One of the weirdest mainstays of Billy Crystal’s stand-up act, something he’s been doing since the 1970s, is his portrayal of a withered old African-American jazz musician. To play the character, Crystal scrunches up his face, affects a raspy voice, and shuffles around the stage. Although this routine may come from an affectionate place, there is more than a touch of minstrelsy to it, and it should have been phased out of his act long ago. But as late as November 18, 2006, when Crystal performed as part of a Comic Relief benefit for Hurricane Katrina at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he was still doing his “jazzman” bit. A televised version of the benefit show caught the attention of comedian and podcaster Tom Scharpling, who provided a brutal running commentary on it during an episode of The Best Show that’s once again making the rounds online. Fan Lowenaffchen took the time to sync the audio to the video of Crystal’s routine.
The badly dated bit is so racially insensitive that Scharpling deems it necessary to point out that Crystal did not actually wear blackface during the Comic Relief show. “It’s called audio blackface,” Scharpling explains. “When you hear it, it’s just like theater of the mind.” The bit drones on and on, often going minutes at a time without any jokes whatsoever. Scharpling expresses sympathy for the incredibly patient people in the audience, whose coughing and rustling can be heard during the many awkward pauses. Crystal’s cluelessness drives the Best Show host to the point of near-madness, until he’s ready to condemn the clarinet, Crystal’s instrument of choice, altogether. “Clarinet is a stupid instrument,” he says. “There’s a good chance if you play clarinet, you’re an idiot.” For extra fun, listeners can also try to guess how many times Crystal repeats his annoying catchphrase (“Can you dig that? I knew that you could!”) during the routine. Scharpling initially guesses seven, but this proves too conservative an estimate.