In several ways, 700 Sundays weren't enough for Billy Crystal.
They weren't enough time to spend with his late concert promoter-father, Jack; the original run of the Tony Award-winning stage show about their relationship -- "700 Sundays" -- wasn't enough, so Crystal brought it back to Broadway for a recent nine-week revival. But having it be only a theatrical event wasn't enough, so Crystal has turned it into an HBO special. "Billy Crystal 700 Sundays" premieres Saturday at 9 p.m.
Assembled from two January performances the actor-comedian gave at the Imperial Theatre, the two-hour, one-man show also factors in aspects of Crystal's life such as his passions for jazz and the Yankees. A winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and six Emmys, four of those from his nine stints as Oscar host, the "When Harry Met Sally ..." and "Monsters, Inc." star also took "700 Sundays" across America and to Australia in the mid-2000s.
What made now the time to bring the show to television?
It's been 10 years of doing it and 66 years of writing it. This last run was so fantastic -- as was the first one -- it got to the point where I was thinking to myself, 'OK. How much longer do I do this?'
I still love it every time I perform the show, but it's 1,500 to 2,000 people a night. And those are big theaters. I thought I was ready to let go of it and let more people see it, and when HBO came to me during this last run, I said, 'OK. Let's do it.' I was ecstatic, as we were putting it together, with how intimate the television version is.
You're all over the stage during the course of the show, and certain camera angles clearly are designed for home viewing, also capturing the set that resembles your boyhood home. How different was it for you to contour this for television?
I think it pretty much spelled itself. We had the crew come in to watch the show, and Des and I knew where we wanted cameras to be at certain points, plus we'd do pickup shots after the audience left. The approach is more filmic than a standard comedy show, because it's a play.
It is, plus it draws on your experiences as a stand-up comic, a television personality and a movie star. Does performing "700 Sundays" for TV strike you as a merging of everything you've done professionally?
I think so. I don't want to sound self-serving, but it's sort of an expression of all the different kinds of things I can do. I get to go from showing home movies to impersonating people like my Aunt Sheila to doing mime. It's a great range I get to play in playing myself, and it's an extraordinary experience to get to do that.
I love that the laughs are as big as they are, but for me as a performer, the best moments are when 1,500 people don't say a word or don't breathe for six or seven minutes as the show gets more serious ... as I re-create the night my dad died. I can't even tell you how powerful and wonderful a moment that is for an actor, to feel you have everybody leaning forward on your every word. That's a very rare thing, too.