Billy: She wouldn't let me in the bathroom.

Oprah: How old was she then?

Billy: Nineteen [laughs]. The maturity fairy hit.

Oprah: So you did the hair combing, too?

Billy: I used to play a character, a hairdresser named Mr. Phyllis, and I'd shampoo my girls' hair and make it fabulous. We had a number of other characters, and we created our own languages. They just fell in with this nonsense.

Oprah: Tell me about Saturday Night Live.

Billy: I was asked to be on the very first show. I was doing this piece that took about six minutes. On Friday night, we had a live run-through. George Carlin was the host. Big audience. And the show wasn't very good that night, but my thing worked great. So I thought I was in fat city. Then I heard from Lorne [Michaels, the executive producer of SNL], "You have to do a piece that's two minutes total." But I really didn't have anything that could work in two minutes. So I called my managers. They met with Lorne, saying, "He can do it in five minutes, but we want him to be in the first hour." Lorne said, "Can't do it." I was sitting in the lobby, and my managers said, "Come on, we're going home." I said, "What are you talking about?" They said, "They can't do what we want, and you're not going to look good in this." I wasn't like, "Screw them." I was like, "This is where I belong. What the hell happened?" I watched the show go into history, and I ended up doing Howard Cosell.

Oprah: That must have been difficult.

Billy: I don't blame anyone. It just got all blown out of proportion with the managers. They stood up for me, and Lorne stood up for his show. I understand that. The hard part was calling all the relatives and saying, "I'm not going to be on." They're like, "But we took naps so we could watch this at 11:30, Mr. Big Shot. What did you do, open your mouth?"

Eight years later, I was asked to be a guest host. I hosted twice that season, and it went great. Then Dick Ebersol took over. Lorne was out. Dick said, "Would you think about being a regular if I got Marty Short and Chris Guest?" I said, "If they do it, I'll do it"—and I said it fast, because I knew it was a really smart move to make.

Oprah: As you'd watched all those guys whose careers were built on Saturday Night Live...

Billy: I should have been there. Maybe, in a way, it was a good thing. Maybe I wasn't ready then. When I did come back, I had chops. I had Fernando. [Crystal became known for his Fernando Lamas impression: "You look mahvelous!"] I had the character Chris Guest and I created. [Willie the Masochist would hurt himself and then claim, "I hate when that happens!"]


Next Story