Billy Connolly Live!
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
May 10, 2006
“Beige-ists” of the world beware! Billy Connolly is on the warpath, and he’s after your heads (as well as your cardigans). Among his list of beige-ist sins is the “beige decision” to have trucks make a loud alarm sound as they back up at 4 mph in the empty secured parking lots of the airport at 3am. His primary complaint being that the ridiculously unnecessary alarm convinced him that there was a fire somewhere in his hotel. He reacts to another beige decision with, “I don’t need AMBULANCE written backward on the front of ambulances to know that’s what they are!” Connolly’s examination of the state of the world is piercingly accurate and hysterically funny. Think that strokes and suicide bombers can’t be funny? Give Connolly a couple of hours, and I promise he’ll change your mind.
Billy Connolly’s latest stand-up comedy performance is, quite simply, outstanding. It is everything his fans have come to expect from this brilliantly funny man. For the Billy Connolly fans, you won’t need my endorsement; just go see his show. For those who can’t quite remember who Billy Connolly is but feel certain they should know, take a look at the photo above this review. You’ll immediately recognize the well-known Scottish comedian and actor. If you can manage to keep up with his rapid-fire subject changes and stream-of-consciousness storytelling, you will walk away from this performance extremely grateful that you made time for his show. In truth, even if you can’t keep up, it’s probably just as well. It will give your cheeks a break so they can rest. I laughed so hard for so long that I actually developed a headache. I had to sit serenely for a minute or two just trying not to laugh so that equilibrium might be restored in the blood flow to my brain.
The audience walks in to find a bare stage with a spotlight shining on a glass of sparkling water sitting atop a black stool. Soft, soulful music is playing in the background. An enormous backdrop is hanging, painted to look like a great, graffiti-covered brick wall (with Connolly’s laughing face, a Peace sign, and an Anarchy symbol among the graffiti). People sit with their drinks and chat while they wait for the show to begin. Given Connolly’s sense of humor, I had the strangest feeling that the whole thing was an absurdist piece of performance art; that we might all sit and stare at the bubbly water for an hour only to have Connolly come out and say “Thank you, and good night.” He’d do it too, just as a colossal joke to show what idiots we all are to pay good money to watch truly inane nonsense.
More than anything, Connolly’s performance feels like listening to a regular guy in a regular pub as he passionately expounds on a wide range of topics. He is completely comfortable wrapping himself up in stories, events, and observations that are funny to him. The fact that they are funny to everyone else seems almost like a side note. During this wandering conversation, he discusses the pleasures and perils of becoming famous as the day wears on, old-time chauvinism, children who lecture strangers on the dangers of smoking, one-sided hospital conversations, Bush’s inability to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear,” suicide-bomber instructors, recanting one’s atheism when plane turbulence strikes, the high style of corduroy suits, women’s ability to create audible silence, and out-of-tune religious parade bands in Malta. Though the conversation is, of course, predominantly one-sided, Connolly doesn’t hesitate to involve the audience or respond to them when it strikes his fancy. When an audience member in the front row tried to quietly slip out, Connolly started picking a fight with him and looked as though he might hop down off the stage and pummel the cretin for interrupting, that is before he started laughing and returned to his story. When another front-row member returned from the bathroom, Connolly gave him a brief recap of the current story thus far so that he’d understand the rest of it. The audience was absolutely howling with laughter.
Connolly wanders through topics the way most people wander through grocery store aisles. If he sees something that interests him, he picks it up and pores over it for as long as it takes to thoroughly investigate it. He competently keeps up with multiple layers of story-telling all at the same time. He even stopped long enough to say that a blurb he read about himself in an airplane entertainment listing was complete and utter crap. The statement? It said he could wander off topic for days at a time and still come back to the precise point where he left off. Though Connolly would argue the point with me (“I come quite close, and quite close is good enough for me”), he does indeed leave stories for side stories, then leaves the side stories for side notes, then returns to each point to close it out. His ability to do this over and over again is truly astounding, and it makes his show unlike any other. Connolly would most certainly sympathize with Holden Caufield, the protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, when Holden argues that the digressions students are supposed to avoid in speeches are, in point of fact, by far the most interesting parts. If you listen carefully, you can hear Connolly screaming from the back of the classroom, “F*** the beige-ists.” (A side-note of my own: the “F-word” is by far Connolly’s favorite word.) I fully intend to go see Connolly’s show again just to hear him wander off in other, unexpected directions. I can’t wait to see where he’ll wander next.