Billy Connolly's skilled performance

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 09:02 26/04/2014
Billy Connolly
RETURNING TO NEW ZEALAND: Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

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Art and Stage

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REVIEW: When asked if I wanted to watch Billy Connolly I immediately thought of a joke. It concerned a man who murdered his wife then buried her with her backside above ground, so he'd have somewhere to park his bike. Connolly told that joke on British television when I was a teenager. For the time it was edgy. 

From the web I discovered I was not alone in remembering that joke. Telling it on television, according to Connolly, 'changed my entire life.' He was 32 at the time. He's now 71 and can still cause near-gridlock in Addington, pulling five thousand people away from bar or living room on a Friday night, young, old, male, female, paying $100 a seat. I doubt he needs the money. I expect he needs the feeling. He gave up drinking thirty years ago. 

Today he looks like the offspring of Jesus and an elderly biker. He's overcome prostate cancer but is suffering the early stages of Parkinson's disease. He was very funny about the cancer, reasonably funny about the Parkinson's. But the welder from the Glasgow dockyards is still there. His third word on stage consisted of 3 asterisks and an f. The crowd laughed with something resembling relief. Here was still the priest-loathing, pretension-loathing, taboo-smasher who delights in sharing the grim truths of bodily function. 

But here too was the skilled performer. After forty years of gigs he knows how to make set pieces that he must have told a thousand times seem extemporised. That you get little sense of how skilled the performance is demonstrates only how skilled the performance is. I doubt there was a single new joke in the whole show but he made every punch line feel like a discovery. 

And here too was a soft old man peeping out from behind the profanities. Kindness twinkled there unacknowledged, avuncularity even. How he'd have scoffed at that forty years ago.

Billy Connolly: CBS Canterbury Arena, April 25. 

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