The Friars Club held its Award Gala honoring the 70-year-old comic Billy Crystal with the Entertainment Icon Award on Monday November 12, 2018 at 6 PM at the Ziegfeld ballroom. The sold-out dinner with tickets starting at $500 and reaching up to $50,000 was a major happening although there were a number of prominent no-shows including Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon and Martin Scorsese. Crystal is only the eighth person in the Friar’s 114-year history to receive this tribute and he joins an illustrious group of past honorees including Douglas Fairbanks, Cary Grant, Tom Cruise, Tony Bennett, Martin Scorsese and Frank Sinatra. There were also awards given to Rinaldo Nistico for his outstanding contributions to the Friars and Alan Zweibel for being voted “Friar of the Year”.
The Friars Club is a private club in New York City founded in 1904 that hosts celebrity roasts and is comprised of mostly comedians and actors. Previous members include Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Alan King, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis. Recently, the Friars has experienced a host of financial problems as well as a sexual harassment suit bought by a former receptionist. However, this night was unsullied by any external unpleasantries as guests enthusiastically enjoyed the entertainment and speeches. At one table was the elusive Meg Ryan, who refused to be photographed, seated with Katie Couric and Rob Reiner with Billy Crystal nearby surrounded by Robert de Niro, Crystal’s wife and his extended family. Talk show host Larry King started the evening off by presenting an award to Deana Martin, daughter of Dean, by declaring that she was representative of the fact that nepotism wasn’t a bad thing if backed by talent. Deana Martin thanked Larry and his caregiver and joked that her award from the Friars was the most well hung thing at the club not including Milton Berle-who I learned this evening was well endowed. King also contrasted honorees Billy Crystal and Rinaldo Nistico saying Billy was a Jew from Long Island while Rinaldo was an anti-Semite from the Bronx; Billy’s autographed picture is featured in restaurants whereas Rinaldo’s picture is displayed for skipping out on checks. Despite these insults, Rinaldo held his own in a room full of comedians as he thanked both his parents who are still alive and said this award was especially meaningful since he was receiving it on the night honoring Billy Crystal. Comedian Lewis Black, who also counts Crystal as an inspiration, remarked that he was glad Larry King was present because he wanted to know if the shit Larry was shilling on television really worked.
He then said presenting an award to his friend Alan Zweibel was the lowest point of his career with an admission that Zweibel was the person you want sitting at your table at all times. I am still trying to figure out why every comedian’s name is Lewis, Alan, Richard or Black making it difficult to keep track of who’s who. Zweibel who is an American producer and has worked on such productions as Saturday Night Live, PBS Great Performances and Garry Shandling’s Show and wrote the memorable sketches of Samurai for John Belushi and Roseannadanna for Gilda Radner was greeted with loud applause. Zweibel recalled selling jokes at the Friars in 1972 for $7 a piece with his first joke being how do Hasidic men have an orgy? with the women on one side and the men on the other. His next joke which he sold to Rodney Dangerfield for $10 was along the lines of my mother wouldn’t breast feed me because she only wants to be friends. Zweibel, in the only Alec Baldwin joke of the night,, said he had to leave since he asked Baldwin to save his parking spot and wasn’t sure how that would turn out. Larry King then remarked that Alan’s speech was so long three Friars had died in the interim. Having people appear via film is funny and effective; however, when there are too many no-shows you begin to wonder why a big star akin to Billy Crystal can’t get people in person.
It was funny to have Scorsese remark on film that he should have cast Crystal in Taxi Driver and Goodfellas instead of De Niro, or to hear Jon Lovitz flush the toilet when speaking on camera, or to watch Mel Brooks call him one of the most talented little Jews to live-but I kept wondering why these people weren’t there. The last straw was when he had the ubiquitous Keegan Michael Key appear on screen someone who is hardly even known by the vast majority of the public-honorees should be careful when overusing film especially when it adds time to an overly long program. Nonetheless, the entertainment was great with Paul Shaffer singing “Sex Machine”, Jordin Sparks wowing the crowd with her incredible vocals and Smokey Robinson sexily chanting “Fly Me to the Moon”. Katie Couric gave one of the most biting and vitriolic toasts I have heard even at the Friars Club where she said De Niro gets sent bombs whereas Crystal makes movie bombs; the room looked like a colonoscopy waiting room with guests equally enthused at attending; Larry King got paid $180 for his last gig which will be reduced to $43 in his next divorce; and this was like covering the Olympics except at this event they conducted drug tests for Crestor and Cialis. The crowd was in shock as Couric lobbed one insult after another saying she loved interviewing Crystal about the meaning behind “City Slickers 2: The Legends of Curly’s Gold” and that she and Crystal were still pretending to be relevant. Couric then said she was leaving because she heard Crystal had to take his fourth pee. Meg Ryan gave a similarly puzzling speech as she remarked it was impossible to be Crystal’s friend as they just wave across red carpets or pass by each other’s tables the way Hollywood types do. When Ryan heard about Crystal’s charity work she said she thought wow he is a good actor. Ryan concluded by saying he is a true mensch and she could never fake it with Crystal-alluding to her scene in “When Harry Met Sally.”
Following an auction where a Baldwin piano on which Frank Sinatra played and a lunch in LA with Crystal and Reiner each fetched $50,000, comedian Robert Klein, in one of the funniest bits of the night, joked that Jews buried their dead so quickly he was afraid to take a nap in front of his relatives. Another less effective presenter, Robert De Niro, used the evening, as he always does, to disparage Trump by calling him the jerk-off in the White House and the buffoon-in-chief. Hijacking a celebration of your friend to air your own political grievances is classless. De Niro said Crystal had the soul of a comedian and giving him this award was more meaningful to him than receiving it 5 years ago. It wasn’t until 11:15 PM that Crystal took to the stage joking that he had grown a beard during the endless evening.
Crystal said when he saw all the movie clips the only thing that came to his mind were residuals. He said this was one of the highlights of his 45-year career as his father would bring home comedy albums when he was a kid. Crystal kept asking Larry King if he was okay and if both of his lungs were functioning properly as he mimicked Muhammad Ali whom he had the opportunity to perform in front of at the Plaza Hotel and who remained a close friend of his for forty two years. He thanked his wife Janice and said he was appreciative for his four grandchildren since they gave him a second chance to screw things up and said his wife was his co-star in every movie since she auditioned his lines with him each time. Crystal thanked De Niro for improving his acting technique in each scene they starred in together and said the aura of The Friars has awed him since he was a young child. At the end of the night, guests headed to the Friars club to dance, drink and recount the “good old days” when Sinatra, Martin and Sammy filled the hallowed halls with irreverence and ribaldry.
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