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Cityscape: Mark Henninger; Crystal: Courtesy of the Kimmel Center

Billy Crystal: Philly launched my showbiz career

The actor, who’s about to take the Kimmel Center stage, says his return here is “a homecoming.”

When Billy Crystal started as a stand-up in the early ‘70s, Philadelphia was the first city outside of New York to embrace him.

“Philly was my home base when I started out,” Crystal said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “I started at the Bijou on Lombard street. The owner, Larry Magid, totally got me. Way back in 1974 he said ‘One day you will do a one-man Broadway show and I’m going to produce it.’ He did just that — 30 years later.”

Magid, now a legendary Philly concert producer, was behind Crystal’s 2013 one-man Broadway show “700 Sundays,” and now he’s doing it again. Magid’s “Spend the Night With Billy Crystal,” takes over the Kimmel Center on Friday and Saturday, April 14-15

“I can’t wait to get to Philadelphia to do this show,” Crystal said. “It’s a homecoming and Larry is a huge part of that. He’s such a close friend and a brilliant promoter.”

Crystal, of course, is one of the most versatile entertainers in the business. He’s hosted the Academy Awards nine times, more than anyone save Bob Hope. He made his mark on the small screen with the groundbreaking series “Soap,” then went on to earn raves starring in such films as “When Harry Met Sally,” “Running Scared” and “City Slickers.”

But it all began on stage doing standup. Crystal, now 69, revels in that environment.

“There’s nothing like that and that’s why I’m glad to be back doing this,” he said. “The show is like a living documentary. It’s like what I used to do when I did appearances on David Letterman. But it’s a two-hour plus version of me just doing what I want. The cool thing is that the shows are different every night.”

Part of the reason each show is different is due to actress Bonnie Hunt, who interviews Crystal during the performance. “Bonnie is terrific,” Crystal said. “We have perfect chemistry. She’s smart and funny.”

Crystal credits his late best friend Robin Williams with bringing him and Hunt together, noting that the two met when he was dedicating a theater to Williams in New York last year. “Robin had a hand in this show. There’s no doubt about that. I still can’t believe he’s gone. Robin would love what I’m doing because it’s stage work. This show brings me back to the early days. When I think about those early days, I think about that time with Larry [Magid] and how much fun it was.”

At the Kimmel, Crystal will touch on all parts of his career. “I have a lot of ground to cover but it’s a labor of love,” Crystal said. “I’m most proud of how varied my career has been. I’ve had the opportunity to act, direct, do what I love on stage.”

Perhaps Crystal is most proud of his 47-year marriage to his wife Janice, who is producing “Spend the Night” along with Magid.

“We have one of the oldest Hollywood marriages,” Crystal said. “When people talk about the hottest celebrity couples, I ask why we’re not on it. What’s hotter than being together for nearly a half-century? The great thing about what I’m doing now is that it takes my wife and I back to when I started out. She would come out to my shows back in the early days. And then grab a bite to eat with me afterward. After all these years, we’re doing the same thing.”

What’s left on the bucket list?

“I just want to be productive,” Crystal said. “I’m not done yet.”

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