Billy Crystal Clarifies Sex on TV Remarks

The actor and star of FX's 'The Comedians' said his TCA remarks were taken out of context.
 AP Images/Invision

Billy Crystal clarified remarks he made Sunday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour that have been taken out of context.

The actor, who appeared during a panel to support FX's upcoming half-hour series The Comedians, made pointed remarks during his time in front of the press about the current state of sex on television.

Crystal, who played one of the first openly gay characters on primetime television in Soap, was asked if playing gay was difficult for him at the time as well as his thoughts on what has happened to television in the years since.

"I've seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really, you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I just feel like, 'Ah, that’s too much for me.'… Sometimes it’s just pushed a little too far for my tastes, and I’m not going to get into which ones they are."

After some outlets blasted the comedian for his remarks — which, out of context, could appear antigay — The Hollywood Reporter asked Crystal to clarify his comments.

"What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story it becomes a little too much for my taste," he told THR in a statement.   

Read more Billy Crystal Explains TV Return in 'The Comedians'

Several THR staffers attended the session and, in a room full of about 200 members of the media, none of those present had a follow-up remark for Crystal, or asked the actor to clarify his comments in the subsequent post-session interview.

Read the full transcript of the exchange, below.


QUESTION: Mr. Crystal, “Soap” came up earlier. A few days ago, we had a sitcom here that has a gay character in it and the word “groundbreaking” kept getting tossed around. I mean, it’s been 38 years since “Soap” premiered. When you look back on that, was that difficult for you at the time, and do you have any thoughts on what’s happened to television since then?

BILLY CRYSTAL: Well, it was very difficult at the time, because basically I had the shovel. Jodie was really the first recurring character, starring character, whatever you want to call it, on network television. It was a different time. It was 1977. So, yeah, it was awkward and it was tough. I remember playing scenes with my boyfriend, Bob Seagren, who, in real life, was an Olympic gold medalist. He was a pole vaulter.

LARRY CHARLES: He was the Bruce Jenner of his time.

BILLY CRYSTAL: Yeah.

(Laughter.)

I’m not going to say anything.

(Laughter.)

BEN WEXLER: Bruce Jenner was competing at that time.

BILLY CRYSTAL: So, yeah, it was awkward, and then over the years, you’d see other different characters and so on and so forth. And I’ve seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I just feel like, “Ah, that’s too much for me.” 

You know, these kinds of questions lead me into sounding like some former baseball player bemoaning the fact of “I only get paid $25,000 my entire career.” But sometimes it’s just pushed a little too far for my tastes, and I’m not going to get into which ones they are. I love that if we were, it was I have to say we, because Susan Harris wrote him, and Paul Witt and Tony Thomas and Jay Sandrich and an amazing cast of that show supported me and let me play those scenes, helped me play those scenes with some sort of courage, in front of a live audience.

See, I did it in front of a live audience, and there were times where I would say to Bob, “I love you,” and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, that I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, “What is your problem?” Because it made you sort of very self-conscious about what we were trying to do then. And now it’s just I see it and I just hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face, well, that sounds terrible to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing. 

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: And for Josh and any of the other castmembers, clearly you’re not as old as I am, because I remember watching the show. But did you see any of this in reruns? Do you have any thoughts on “Soap” way back when?

JOSH GAD: No. I wasn’t born until about 20 years later.

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