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Catching Billy Connolly’s recent Sydney Opera House gig, Tom Jacobs was happy to see that despite certain physical hurdles, Connolly’s ability to render his audience utterly incontinent remains firmly intact.
There was a discernible heaviness in the air as a restless audience waited for the man of the moment, Billy Connolly, to appear on stage.
Then he strode onto the Sydney Opera House stage, his silver hair bouncing as jauntily as always and he was greeted with a standing ovation.
“You’re only doing that because I’m not well,” he said.
Billy Connolly was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer (which was successfully removed) and he is starting to lose his hearing. So he is definitely more than a little bit not well.
I’m embarrassed to say that Billy had slipped under my radar for a long time. I was aware of who he was because I’d seen his face on TV, but for some reason I just ignored him. It could also be the fact that my grandmother was a big fan. When she said “He’s funny, apart from when he goes on about the word scrotum,” I still managed to sidestep the temptation to give him a chance.
By that stage in my teens, the wooden shelf in my bedroom was already groaning under the weight of the various comedy albums I had accumulated. CD’s from the likes of Steven Wright, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore and George Carlin. Then I was given Billy Connolly Live Down Under as a gift. Upon my first listen, it just seemed like an endless stream of “Ach! Ech! Aye! Fookin’ brilliant!” and, although the swearing was amusing to my prepubescent ears, it wasn’t long until it became background noise.
At some point my brain must have adjusted and I tuned in to some of what he was saying. “Ach! Ech! Aye!” became “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea-cosy, doesn’t try it on!”. The pure silliness of it had me in stitches. Scottish brogue aside, he didn’t sound like any comedian I’d heard before.
What I mean to say is that Billy Connolly didn’t sound as if he had ever written material, or rehearsed in front of a mirror. He spoke like he was a guy in a pub speaking to a friend, except he happens to be the funniest guy in the pub and his friend is fifteen hundred people. He creates an intimacy in a crowded room, which is rare in stand-up. It’s unfortunate that at some point most modern comedians traded in “funny” for “edgy”.
That’s not to say that Billy doesn’t have an edge to him, it’s just that he was never looking for any particular angle to work from. He just comes out and has a wee two-to-three-hour chat with everyone.
I remember in an interview he stated that “Life with your pants down is funny,” and if you’ve seen those clips of him dancing naked around famous geographical landmarks, you can laugh without the burden of having to dissect what it is you’re watching. It’s not a political statement. His shunning of clothes isn’t meant to be some comment on society. It’s just a guy dancing naked because it’s funny. The how and why regarding his comedic abilities are easy to comprehend once you look at his humble beginnings in show biz. “The Big Yin” himself did not seek a career in comedy. He started out as a folk singer. His chatty style soon took up most of his stage time and he discovered he was actually a comedian when he read about himself in the paper. Clearly he never understood what made him funny either.
Last week I got to see the ex-folk singer do two solid hours of comedy at the Sydney Opera House. The Parkinson’s disease was easy to observe from where I was sitting. His right arm hung loose, while his left stayed rigid and slightly bent at the wrist like it was nursing an affliction. It also shook intermittently and he struggled to raise it higher than his stomach. In no way did this affect his ability to render his audience incontinent.
Again, Billy Connolly was the funniest guy in the pub.
Those who would prefer something a little edgier are part of that select group of people at the other end of the bar. The ones sporting beige cardigans, cradling their umbrella drinks (which none of them can actually pronounce), while they try to discern a deeper meaning behind Monty Python’s Fish-Slapping Dance.
The tea-cosy probably wouldn’t fit them properly anyway.