COMEDY / Holiday on dry ice: Martin Kelner on Billy Connolly
Thursday 20 January 1994
Inside, it's an aircraft hangar with draught lager. Spinning mirror balls hang from the ceiling. There are warning signs everywhere, and dinner- jacketed bouncers to enforce them. 'No jeans, no trainers, no Doc Martens.' Meanwhile, on stage, the great anarchic free spirit. The wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clearly he thought so. 'Great to be here in Batley, wherever it is,' and then a quick swipe at the support act, Tanya Tavara and Session, announced as 'a smashing little trio very popular in the Yorkshire area'.
'Feelings . . . nothing but those feelings,' mocked the Big Yin. 'Like stepping into a time warp.' Well, yes. White jackets, black blouses, medallions even, and one of those female vocalists who prefaces every other song with, 'Gonna slow things down a bit right now', in an accent pitched somewhere between Dewsbury and Detroit.
But, come on, Billy. Some of your recent stand-up dates include Purfleet and Luton, so Batley couldn't have been that much of a culture shock. Caesar's Palace, Luton, makes it into the act in a gag about the improbability of the Roman emperor choosing the Bedfordshire industrial centre as a site for a palace, and Batley may feature in future routines. Perhaps he might mention the bizarre concept of performing comedy while being cooled by the remnants of dry ice from the previous act.
So what is he doing in these venues? The Big Yin must be aware that comedy relies on collusion between performer and audience. And he must have sensed rapport was not going to be easy when he saw half the audience dressed for Phil Gearon and Galaxy. For the customers, routines about 'elevators' and the trainers Daisy wears to school in the Hollywood Hills tend not to feature in the top 10 comedy topics in Yorkshire mill-towns.
On a purely mechanical level, of course, there was little wrong. Almost two hours of nearly new material - about the impossibility of eating Toblerone without personal injury, the possible leisure-time pursuits of the person who first discovered you could get milk from cows - brought some big laughs. But I felt little warmth. Perhaps he's been away too long.
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