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Billy Connolly, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Billy Connolly, Hammersmith Apollo

Billy Connolly, Hammersmith Apollo

Something old, something new, something blue

Billy Connelly: his show is a tour-de-force display of comic storytelling

It’s always interesting to ponder why some comics don’t invite critics into their shows. Billy Connolly or any other comedian has a perfect right to do so and to sell the seats that would otherwise be warmed by reviewers’ bottoms, after all. Heaven forfend the comics' families might go hungry for the loss of that revenue or that their charitable foundations would struggle to pay their tax bill without it. And. of course, the non-invitation could never be because the comics are arrogant so-and-sos who believe themselves to be above criticism but who, strangely enough, still quote critics on their websites, publicity material and DVD covers. Perhaps the thankyou notes for our efforts are in the post...

Such ponderings aside, I was looking forward to this show, having not seen Connolly live for several years, as the Scotsman has lately concentrated on film and television work. “This will be a load of old shite,” he said as he strode on to the vast stage of the Hammersmith Apollo in London, with just a simple backdrop of an image of him as Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, “because I haven’t worked in ages.” Clearly he had forgotten the Scottish tour he did last year.

No matter. Connolly, an astonishingly youthful 67, referred to his notes several times, digressed and lost his thread repeatedly, but this show was still a tour-de-force display of comic storytelling - now so unfashionable in stand-up. He does not have a rigid script, more a list of subjects he may or may not address during the evening, so the show is different each night.

Different it may be, but fresh much of it is not. Some of the stories I have heard many times before and apparently they still manage to crack him up, but such is the delivery, the ability to rescue an anecdote just as it appears to be petering out and the slam-dunk payoffs, that any cavils are quickly dismissed. Connolly’s mischievousness and physical exuberance are still winning powers and he remains a wonderfully uninhibited swearer, with the f-word used liberally and creatively. He does two hours straight without an interval and only occasionally - such as when his tale of an Edinburgh drunk pestering him went on far too long - are there longueurs.

Connolly can shine a light on the most mundane subjects, such as the battle of the sexes, by taking a deliciously skewed view on it. So the difference between men and women was explained by making reference to public transport and kinetic energy - or, simply, how we hop on buses. Similarly, his deduction that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the safest people in an earthquake - the advice being to stand in a doorway when it hits - is inspired.

I know Connolly has been living in Los Angeles for several years (he kept telling us), but I could have done without umpteen references to his celebby friends - Cliff Richard, Sean Connery and Alan Cumming are all great guys, don’t you know - and I would have welcomed a caustic appraisal of a lifestyle a million miles away from his Glasgow tenement childhood. But it didn’t come, although he did lay into religionists a few times.

The new material - about politics, religion, relationships, the semiotics of swearing - is clever, funny and still heartfelt, even if he is now living the dream in LA. So was it a load of old shite? No, far from it - but you owe me 35 quid, Mr C

At the Hammersmith Apollo until 31 January buy tickets here. Find Billy Connolly DVDs on Amazon

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