Date Of Birth: 24/11/1942
Born in a poor tenement block, Connolly was abandoned by his mother, Mamie, at the age of three and brought up by his aunt, Mona, who used to beat him, and his father, William, who sexually abused him - a background explored in his 2001 biography Billy.
As a teenager, he joined the Clyde shipyards, where he served his apprenticeship as a welder. While working there, he bought a banjo for £2 10s after seeing blues singer Pete Seger on the TV, and started performing on Scotland's folk circuit as part of a band called the Humblebums, which counted Gerry Rafferty among its members.
While performing, Connolly noticed that audiences warmed to the banter between his songs, which built up his confidence. In 1970, the band split up and he started performing solo.
Also during his time at the shipyards, he met his first wife, Iris, with whom he had a son and a daughter.
His big break was on the Parkinson show in 1975, which made him a star and led to his first UK tour: The Big Wee Tour.
He spent many years on the road, the lifestyle taking its toll, and he became a heavy drinker, until he gave up alcohol in 1986.
His reputation grew and grew, and he eventually moved to California to try to break into the US, with varying degrees of success.
In 1989, he married Pamela Stephenson, who he met while recording a sketch for Not The Nine O'Clock News.
Billy Connolly Videos
Billy Connolly: The Man Live tour
Billy Connolly certainly got on better with the people of Birmingham than he did in Blackpool and Scarborough. Last night there was no sign of the disruptive walk-outs, heckles and flouncing off in exasperation that’s got this tour the wrong sort of reputation.
The most notable thing that happened is that Connolly lost his thread a couple of times. Of course digressions are all part of his style – even if he insists on stage, ‘it’s not a technique; I have attention deficit disorder’ – but here he ground to a complete halt at one point, genuinely forgetting where he was. He came close another couple of times, despite frequently glancing at the notes carefully positioned by his drink.
It’s a rare reminder that he’s 69 years old. An age, he says, when he stops asking friends how their mums are. But based on his stage passion, your would barely know it. Jackie Mason, currently on a London residency, seems like an old man in comparison, and only six years Connolly’s senior.
Aside from his grey hair, trimmed short for this tour, the shorn Connolly has the enthusiasm, energy and stamina he’s always had, talking spiritedly for dead on two hours non-stop. Although whether he actually needs to demonstrate such staying power is a moot point, since an interval would definitely have been welcome.
Connolly’s not only youthful, he’s positively childish, obsessed with anything that comes out of the arse, excited to pull off practical jokes, and taking delight in making rude sounds. One routine is based almost entirely on him doing aeroplane noises – and given his stage get-up looks like stripy pyjama trousers and baggy T-shirt, it subconsciously evokes the idea of a boy showing off his party tricks to the grown-ups so he can stay up late, while being cheeky with his naughty words.
Playing up is his religion: he advocates singing loudly and with the wrong lyrics to clear supermarket queues, playing pranks on sleeping railway passengers and implicitly celebrates the drunks of Edinburgh’s Rose Street, however badly behaved, for their free spirit.
Quite how long it’s been since Connolly has actually behaved like this is immaterial, he captures the essence of his feckless younger days entertainingly, and effortlessly segues it with more grown-up concerns, like the makeshift way of trying to cure his sleep apnoea.
On broader observational topics, he’s not quite so distinctive. He might have come up with a recipe for this type of stand-up, back in the day, but it’s been taken to new levels by others. Comments about Steve Urwin’s death, political correctness gone mad or those overeaters so obese they need to be cut out of their house, feel dog-eared.
Yet a moment later he’ll grab the room with a virtuoso routine, such as the one about the fat-buster drug he saw advertised in the States. Sure, discussion of the side-effects in the disclaimer is a cliché, especially for American comics bombarded by such ads, but the way he latches on to one scatological possibility plays to his every strength, and it’s impossible to keep a straight face.
There’s a darker undertone to a routine towards the end of a show, set in the hospital room where his father was recovering from a stroke. It sits on uncomfortable territory, but in seeking laughs from our inevitable deterioration, Connolly wants to tweak the nose of Death.
It’s the unsaid philosophy of this show, as it has been for comedy through the ages. That despite all our pretensions, humans are ridiculous machines, spurting out excrement until we start malfunctioning and eventually conk out. That may be true, but expect many more years of good service out of this Big Yin model.
Billy Connolly Dates
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Best Of... DVDBilly Connolly's Route 66 Billy Connolly Live in London 2010 Billy Connolly Live - Was It Something I Said? Billy Connolly Live In New York
From his Too Old To Die Young tour in 2005An Audience With Billy Connolly
TV specialBilly Connolly: Two Night Stand
Recorded during his 1997 tourBilly Connolly Live: The Greatest Hits
Best of DVDBilly Connolly Live 2002
Mainly recorded in DublinBilly Bites Yer Bum Live / Hand Picked By Billy
Double disc of 1981 and 1982 tours