Oprah: I think you're better than Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.
Billy: It's hard for me to say it, but I think one of my strongest shows was in 1998. The morning after that show, I got two phone calls—and people know that when I'm doing a show, never call me at 8:30 in the morning, because I'm basically just getting in. So Mickey Rooney—one of the greatest talents of all time and someone I'd never met—called me. He said, "I was in the audience last night." I said, "Oh God, I didn't see you." He said, "Is that a short joke?" I said, "No, I just didn't see you." Then he said all these nice things. Five minutes after I hung up, Johnny Carson was on the phone. I went, "Hello?" He said [imitating Johnny's voice], "Billy? It's Johnny." I went berserk. I was sweating. So Johnny said, "I was sitting with some people, and I said, 'Look how great he is.' And Alex said to me, 'Why don't you call and tell him?' And you know what? Damn it, she was right." I said, "Johnny, this is the greatest moment in my life." He went, "Oh, bullshit." I said, "No, I'm telling you, I've always wanted to be able to say, 'Johnny Carson called me.'" Boy, did that mean a lot to me.
Oprah: Now that it's become popular to rag on the Oscars, do you pay attention to the critics?
Billy: I don't read anything anymore.
Oprah: You don't?
Billy: The press is usually very nice to me. But when I've gotten criticism, it's that it's too long, too soft, didn't hit the government hard enough. Then when I do hit the government, they go, "What's he doing hitting the government?"
Oprah: When you did your eighth Oscars, were you as nervous as you were the first time?
Billy: I knew I wanted to knock the doors down by making a movie, and all those special effects take a long time, so I started in September. I got together with my staff of five, and we started figuring out which movies would be nominated. We put together eight different films, then did two days of reshoots once the nominations were out. So I was relaxed because I knew we had good stuff.
Oprah: Is there a muscle you use for performing?
Billy: Yes—my brain.
Oprah: I read somewhere that for you, being a stand-up comic is a lot like being emotionally naked.
Billy: This year I was naked. After we shot the film, the Janet Jackson thing happened. I freaked out. I must have called [producer] Joe Roth ten times in one day: "We can't do the film. ABC is not going to let us put it on the air because I'm naked." Nobody batted an eye.
We Hear You!