The audience love him (well, somebody has to)

COMEDY

THE LAST time Billy Connolly set up camp at the Hammersmith Apollo, in May 1994, he was bizarrely clean-shaven. He looked like a tawny owl with a grudge. Whatever might or might not have happened to the ebullient Glaswegian's comedic powers since then, no one can doubt his talent for facial hair. A striking new beard in forbidding Old Testament silver- grey now adds further gravitas to his already imposing countenance.

Sheer force of personality enables Connolly to carry off material that would embarrass many a lesser comic. His John-Major-as-Clinton-style- sexual-oppressor routine, for example, might have been rescued from the very bottom of Rory Bremner's wastepaper bin; but Billy keeps on banging away at it until, strangely, it becomes almost hilarious. Some have sought to use the harrying, aggressive quality which has long been a part of Connolly's stage demeanour as an excuse to write him off as an overgrown playground bully. But to do this is to miss the copse for the bushes.

As with many other great performers (Johnny Rotten, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Hattie Jacques spring to mind) the key to Connolly's enduring appeal is not so much a gap between what he says and the way that he says it. It's the fact that the apparent congruity between his message and its delivery does not quite ring true. When he tells an extended and not particularly amusing story about a chance meeting, years later, with "Isobel", the voracious female responsible for his sexual initiation on a graveyard slab, it ought to seem vain and graceless, but somehow it doesn't. Even amid the glossiest paintwork of Connolly's self-belief, there are always intriguing drip-marks of insecurity.

At his best - describing underwear hanging on a line, the genital imprint disconcertingly visible, like some reproductive Turin shroud - Connolly has a painter's eye for visual detail. But it is to a preacher that he is most often compared, and as often happens with lapsed believers, the vehemence of his disillusionment can take the breath away as readily as the most intense religious profession. "St Christopher is not a saint any more," he observes bitterly. "I don't know what he did, but the child on his shoulder was a bit of a giveaway."

At moments like this you can't help but wonder how Connolly's rage has stayed so fresh throughout so many years of acclaim and plenty. It's hard to avoid the suspicion that some of it must be inwardly directed. Not since Marilyn Monroe has anyone been so obsessed with their roots: hence, perhaps, his compulsion to keep hitting Scottish photographers ("It felt good, I felt cleansed: It was like having a shower") - he doesn't like the thought of what they might be seeing through their viewfinders.

The real irony of all this is that the paying public could not care less about it. When Connolly makes his third or fourth implicitly self-flagellatory reference to what an overpaid scum-sucking Hollywood sell-out he is, the audience smile indulgently, as if to say: "We know you are extravagantly rich Billy, and you deserve to be, so get over it."

Billy Connolly: Apollo, W6 (0990 405040), to 8 Feb (returns only).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

    £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

    Recruitment Genius: Laser Games Supervisor

    £14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive / Manager

    £22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PPC Executive/Manager is requ...

    Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WMS Operations

    £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WM...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness