlie works, on the other hand, doesn’t feel outmoded so much as totally alien, as not even Zweibel’s first-hand experience can help this movie create a believable fake sketch show succeed where so many others have failed. A subplot about Charlie taking a protegee under his wing has a demented Nancy Meyers vibe, while a cringe-worthy scene in the middle of a live taping so misapprehends what’s funny that… well, that part actually might be an accurate representation of “Weekend Update.”

Even less credible is Charlie’s relationship with his adult children, which has been strained to the breaking point since their mom died under mysterious circumstances when they were young. For a film so focused on the dangers of succumbing to life’s unpredictability — a film about how a man allowed his entire family to fall apart in the aftermath of one tragic night — “Here Today” can’t recover from how surface-level Charlie’s relationship is with his son (Penn Badgley) and resentful daughter (Laura Benanti). The Burnz drama is a like a dreamcatcher for all of the movie’s worst impulses, from a bat mitzvah scene that quashes the script’s most explicit acknowledgement of race with an impromptu sing-along to a late reveal that leaves you as resentful towards Charlie’s kids as they are towards him.

But the film’s single biggest misstep is in regards to the late Mrs. Burnz. The result of a disastrous choice that ironically stems from Crystal’s only attempt at introducing a modern flourish into this old-fashioned tale, Charlie’s dead wife is played by the excellent 34-year-old actor Louisa Krause, whose entire performance is sprinkled across a variety of flashbacks that are seen through Charlie’s eyes.

The intention is to visualize Charlie’s memories with the same immediacy they have inside his mind, but the effect lands much closer to the look of POV porn (or more generously “Being John Malkovich”) as Krause whispers sweet nothings into the camera lens while Crystal’s 73-year-old voice talks back to her from somewhere off-screen. It’s amusing at best, deeply uncomfortable at worst, and always capable of stopping the movie’s emotional undertow on a dime.

Touching as it can be to see Crystal watch the sun go down on so many different things with just the right amount of wistfulness, it’s hard to embrace a canned “live in the moment and laugh as it goes by” ethos in a movie where even death becomes impossible to take seriously.

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This Article is related to: Film, Reviews and tagged Billy Crystal, Here Today, Reviews, Tiffany Haddish

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Fear Not, Here Today Is Not a Billy Crystal–Tiffany Haddish Romantic Comedy

Vulture 08 May, 2021 - 07:00pm

In the film — based on a short story by Alan Zweibel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Crystal, who also directs — Crystal’s an aging comedy legend named Charlie Burnz who befriends Emma Payge, a singer played by Tiffany Haddish. They don’t have sex, and yet everyone around them keeps asking if they’re a couple, as though it were the obvious thought anyone might have when seeing the two together. The doctor (Anna Deavere Smith) who’s treating Charlie for dementia wants to know if they’re boyfriend and girlfriend (“We spooned!” they cheerfully reply). Charlie’s estranged daughter Francine (Laura Benanti) corners Emma at a bat mitzvah to ask how long Emma and Charlie have been dating. After Emma crawls into Charlie’s bed one night because she’s afraid of thunder, he ends up wondering if anything happened between then. The prospect of a May-December romance between Crystal and Haddish isn’t exactly appealing, but after a while, it starts to feel like it would make more sense than the one-directional relationship that does develop over the course of this odd little film. As it is, though, Emma has a distinct whiff of the magical that even Haddish’s ebullient ease onscreen can’t obscure.

Emma comes crashing into Charlie’s life when she meets him for a lunch that was auctioned off for charity, though it was her ex who’s the fan who made the winning bid; she’s just there out of spite in the wake of their breakup. After a mishap involving a seafood salad and a trip to the ER, the two become friends, or even, the movie would have us believe, soul mates. But it’s only Charlie’s life we see — the mental decline he’s been hiding, his strained relationships with Francine and his son Rex (Penn Badgley), his job as a writer on an SNL-like sketch show called This Just In, and, eventually, regretful flashbacks to his marriage with his late wife Carrie (Louisa Krause). It’s unclear, meanwhile, where Emma lives, or how she supports herself as part of a band that mainly seems to busk in the subway. When she receives what sounds like the career opportunity of a lifetime, she sets it aside without fuss to help Charlie out. The film doesn’t need to show Crystal and Haddish in a passionate clinch to be an indulgent fantasy — Emma’s willingness to always show up for Charlie without getting anything in return aside from hostility from his daughter is its own form of narrative wish fulfillment.

But while Here Today never works, there is a confessional quality to it that makes it intermittently interesting. It’s the movie equivalent of someone telling what they think is a funny anecdote, but that instead comes out as an inadvertent glimpse into their soul. The array of celebrities playing themselves — among them Kevin Kline, Sharon Stone, and Barry Levinson as the stars and director of a beloved comedy Charlie wrote — represent an unignorable flex of power, a reminder of Crystal’s reputation and the long arc of his career. And yet, in the scenes in Charlie’s workplace, where he’s the venerable artifact in a writers’ room full of young talent, it’s never clear what the character is holding the line against. He doesn’t like jokes that he sees as too profane, and he doesn’t like the odd emphasis that a brash up-and-comer named Roger (Matthew Broussard) gives certain words. But the sketches Charlie does usher through, some of them the work of a meek young Harvard Lampoon alum named Darrell (Andrew Durand) whom he takes under his wing, are just as terrible as the ones he dislikes. His greatest success is an on-air breakdown that becomes an accidental viral moment, and it’s impossible to tell how we’re supposed to feel about it. Crystal may fret about no longer being able to get the girl, but the fear at the core of Here Today has more to do with no longer being sure of the terrain of contemporary comedy.

Review: Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish Team Up for the Middling Buddy Dramedy ‘Here Today’

Pajiba Entertainment News 08 May, 2021 - 07:00pm

One of the hardest things to do in pop culture is to depict pop culture itself. It’s surprisingly tough to describe, say, a great actor’s work or the magnum opus of an artist the audience is repeatedly told was brilliant. How do you accurately capture the nuances and natural power of great art? It’s been done before, like the appropriately peppy one-hit-wonder in That Thing You Do! or the eponymous picture of Dorian Gray, both of which the audience fully believes when they are told by the narrative of their excellence, albeit in very different ways. Depicting comedy is maybe the most arduous version of this. Even the funniest people alive stumble when recreating that in a fictional framework. Just ask Aaron Sorkin about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or Billy Crystal, the writer, director, and star of Here Today.

For decades, Charlie Burnz (Crystal) was one of the top comedy writers in the game, a widely celebrated genius who wrote Tony-winning Broadway plays and seminal movies that receive screenings at the Lincoln Center. Now in his winter years, he writes for a fratty comedy sketch show that feels like Saturday Night Live if every part was written by Colin Jost. It’s not especially funny, even when the on-set audience laughs, and the viewer is supposed to smile politely as Charlie does. This silent battle between the old guard of comedy and the bright young bros, who love jokes about Stephen Hawking, positions Charlie as being mostly in the right. Yes, he’s slowed down because of health issues that include oncoming dementia, but he still fires off one-liners that make others guffaw with laughter. When we see a clip from a film he wrote, starring Kevin Kline and Sharon Stone (playing themselves?!) directed by the also legendary Barry Levinson (also playing himself?!), it’s hardly A-Grade stuff, and that’s a problem when the viewer is constantly told about the irrefutable brilliance of Charlie Burnz.

While grappling with all this, he meets Emma (Tiffany Haddish), a singer who has dinner with him as part of a charity auction. She has no idea who Charlie is, as she’s only there to spite her ex, who was a big fan. Nonetheless, Emma instantly warms to Charlie and his humor. The pair strike up a friendship wherein they make one another laugh and Emma provides much-needed stability once Charlie’s dementia advances. He feels guilty about his semi-estrangement from his adult children (played by the bored Penn Badgley and the always excellent Laura Benanti), so Emma becomes the kind and encouraging voice he needs. It’s the age-old opposites attract story, although here, at least it’s not a romance. Well, kind of. Even they don’t seem to know what’s going on between them.

This exemplifies a big problem with the narrative of Here Today. It feels like two movies squashed together: The Woody Allen-esque story of New York comedy writers (complete with jazz-inflected score), and the heart-warming buddy dramedy about a mismatched couple and the joy they bring one another. The former means that we spend a lot of the latter hearing Tiffany Haddish tell Billy Crystal how funny he is, even though she’s one of the most hilarious women on the planet and is in fine bombastic form here. As Emma, Haddish is treading familiar territory with another unashamedly unruly woman to add to her collection. It’s not hard to see why anyone would be won over by her, even if she leaves a quiet trail of devastation behind her. Crystal clearly enjoys riffing with Haddish, and the best scenes come when the two of them play off one another in scenes with nothing to do with the wider story. They pay a visit to Madame Tussauds and mock the waxworks in their trademark styles. The actors are obviously enjoying themselves, and that old/new comedy dynamic feels far more natural here than whenever Charlie is offering notes to wide-eyed Harvard grads from his typewriter. Still, it’s sad that Crystal doesn’t really give Haddish much to do beyond being Charlie’s person. As appealing as she is within those confines — she is naturally a very warm presence with major best-friend energy — it’s hard not to see Emma being entirely categorized as the ‘helpful Black lady’ with a sprinkling of manic pixie on top.

The dramedy aspect tilts fully into drama by the second half, as Charlie’s dementia takes grip and forces him to take note of his past before it slips away. It’s been a surprisingly busy year for stories about dementia, from the devastating Oscar-winner The Father to the speculative melancholy of Little Fish to Viggo Mortensen’s personal directorial debut Falling. There’s never exactly been a shortage of such stories in film, whether it’s Still Alice or Iris or Away From Her, all of which tried to grapple with the frustration and isolation of losing oneself to the cruelest of conditions. Most stories portray this reality from an outsider perspective, or focus on the memory loss aspect over other, less cinematically ready symptoms.

One of the reasons The Father was so effective as a dementia story was that it allowed the audience to see the protagonist’s unvarnished confusion and fury over living with a disease he never fully understood or accepted. Here Today has less lofty ambitions. Here, Charlie’s dementia is earnestly depicted but still adheres to narrative convenience. We see the obvious frustration for a writer to lose his words and timing, but it’s all handled with a light, even breezy touch that doesn’t invite the audience to linger on the reality of his future. I’m not saying the movie had to go full Haneke or anything, but that tonal tightrope Crystal tries to walk perhaps required more than some one-liners. Charlie says he’d rather die than lose his sense of humor, which is a driving force for his work (as well as Crystal’s, in many ways). Yet, the most effective scene comes when he does just that and nobody around him knows how to react.

The sharpness of such moments feels dishearteningly undercut by the neatness with which the story wraps up. Emma ends up being reduced to Charlie’s family’s helpful guide, so not only is the familial strain cleared up in a heartbeat but Emma herself is denied a conclusion to her own depressingly thin arc. It wholly deflates any emotional payoff that Here Today was aiming for.

I can’t blame Crystal for wanting to tell this story, and he is solid in the lead role. The intentions are good, but the execution is lacking with Here Today. With ideas this hefty and seemingly mismatched, a sturdier hand was needed. A light touch is often appreciated, but now and then it can veer too quickly into frivolity, and such is the fate of Here Today.

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Billy Crystal, Who's Hosted the Oscars 9 Times, Jokes About This Year's Show: 'Were They On?'

PEOPLE 07 May, 2021 - 10:39am

During an interview with the New York Post, published Thursday, the 73-year-old actor and comedian was asked whether he tuned in to the Oscars on April 25.

"Were they on?" Crystal quipped, before going on to say he'd "rather talk about" his new movie Here Today, which he directed and costars in alongside Tiffany Haddish.

He added, "It's an interesting time, it's an interesting time."

Crystal first hosted the Oscars in 1990, and last took the stage as host at the 94th Academy Awards in 2012.

The actor chatted with PEOPLE last year amid the release of his film Standing Up, Falling Down, during which costar Ben Schwartz jokingly told him of potentially hosting one more time, "You need to get that 10."

"I've done nine," the When Harry Met Sally... star said of his hosting record. "I think I'm okay."

He also recalled his post-1998-Oscars call with Johnny Carson, in which the comedy legend told Crystal he did a "sensational" job hosting that year.

"He said all of these lovely things ... I get emotional thinking about it. It was so important to me," Crystal went on. "[It] was really one of the great experiences of my life."

In his interview with the Post, the Emmy- and Tony-winning star also touched on cancel culture, saying, "It's a totally different world [now] and it doesn't mean you have to like it."

"It's becoming a minefield and I get it," The Princess Bride actor said. "I don't like it, I understand it … I just keep doing what I'm doing and that's all you can do right now."

Here Today in is theaters now.

‘Here Today’ Review: What’s So Funny?

The Wall Street Journal 06 May, 2021 - 04:12pm

It’s unfortunate for the film that its release follows “The Father,” another story of dementia that won richly deserved Oscars for its star, Anthony Hopkins, and its screenwriters, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller. Comparisons are inevitable, though, and they’re not flattering. Mr. Hopkins and his colleagues raised the subject to the level of austere poetry. “Here Today” lays it out in clumsy prose.

Charlie has long been a Luddite, a writer who continues to peck out his scripts on an old Smith Corona portable typewriter and declines to do smartphones. Now, with his short-term memory a ruin, he can barely find his way from home to the production office where he still works as a valued elder with a group of bright young writers on a TV show that bears unconvincing resemblances to Saturday Night Live. And though he keeps forgetting things like his locker number at the gym or his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah rehearsal, he conceals his confusions successfully, if improbably, until Emma comes along to see through him and light up his life with new energy.

That’s the scheme of the script, in any case. Actually Emma is an insistently arbitrary contrivance—her ex-boyfriend won lunch with Charlie by placing a $22 bid in an inner city-library auction, but she has no idea who he is. And the energy she brings is false because Mr. Crystal’s direction forces Ms. Haddish to be strident, and her character off-putting, until several quiet moments near the end when genuine feelings are allowed to intrude. False sentiment suffuses a series of cloying scenes in which Charlie talks to a young and lovely vision of his late wife, Carrie; she’s played by Louisa Krause. (Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, Bob Costas and Barry Levinson play themselves in cameos.)

For a while “Here Today” seems to be exploring an intriguing notion, that for all of Charlie’s frightening lapses he’s still got his chops as a comedy writer, or at least as a teacher who can inspire the youngsters in the writers’ room, and an editor who can tell them if their work is good or bad. “There’s a music to comedy,” he says, and you want to believe him, but the fruits of his advice fall awfully far from the tree. At several points in the TV production process we’re supposed to be seeing sketches that owe their hilarity to Charlie’s instincts, but something is missing. In a movie about the anguish of forgetting, they’ve forgotten to make even the funniest stuff funny.

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