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Billy Connolly

To anyone who wants to see intelligent, playful, inventive, passionate, life-affirming stand-up comedy, I could do no better than suggest that they get a ticket to see Billy Connolly in concert. This is something I experienced for the first time only recently (April 2004) and the man was even better than I expected him to be. My belief that he is still improving as a stand-up comedian was well and truly confirmed.

I confess to being a late convert to the high standing of Billy Connolly as a stand-up comedian. Until the last few years my enduring impression of him was as somebody who went on the Michael Parkinson show and got big laughs by repeating contrived jokes that he'd borrowed from the person he heard it from. He was not my idea of an intelligent creative comedian... which is what I now know him to be.

What accounts for my late conversion is that it was only in the last few years that his work on stage has been deemed broadcastable. Clips of Billy's real work as a comedian only started to appear on television only in the 1990's, and I realised what I had been missing. I have now caught up, and have seen and repeatedly watch many of his concert videos from the last 20 plus years.

Videos and DVDs of his work from about 1981 are available, but I would say that it only from the late 80's that he is recognisable as the accomplished comedian he is today. The 1985 'Audience With' performance on TV is probably the turning point, but I personally find that unwatchable, as Billy's performance is continually interrupted by close-ups of laughing D-list celebs, who seem to be in a competition for camera time.

From then on, Billy has also done some great work on the box. His many travelogue series for the BBC are great, as the historical, geographic, and socio-political commentary he contributes is comparable with his personal stand-up material. I particularly recommend the World Tours of Scotland and of Australia.

One final point. A few of Billy's routines seem to me to have a touch in common with routines of earlier years from George Carlin and Richard Pryor, but that is an observation rather than a major criticism. It's actually a great guide to all comedians that they should allow themselves to be influenced by the best.

NOTE: At the time of writing I am reading the second book about Billy Connolly by his wife, the 1980's celebrity Pamela Stephenson. The first book "Billy" was an interesting biography, but the new one "Bravemouth" seems like an exercise in writing a book about yourself while pretending to write about somebody else.


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