Billy Connolly: The Man Live tour

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

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.

Review date: 25 Feb 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Birmingham Symphony Hall

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