Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Defense of Billy Crystal

Oscar negativity.

It has surrounded us. Whether on Grantland, Nypost, or just about anywhere. In fact, Grantland went so far as to publish an article that was only emails between the writers making snarky comments. These are from some of the most talented writers in the industry and even they were reduced to the bottom section comments. They weren’t thought out they were just spiteful comments.

And I can’t be separated from this. I was live-tweeting the award show, and was losing faith in Crystal’s performance. In the second half,  he really came on strong and started to loosen up and nail his jokes, and I tweeted it.

 (Note: the article on Grantland Article  about Crystal’s black face is reasonable criticism, however it even though the history of black face is racist, this was a case of Crystal placing Sammy Davis Jr. in the ranks of great artists like Gertrude Stein and Hemingway. Sammy Davis may have been one of the most talented artists of his time, but always fell behind Dean and Sinatra, it was an odd choice, but nevertheless a tribute to a black artist, none are featured in Midnight in Paris
Yes, Crystal could have hired a different actor to play Sammy, but there's nothing wrong with a kid who grew up in nightclubs wanting to be like his hero. He was honoring Sammy, the way Woody Allen honored his favorites).

My favorite negative criticism comes from the blogger Kyle Smith who suggests that Crystal needs to act like more of a comedian and “Can’t take a joke.” Smith made a joke, “Maybe Billy Crystal, who is old enough to have gone to film school with Méliès, will mime his hosting duties?” which Crystal took a minor offense.The Article

Smith responded, “Billy could have called me about that story, and I would have answered his question, "Because it's funny." You see, there's this thing called comedy, and…you'd think a comedian would understand how it works. You figure out where the vulnerability/truth is, and you go for it.”The article

You see, Kyle Smith is explaining comedy to Billy Crystal, a comedian, which I’m hoping is another case of “because it’s funny.” But my wishful thinking was incorrect.

He continued: “Anyway, if Billy didn't enjoy that column, he should avoid reading tomorrow's paper, where I will be taking an even more vigorous whack at him.”

In his next article, he takes shots at Crystal for poking fun of the recently chapter eleven'd Kodak. He refers to Crystal as “Mr. Comedy” and criticizing the jokes, “
Yuk, yuk, yuk. A great American company has lost thousands of jobs and is in bankruptcy — hilarious!”The Article

I’ll assume that “because it’s funny” doesn’t apply in this instance.

He goes on to quote somebody who says Billy’s career has sucked since City Slickers, which is “hilarious!”

There’s a double standard. Hollywood can’t make “tasteless” jokes, but we can, we have this right. We can attack others for something we let ourselves slide on, especially those in public spotlight.

You see, now I’m being vindictive too. I’m attacking Smith without looking at the larger picture. Oscar negativity is one of my weaknesses.

I don’t want to attack Smith, I’m just asking him to look at what he says. In fact, Smith’s original joke was a take on “you’re so old that…” and not that offensive. But instead of writing, “Hey Billy, I was just kidding” to Crystal’s response, Smith launched a vengeance campaign.

Smith, like Crystal, like everybody, doesn’t like to be criticized, but we choose to respond to criticism with criticism. I’m hoping Smith wrote what he did because he felt bad that his article, his joke, stuck out to Crystal and almost made him consider not hosting anymore and making it no fun to do so.

But can we blame Smith? Every time Smith writes something he gets bashed (check out any comment box at the bottom of an article for that matter). Smith and Crystal both put themselves out there to be judged, it’s a choice they make as writers. But at the end of the day, the overall negativity of responses to your work gets to you, it makes you sensitive. And perhaps that’s why Smith and Crystal were so eager to jump on each other.
It’s so cool not to like anything. To hate everything gives you superiority, you never have to explain why you don’t like something, but by liking something you are vulnerable to criticism. People say we are too vulnerable to criticism nowadays, but it’s more prevalent and vicious than ever before. It’s a rat race to see who can be the biggest asshole.

Meanwhile... in improv, there’s a principal idea of acceptance, if you go negative and deny a person’s offer for a scene you can’t go anywhere. If someone points a finger gun at you and you say, “Those are just fingers.” Yeah, you probably get a laugh, but maybe missed out on the possibility for something much funnier and richer down the line by going negative.

 Smith and Crystal serve as a reminder that our negative comments mean something, they aren’t just out in the inter web floating and then disappearing forever. Only negative comments are left, the most extreme feel the need to comment, people that enjoyed the article generally don’t. So next time you read an article that you like, leave something positive behind, make it a habit.

The Hollywood Defender

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