Hey, Billy Crystal: hear any good books lately?
If you’re like millions of modern readers (or in this case, listeners) who enjoy books while driving, working out, or whilst otherwise hands-free, you get your literary fixes through audiobooks—recordings of texts read by authors or actors. And it just so happens that Crystal, the noted comedian, actor, writer, Oscar host, former Saturday Night Live cast member, and voice behind beloved cartoon monster Mike Wazowski, is the reigning king of the audiobook empire.
That’s because the audio version of his hit book, Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? was recently named Audiobook of the Year by the Audio Publishers Association. In addition to the top prize, Crystal took home Audie awards in the humor category and for best narration by an author. Still Foolin’ ‘Em, which also has been nominated for a Grammy award in the Spoken Word category, “does for the audiobook medium what Billy Crystal’s opening acts have done for the Oscars, which is to bring in a larger audience,” said APA judges.
But what makes for a noteworthy audiobook? “A great audiobook comes from a great book and a great reader,” said Laura Wilson, director of production for MacMillan Audio and co-producer of Still Foolin’ ‘Em. Wilson, who started working as an audiobook producer in 2000, counts among her other recent projects such works as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance (read by the author), and Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen (read by multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Claire Danes).
“I spend a lot of time listening to people read and it’s always amazing to me how much the process of reading out loud can bring to a story,” Wilson said. “And working with Billy was great. It’s wonderful to work with someone who’s a professional at performing and is so used to standing before an audience.”
Still Foolin’ ‘Em is a collection of observations on reaching the milestone age of 65, all conveyed with Crystal’s trademark wit. “There’s some comfort in knowing that there are so many of us Baby Boomers in the same boat,” Crystal reads in the audiobook. “The truth is, very soon, the entire country is pretty much going to smell the same from Los Angeles to Maine.
“At 65,” he continues, “things do change. Quickly. For one thing, your libido slows down. You don’t kid yourself and look at 25-year-olds anymore. Actually, I do, but they’re out of focus, and by the time I get my glasses on, they’re gone.”
At this point, the listener hears something that most audiobooks lack: laughter. That’s because a portion of Still Foolin’ ‘Em was recorded before a live audience at a special, one-night-only performance at New York University.
“It was Billy’s idea to read part of the book before an audience,” Wilson said. “Billy really knew what he wanted the audiobook to sound like, and we spent a lot of time collaborating with him to make the live sections of the book blend well with the studio-recorded portion.”
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Another special feature of Still Foolin’ ‘Em is the audiobook’s original music. That should come as no surprise, considering the importance of music in Crystal’s life. The comedian is the son of a jazz promoter and record producer who regularly welcomed the likes of Arvell Shaw, Pee Wee Russell, and Billie Holiday into the family’s home.
“Billy worked very closely with the composer, Freddy Khaw, and (co-producer) Scott Sherratt to get the right music,” Wilson said.”Everyone associated with the audiobook worked very hard, including post-production people.”
In the end, though, it’s still the perfect blend of material and performance that makes a great audiobook, according to Wilson, and Still Foolin’ ‘Em is no exception to that rule. “For some authors, if they’re not performers, sitting in a booth for a long time can be hard work,” she said. “If they’re reading something that’s very personal to them, it can be a little more difficult than they actually thought to say those words out loud.
“But Billy is a great comedian, and to hear him take his own words and bring them alive was a lot of fun,” she said. “He’s a natural storyteller, and he did a great job.”
The result of that great job is that with the audiobook of Still Fooin’ ‘Em, Crystal has added to his lengthy list of career accomplishments. He can now pause to admire the Audie awards on his mantle as he continues the search for his keys, and we, his fellow Baby Boomers, can thank him for all the great memories—while we can still remember them.
Listen to an excerpt: