Billy Crystal and Me

Since I’ve moved here, I keep hearing the phrase “Only In New Orleans.” It really is the perfect phrase to describe the quirky things that go on in this city. And an airport named after Louis Armstrong? Only in New Orleans. The hula hoop parade a co-worker recently took part in? Only in New Orleans. The guy walking into the Superdome on Sunday dressed as a New Orleans Saints-themed Pope? Only in New Orleans. So keeping with this theme, I wanted to share with you an experience I had last week that could also be put into the “Only in New Orleans" category.

It started with a press release. “BILLY CRYSTAL in New Orleans – Friday, Sept 21” the subject line read. The legendary comedian Billy Crystal was headed for New Orleans to promote “Parental Guidance” at the AARP Life@50+ Expo. He was going to open a screening of his new film and he would be available for interviews.

That’s all I needed to know. I immediately volunteered to do it, something that wasn’t really in my job description, but it was the chance to meet a real legend. I know journalists aren’t supposed to gush over who they interview, but the fact that Billy Crystal is a big deal is more of a fact than a bias. He's hosted the Academy Awards nine times. He played Mike Wazowski in the super successful "Monsters, Inc." He was the Harry to Meg Ryan’s Sally. I wanted to interview this guy.

Let me back up. I fell in love with celebrities when I was little. I loved “Full House” and became obsessed with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (who went on to greatness, might I add). I don’t really know why—maybe their lives seemed more exciting than my upbringing of soccer practice, homework and a functional family—but  ever since that first celebrity obsession, I have been fascinated by the “movie star” concept and people that do extraordinary things. What is it like to win an award in front of millions of viewers? What is it like to walk into a grocery store and everyone knows you? What is it like to have your picture taken every day? This curiosity is part of the reason I went into journalism because I wanted to write about interesting people.

So when I received the press release about interviewing Crystal, I thought this was something I had to do. As a journalist, it was a big event coming to New Orleans; as a movie fan, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. So I got my press credentials and showed up at the Ernest R. Morial Convention Center with my prepared questions and a "ready to work" attitude.

I waited in the media room until the other members of the press and I were escorted to the assigned area. We were basically in a big hallway with a red carpet set up.  I stood next to the New Orleans Magazine laminated sign on the floor. As I waited for the excitement, attendees of the convention—the average age was 63, I learned later—crowded around the red carpet area, waiting as patiently as I did for Crystal to make his appearance. The director of “Parental Guidance,” Andy Fickman, and the child stars of the movie were also scheduled to appear, but Crystal was the name in the air; he was who everyone came to see.

Billy Crystal and MeSo you can guess people were excited to see him walking down the hallway when he appeared. As he got closer to our red carpet gathering, I went into journalist mode and turned on my recorder. I was the first one on the media line, so he would come to me first. That’s what happened and the interview started.

We talked about his new movie, being a grandparent and all the money he raised for Katrina victims with his one-man show “700 Sundays.” (You can read the quick interview here.) He was friendly and polite, but serious and clearly answering my questions because he had a movie to promote. He had the sound bite answers of a seasoned show business professional, but he still came off as warm and somewhat interested in talking to me.

After my three questions, I told him I was done, and he moved on to the next member of the press. I then spoke with the director and the child stars of the film.

At the end of the red carpet session, the rest of the press and I went into an auditorium to listen to a Q&A with Crystal, Fickman and the kids. Because the film was not ready to be reviewed, the press was escorted out of the theater while the rest of the audience watched the screening. My red carpet day was over, so I headed home.

The next few days I bragged to my boyfriend, my parents, my Facebook friends and pretty much anyone else who wanted to hear my tale. Yes, interviewing people is part of my job as a writer, but talking to Crystal seemed like more than that. I felt like I had accomplished a goal I had had since I was little. I had always wanted to talk to celebrities and write about them, and while I have interviewed celebrities before, none of them were at the level of Crystal.

I didn’t think I would have an experience like that when I moved to New Orleans. Granted my first red carpet interview was at an AARP film screening—not exactly the Academy Awards. But I got to interview someone who had accomplished so many things. He was a part of the movie star world I have always admired and, though I had always hoped I would get a chance like this, I never expected I would get to interview someone at that level.

But it seems like that’s how things work in New Orleans. We constantly experience the unexpected. The phrase “Only in New Orleans” explains the fantastic people watching on Bourbon Street, the guy painted silver in the French Quarter and the reason why we have to drive East to get to the West Bank.  My red carpet experience last week falls under an “Only in New Orleans” event for me. Not only was it a benchmark in my life, but it had all the makings of a bizarre New Orleans experience. Where else could I meet Billy Crystal while surrounded by a group of senior citizens in Mardi Gras beads?

Only in New Orleans.

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