Robert De Niro may have been the target of the Donald Trump-supporting pipe bomb mailer, but that isn’t stopping the Oscar winner from trashing the president.
Just two days after playing Robert Mueller again on “Saturday Night Live,” De Niro zinged the commander-in-chief with more verbal zingers.
In presenting Billy Crystal with the Friars Club’s entertainment icon award on Monday night in New York City, De Niro first shouted, “F— Crystal!” as a wink to his condemnation of Trump at the Tony Awards earlier this year. “I just get so upset with that jerkoff in the White House,” he said, drawing boos from the crowd. “Boo is right! Down with this motherf—er!”
Though the “Raging Bull” star jokingly suggested Crystal should be president instead (“We’ve got a dangerous buffoon-in-chief. What we need is a heroic comedian-in-chief”), he concluded that Crystal’s inability to lie and his lack of scandals would be disqualifying. “As much as we could use you in the never-been-more-white White House, I think it’s best to keep you right where you are — making us laugh and entertaining us like no one else,” he said.
Crystal, for his part, seemed open to using those comic skills in a political context. He himself was the subject of one of the Friars Club’s legendary (and infamously brutal) roasts in 1992. Asked who he would target if he could return the favor, his answer was simple. “Gee,” he said, “I think he’s president.” (“SNL” Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin was set to be a presenter last night, but his name no longer appeared on the event’s media tip sheet after he was arrested last week after an alleged scuffle over a parking spot.)
While politics proved to be a good punching bag last night, the lavish gala at the Ziegfeld Ballroom was dominated by stories from Crystal and his class of comics’ early days as well as a celebration of the next generation.
Crystal’s longtime collaborator, Alan Zweibel, who was named 2018’s friar of the year, described selling jokes for $7 at the Friars Club bar when he was just out of college — and Crystal himself had plenty to say about how they got their start together. “We’d try to get on [at Catch a Rising Star] at one o’clock in the morning sometimes, for six or seven people who were making out — you’d feel like you were at a drive-in movie,” Crystal said, laughing. “And you’d try to get better.”
After reflecting on his own experience coming up as a young comedian, Crystal paid tribute to the new guard, namely Josh Gad and Ben Schwartz.
On the red carpet earlier in the evening, Schwartz took the opportunity to raise awareness about the wildfires currently ravaging Los Angeles. He recently asked his followers on Twitter for ways to help, and has donated to several of the organizations they recommended. “I found a bunch of numbers you can call to help, and even a foundation that helps the fire department itself — it’s kind of wonderful to find a way to use social media in this nice way where everyone’s coming together,” he told Variety. “It’s terrifying, and the farther you are away from it, the less real it feels, but it’s very real and very scary.”
Gad echoed Schwartz’s call to action. “California needs everybody’s help right now. What we’re seeing is so unbelievably frightening, and the fact that it keeps happening over and over again is a testament to the fact that we’re living in really challenging times, with global warming obviously being a key factor. My hope is that people can come together and send donations, send money, and just volunteer to help,” he said. “The amount of people who’ve come out of the woodwork to help rescue cats, dogs, horses, has been unbelievably emotional for me to watch, but your heart breaks — I’ve had so many friends who’ve had to evacuate. They don’t know the status of their homes. And it’s devastating.”
The loss of Stan Lee was also on Gad’s mind. “I clearly have never been a part of the Marvel universe,” he said, laughing. “Although I’d love to! But [my relationship to him] is that of a true fan. The sheer legacy that he leaves behind, and the number of iconic characters that he is responsible for — obviously alongside Jack Kirby — it’s amazing to see that one man could create so many iconic characters that I know will live long beyond his 95 years on Earth.”
Until they met and collaborated on “The Comedians” in 2015, Gad had a similar view of Crystal. “I grew up watching and admiring the hell out of this man,” he said.
Schwartz also came to Crystal as a fan first — he’d watched all of his movies multiple times before they spoke in person. “His work was the beginning of everything. I think ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is a perfect movie,” he told Variety. “For me, he’s one of the founding fathers of comedy: the way that we act, the way that we deal with words and cadence.”
All of that made working together last year on “We Are Unsatisfied” something of a dream come true. “I met with him before the role to talk about maybe doing it, and you know, you sit in his office, and it’s all of your favorite movies you’ve ever seen on the wall — it’s incredible,” Schwartz said. “He’s truly an icon.”
In his acceptance speech, Crystal credited the pair with reawakening his passion for comedy, and it’s clear that those relationships run deep. Even as they were shooting “We Are Unsatisfied” — which features the unlikely duo downing Jägerbombs together as well as a scene shot at the temple where Crystal was bar mitzvahed as a teenager in real life — Schwartz knew it was the start of a lifelong friendship. “Billy texts to make sure you’re okay, he checks up on you on your tour shows, he’s always ready to do bits over the phone,” he said. “He cares about you in a world and an industry where nobody really cares about each other anymore.”
“I don’t know if anyone’s ever gonna see it, but I feel it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done,” Crystal said of the film he made with Schwartz, which is currently without a distribution deal. The Friars Club honor also led him to think back on his filmography as a whole. “It’s very emotional in an interesting way, because the career seems like it went in the snap of a finger,” he told Variety. “Suddenly you start getting these lifetime achievement awards when you still got a lot of lifetime left to go! But it’s a really great feeling.”
Also seen last night were Meg Ryan, Rob Reiner, former NYC mayor David Dinkins, Katie Couric, Bob Costas, Larry King, Robert Klein, Lewis Black, and Jordin Sparks.
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