Comedy / King of comedy comes back home

'IT'LL ALWAYS be the Hammersmith Odeon to me,' Billy Connolly observes tartly, kicking off the third of his 18 nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. The window-dressing may change, but the goods remain the same. Connolly might now be beardless (though his face actually looks funnier - like a tawny owl with a grudge) and living in California not Caledonia, but he is still Britain's best- loved live comedian; and on tonight's evidence, deservedly so.

As usual, he is dressed outlandishly - in black Armani maternity T-shirt with tails, and matching airline slippers - but his performance is immaculate. Anyone who feared he'd come back spouting crass West-Coast therapisms is soon reassured: the vigour of Connolly's profanity and the sharpness of his eye are undiminished. After a ritual disembowelment of Britain's current leaders, and a quick resume of recent ecclesiastical and parliamentary sex scandals, he swiftly buckles down to the personal and above all the physical observations which are his strongest suit.

No nook or cranny of the human body is too personal for Connolly to find comic inspiration in it. A rare sighting of his own scrotum during (hey, Hollywood]) a yoga exercise sets off a delightful meditation on what a horrific spectacle that part of the male physiognomy must present to women encountering one for the first time - 'Rodney, for God's sake] The most awful thing has crawled out of your arse]' His remorseless scatology is not only very funny, it also reassures his audience. He's now living with the stars, but his mind is still in the gutter.

After all these years, Connolly's tendencies to crease up with hilarity at his own most basic jokes - 'Old Macdonald was dyslexic, ee oh ee oh I' - ought to be irritating, but, somehow, it isn't. He can make you laugh out loud at something that probably isn't very funny, just by virtue of the physical pleasure he gets from the idea that it might be.

For all his bluffness, it is Connolly's willingness to appear vulnerable that makes people warm to him. His family reminiscences start out plain funny - a gluttonous aunt is thrown across a drawing-room by an exploding toaster into which she was attempting to cram a jam-laden crumpet - but end up very touching. Other comedians might discuss their dead father, but not in the poignant, self-questioning way Connolly does. He remembers his dad punching him, or moaning about forgetting his driving glasses, and himself mentioning new developments in prescription windscreens for cars, but then being unable to tell him this was a joke for fear of being thought a smartarse. Now he pictures the elder Connolly trying to sell such a car, or just driving in it, with passers-by thinking he had an enormous head. No one could wish for a sweeter epitaph.

A lot of people think Rory Bremner has a big head too, but on stage - amid the Essex gulls of the elegant Southend Cliffs - he seems rather humble. Bremner lost his Scottish accent to fit in at posh English schools, but soon learnt to pick up others. Last year the BBC's determination to keep him in a light-entertainment straitjacket pushed him to Channel 4, where he has since made a startlingly successful transformation from boyish purveyor of sports commentators and weathermen to diamond-hard political satirist. People who have not seen this for themselves still find it hard to believe.

A live show is a big challenge for a TV impressionist. Without changes of make-up, wigs and coloured contact lenses it is sometimes hard not just for the audience but also for Bremner to keep up with who he is meant to be. His composure and skill are immense, but there are a few awkward moments. His confident 'does anybody here listen to Radio 4?' is met with a fairly deafening silence. What price his dazzling Cliff Morgan in such a cold, hard world.

The construction of show- cases for impressionistic virtuosity can be a tiring business, for performer and audience alike, but Bremner's comedians' theme-park is a masterpiece of the genre. Gentleness and savagery live happily side- by-side in his show. Bremner's is a sedate crowd - husbands and wives look at their partners before smiling - but Bremner hits them with some pretty tough stuff when in angry mode, and they don't seem to mind. 'Green-belt development, motorways, racism,' he proclaims in an impeccable Ashdown parade-ground bark, 'they're all part of life for today's Liberal Democrats.'

Billy Connolly: Hammersmith Apollo, W6, 081-741 4868, Mon to Sat, then 23-28 May. Rory Bremner: St Albans Arena, 0727 844488, tonight, then touring.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk