Billy Crystal Acceptance Speech | 2007 Mark Twain Prize

(Billy Crystal) Thank you so much. No, stay standing. Well, does this mean I have to retire now? Usually when someone is given an evening like this, they’re way too dead to say thank you. So thank you. Over the past nine years I’ve sat at home and watched this show and its parade of comedy legends and I, I said, as any comedian would say when he would watch this show, why him? But now that I’m him, and looking at all these old clips, I remember something that my grandfather once said to me. He said to me, if you hang around the store long enough, sooner or later, they’ll give you something. You know I think about Mark Twain, whenever I think about Mark Twain, one thing comes to mind: Cliff Notes. [Applause] But after I got the call that I’d won this award and all those other great people on stage didn’t, I thought it only right to become a little more familiar with this great man’s work. I read everything and do you know something. He was okay. I don’t think I’d name an award after him, but he was okay and I also thought it would be perfectly fitting to do some of this acceptance speech in the spirit of the great Mark Twain. (Music) I should tell you to further capture his spirit, I whittled this chair. I also whittled this pipe and the harmonica and the first three rows of the balcony. It was a very, it was a very full day. For you sir, I was born in New York City, grew up near the seaside in a sleepy town of Long Beach, New York to two very devoted Hebrew parents who settled there because they always dreamed of someday having a very tiny lawn. [Applause] I was the last of three strong sons who grew to love the roar of laughter from the family elders as I performed for them, when they would gather in grandma Susie’s house to partake of kosher parts of cows and chickens that had everybody filling up with gas so big it looked like Sebastian Cabot on a hot day. The family, who spoke mostly Yiddish, which is a combination of German and phlegm, had a history of actors in the family. My grandfather, a man named Julius Crystal, was an actor in the Yiddish theater. He lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the time and he had translated King Lear into Yiddish, and he was touring the country side for audiences that wanted to see Shakespeare performed in Yiddish. Four days later the family moved to Brooklyn. My dad was in the music business producing jazz concerts and sometimes the great jazz players from New Orleans and Kansas City and Chicago as well as the giants of Harlem would frequent our modest little home. The house always smelled of brisket and bourbon, and after smoking cigarettes with no writing on them, they were often wale into the night with spontaneous outbursts to the music that still fills my soul. Though all the greats have called me face, forever will I thank you. Can you dig that? I knew that you could. We also gathered around a TV set for the Golden Age of comedy. My parents would let us stay up late on school nights to watch the giants — Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, Burns and Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Phil Silvers, Jack Paar, Jonathan Winters. But of all the great comic influences, Mr. Bill Cosby was the one I’m most related to. I would listen to those records, and all those records he was like talking about me. He had brothers, I had brothers. He played football at Temple, I belong to a temple. [Music] [Applause] [Music] And now so many years later, here I am tonight still in front of a big crowd where I feel as warm as an apple pie in the windowsill of grandma Susie’s kitchen. Well, most of those first audiences are gone now, but the echoes are there. Their laughter will be in my brain forever and ever. I thank them for listening, they were very captive audience. They had to be – my mom had stolen their car keys. So my brother’s here tonight. For being so damn funny, I thank you. For my parents, for the gift of laughter and love, and the way they looked at us when we made them laugh, I thank you. To all the great friends I have, some since junior high school, are in the audience tonight, and those who came on stage who were so funny, and who gave us the joy and their presence. Words can’t describe how I feel about all of them. For John Lasseter and my friends at Pixar and put together a wonderful clip from Monsters Inc and that new voice from a kid named Walter Cronkite, I thank you. To the Kaminsky brothers, Bob and Peter, and Mark Krantz and Cappy McGarr for producing this lovely evening. To my audiences throughout the country and my friends down in Australia, your laughter and tears and cold hard cash are the reasons I keep walking out there.

To our managers for over 30 years, and all the others who have represented me, you have all been way overpaid and the guilt you feel is more than justified. [Applause] But seriously – Larry Breslin, David Steinberg, Buddy Maura, Jack Rollins and Charlie Jaffe, I love all of you and the pride you’re feeling at this very moment is also more than justified. To my girls Jenni and Lindsay, being your dad has been the most wonderful experience in the world and making you laugh had always been the ultimate, until these two little granddaughters came along, so now I try to make them giggle and laugh and then hand them back, so mom and I could go to an early movie. Your mates are fine young men, and as time goes by, it’s very comforting to me to know so there’ll be two strong fellows who will wheel up me into Yankee Stadium and lift me up so I can go to the men’s room. But finally to my Janice and all the universe with all of its creatures, somehow we found each other and we said we don’t have to look anymore. I was 18, you were 17, we’re still here. And our marriage… [Applause] and sweetheart our marriage is like Mark Twain’s big Mississippi. You with your steady flow of understanding and compassion, me with my big mouth and sandy bottom. [Applause] You know it’s a very ironic thing that tonight, this very night, 32 years ago to this night, in 1975 I was due to be a guest on a new show called Saturday Night Live. It was to be my television debut on a show that I knew would change comedy forever. Well it wasn’t meant to be, I ended up getting bumped from that very, very first show. I was devastated. I went home thinking my career is over. So here we are, 32 years to the very night, I thank you all for reminding me that it wasn’t. Thank you all. Thank you so much. [Applause]

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