In December 2018, after 50-years of belly-laughs, energy, outrage and enjoyment, Billy Connolly announced his retirement from stand-up comedy. It had been an extraordinary career.
When he first started out in the late Sixties, Billy played the banjo in the folk clubs of Glasgow. Between songs, he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he worked. In the process, he made all kinds of discoveries about what audiences found funny, from his own exaggerated body movements to the power of speaking explicitly about sex. He began to understand the craft of great storytelling too. Soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer, and Billy quickly became recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.
Billy’s routines always felt spontaneous. He improvised, embellished and digressed as he went: a two-minute anecdote could become a 20-minute routine by the next night of a tour. And he brought a beautiful sense of the absurd to his shows as he riffed on holidays, alcohol, the crucifixion, or naked bungee jumping.
But Billy’s comedy could be laced with anger too. He hated pretentiousness and called out hypocrisy where ever he saw it. He loved to shock, and his startling appearance gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion. It was only because he was so likeable that he got it away. Billy had the popular touch. His comedy spanned generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.