Billy Connolly: Too Old To Die Young

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

When I last saw Billy Connolly, in 2004, three hours of comedy was overshadowed by just one gag. The comment about hostage Ken Bigley was considered nothing more than an isolated ill-judged line by most of those in the theatre – but in Fleet Street it was whipped up into an outrage by a newspaper keen to ingratiate itself in Bigley’s home town of Liverpool, where sales had never recovered since it blamed local fans for the Hillsborough tragedy.

Thankfully the media shitstorm seems to have done nothing to dent Connolly’s confidence, passion or eye for the absurd, and so Montreal was treated to a typically barnstorming performance by a brilliant stand-up still at the pinnacle of storytelling.

He may be 64, but he has the energy of a comic half his age. And that’s not just a trite cliché, but a demonstrable truth. His mind works fast, if semi-randomly, and his delivery is that of a man genuinely enthused about sharing his yarns and observations with strangers. Connolly’s never lost that aura of a gregarious chap, fascinated by the world and the variety of people in it, and never happy then when spreading that excitement among like-minded folk.

He’s opinionated, though; railing especially hard against the beige bureaucratic killjoys, as is his wont. He may be outwardly friendly, but there are many dreary people with whom he has no truck, and no compunction about telling them that fact.

New Age nonsense is another of his bugbears, and there’s an anecdote somewhere at the heart of this freeform set about him winding up the staff of some hippy store in Los Angeles. It’s a narrative thread that’s only very loosely adhered to, mind, with a word or phrase triggering another story in his head; yet somehow it all seems to hang together, in a charmingly higgledy-piggledy way. He mocks a journalist’s suggestion that this is a skilful, deliberate technique, however, saying it’s just the way his untidy mind works.

Along the way, we get a brilliant tale about shocking a butler in a hoity-toity Sydney hotel, an old-fashioned pub gag you can take away to tell your friends, and a marvellously evocative tale from his tenement days that just so happened to have a hilarious pay-off.

In his shabby black T-shirt, jeans and leather waistcoat, he has all the sartorial elegance of an aging roadie, and self-deprecating comments about his approach to appearance, compared to that of his elegant wife, also feature here. This is the sort of domestic shtick almost every comic in town seems determined to pedal, but Connolly has the warmth and honesty to raise it well above the mob. Other stand-ups, take note.

He may have a haphazard approach to structure and material, but there’s very little fat in this two-and-a-quarter hour soliloquy that is a triumphant tribute to playfulness and passion. The king of stand-up is clearly not ready to be usurped just yet.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 23, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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