Posts Tagged ‘Billy Crystal’

Week in Review: MediaPost Rundown 3/23-3/27

March 27, 2015
From "Mad Men" (top left) to "My 600-lb Life" (bottom), that was the week that was.

From “Mad Men” (top left) to “My 600-lb Life” (bottom), that was the week that was.

NEW YORK, March 27, 2015 — Catch up with all of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (March 23-27) with these links:

Monday, March 23: First Impressions: Inside the Upcoming Season Premiere of ‘Mad Men’

Tuesday, March 24: James Corden: How’d He Do In His Debut on ‘The Late Late Show’ on CBS?

Wednesday, March 25: Famous People in Peril! Bill O’Reilly Tells Letterman that ‘Destroying’ Celebrities Is Popular ‘Sport’ in the U.S.

Thursday, March 26: FX’s ‘Louie,’ ‘The Comedians’ Are TV’s New Gold Standard Of Comedy

Friday, March 27: From Morbid Obesity To A Bearded Lady: The Weird World Of TLC

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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Billy Crystal ‘blackface’ controversy is baloney

February 28, 2012

Billy Crystal (left) and Sammy Davis Jr.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 28, 2012 — Billy Crystal is being criticized for appearing in costume as Sammy Davis Jr. in the elaborate pre-produced bit that opened the Oscar telecast Sunday night on ABC.

What are the critics complaining about?  His face — specifically, the dark makeup Billy used to complete his impersonation of Sammy.

In the aftermath of the Oscars, the makeup is producing accusations that Billy was doing a racist, “blackface” impersonation of the late, legendary entertainer, who was African-American (and also Jewish).

The Hollywood Reporter has a rundown — here — of the “controversy” and the handful of critics whose Tweets appear to have ignited this mini-firestorm.

For example, a blog identified as “Feministing” declared, “Blackface is not okay, ever.”  And from this thin gruel are “controversies” made these days.

My own opinion is that this “firestorm” doesn’t hold water, but more on that in a moment.

First, the background: Billy turned up in costume as Sammy Davis in the portion of that opening bit that spoofed the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris.”  “Sammy” appeared in a vintage limousine with Justin Bieber (the real one).

The choice was apparently made to include Billy’s “Sammy” character simply because it’s a character he was famous for doing on “Saturday Night Live” when he was a cast member in 1984-85.  Back then, as now, the characterization required dark makeup.  (It’s also worth noting that Billy impersonated Muhammad Ali and Prince on “SNL”; in fact, it was his impression of Ali that made him famous as a young comedian in the 1970s.)

In the wake of Sunday’s “Sammy” appearance on the Oscar show, these “critics” have dealt Billy the “blackface” card.  “Blackface” refers to a practice with roots in 19th-century forms of popular entertainment in which white stage performers blackened their faces with burnt cork or shoe polish to portray African-Americans in ways that often weren’t exactly flattering (and if that’s an understatement, then unlike the Twitterers, I admit right up front I’m not an expert on this subject, though there are plenty of places to learn about it in books and on the Internet).

The “blackface” practice probably reached its zenith when Al Jolson, considered by many to be one of the most electrifying entertainers who ever lived, donned the dark makeup in the early decades of the 20th century to sing songs such as “Mammy,” which certainly wouldn’t fly today.

Cut to the present day: And now, Billy Crystal is being accused of racist “blackfacing” as if he’s been caught barnstorming the country in a minstrel show.

I happen to think this mini-controversy is baloney for several reasons.  For one thing, Billy Crystal has never demonstrated any sort of bias against African-Americans or anyone else, as far I can recall.  In addition, when it comes to Sammy Davis Jr. in particular, he seems to have adored the man — as I learned earlier this month when Billy talked at length about Sammy on Showtime’s “Inside Comedy,” the show on which David Steinberg interviews top comedians about their craft.

Billy told an incredibly affectionate story about Sammy from the days when Billy opened for Sammy in Lake Tahoe (and probably other places).  You could tell that Billy had nothing but love and respect for Sammy.  Certainly, how Sammy felt about Billy’s impersonation of him on “SNL” remains an open question (one biography of Sammy that I own – “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.” by Wil Haygood – doesn’t report on Sammy’s reaction but speculates that he may have felt forced to accept it because of his own history of doing impersonations; Davis died in 1990).

The last thing I’ll say about this is: I think the people criticizing Billy for “blackfacing” are being awfully selective here.  I’m pretty sure Fred Armisen has to tint his face a bit to play Barack Obama on “SNL” (and, in a recent sketch, Prince), but we haven’t seen any “blackface” accusations thrown his way.

In addition, Robert Downey Jr. was criticized by some for applying dark-face makeup for the 2008 movie “Tropic Thunder.”  But that “controversy” died down and was soon forgotten.

My prediction: The same thing will happen with this Crystal controversy too.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

And the winner is: Reliable Billy Crystal

February 26, 2012

Billy Crystal at the Oscars Sunday.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 26, 2012 — There’s something to be said for reliability.  And that’s what Billy Crystal brought to the Oscars Sunday night when he hosted the show for the ninth time.

What’s so great about reliability as opposed to, say, unpredictability?  The main thing is this: In the hours and days after the telecast, few will complain about the host this year — even those who don’t particularly care for Billy Crystal.  A year ago, the majority of the post-Oscar talk was all about how Anne Hathaway and James Franco flopped (especially him).  And in other years, “unpredictable” hosts such as David Letterman and Chris Rock were panned too.

But with Billy Crystal, you get a guy who takes on one of the hardest jobs in show business and then makes it look easy.  He’s a consummate entertainer — he sings (not perfectly, but good enough for a comic), he dances (sort of) and he knows how to get off jokes and one-liners that are neither too soft nor too sharp.  Instead, Billy tends to bowl ’em right down the middle, which is what this telecast demands and, seemingly, only he can deliver.

And deliver he did for a ninth time, starting with one of his trademark, pre-produced bits — an epic retrospective that opened the show, in which Billy turned up in scenes from all nine of the Best Picture nominees.  The most memorable moment in this bit: When George Clooney kissed him tenderly on the lips in a spoof scene from “The Descendants.”

After his grand entrance, which also included an elaborate song-and-dance routine in which Billy sang lyrics poking fun at all the nominated movies, he appeared at various times throughout the evening, got off a joke or two and then made himself scarce.  That’s also a talent he possesses: Knowing when to get on and off stage before the audience tires of him.

I loved his constant jabs at the theater the telecast was coming from — the former Kodak Theatre that no longer carries the name because the revered company is bankrupt.  I counted at least three references to Kodak’s plight when Billy renamed the venue “the Chapter 11 Theater,” “the Your Name Here Theater” and “the Flomax Theater.”

And I loved the way this veteran comic delivered his jokes.  “So, tonight enjoy yourselves,” he said near the beginning of the show, “because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues!”

Later, he introduced presenter Christian Bale this way: “A dark knight, an American psycho, a charismatic crack addict [referring to some of Bale’s best-known roles] . . .   You’ll get to choose one on super Tuesday!”

And after a soaring performance by Cirque du Soleil (which really was mind-blowing), Billy said, “Wow, I pulled a hamstring just watching that!  Now it’s a party!  We got puppets, acrobats, we’re a pony away from being a bar mitzvah!”

As for the non-Billy moments, my favorite was the pre-produced bit with the 1939 “focus group” that critiqued “The Wizard of Oz.”  That bit’s participants included Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Catherine O’Hara — the tightknit group of comic actors from Guest’s movies such as “A Mighty Wind,” “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman.”  That was a great surprise.

In the moments before the telecast began, ABC’s Robin Roberts caught up with Natalie Portman on the way into the theater.  And Portman, last year’s Best Actress winner for “Black Swan,” probably spoke for many of us when she told Roberts she was looking forward to the Oscar show because Billy Crystal had returned.

“We’re in good hands,” Portman said.  And she was right.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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