Bad Words

Wow! That was quite an exciting Book Club meeting this morning. This past month we read “Still Foolin’ Them”, the Billy Crystal autobiography. Not many participants claimed to like the book. Some really disliked it.

The book starts, as many stand-up comedy acts do, with self-deprecating humor using many obscene words. I can’t say I enjoyed that part. I asked my husband to read a few pages and asked if perhaps I was not appreciating the humor inherent in some male aging issues. He didn’t like it either and thought it was unnecessarily crude.  I do remember that the comedian Joan Rivers was equally crude, except that her humor exploited female issues.  I’m also aware of the extensive use of obscenity in literature. Have you ever read the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer? How about Shakespeare? They are both replete with the obscenities of the day.

The remainder of the book, written on Mr. Crystal’s 65th birthday, described his struggle to succeed in show business, his many close friendships i.e. long term relationship with Muhamad Ali who called him ‘little brother’, and his love of baseball. We all noted that his 40+ year’s marriage to the same woman and stable home life are an aberration in Hollywood. Billy views his Broadway play “700 Sundays” and being host of many Oscar events as some of the highlights of his career. The book closes with Billy’s delight in becoming a grandfather.

Many members talked about their favorite Billy Crystal movies (When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers). We liked the description of his family life and the diversity of his friendships.  A few people continued to dwell on the use of four-letter words. Then came the shocker. One person said in a conspiratorial voice, “Well, you know Billy Crystal is Jewish and all Jewish men talk that way”. For a moment, there was dead silence in the room. Then one woman, whose family is Jewish, spoke up clearly.

The men in her family certainly did not speak that way - not her grandparents, nor her parents, not her uncles or cousins, not her husband, not her children, not her grandchildren. She then emphasized that making generalizations about any group is dangerous. This admonition was delivered in a measured voice with no insults aimed at the miscreant. Apologies and acceptances ensued.  Sometimes the most unpopular books result in the most interesting book club meetings.

I’ll leave you with a question – Which words were the bad ones?

 Betty Ago


Betty is a real person who resides in one of our Brookdale entry fee communities. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Brookdale Senior Living.


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