Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Standup guy

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Billy Connolly has no pretense about his job. He’s a comedian, and other pursuits are simply minor diversions.
He’s had roles in films such as “The Last Samurai” (“That was a good one”) and “White Oleander” (“They completely cut me out of it!”), but the Scot has also had exposure to American audiences who mainly remember him from early ’90s television.
In addition to appearances on HBO and Showtime comedy shows, Connolly gained notoriety when he took over the teacher role on “Head of the Class,” a cult television hit of the late 1980s.
While the show was cancelled after his arrival on set, a spin-off was created just for him.
In “Billy,” Connolly left his teaching post and moved to California, where he married a working single mom to prevent from being deported back to the UK.
The show tanked, and Connolly had to save face with longtime fans who’d labeled him a sellout.
He’s not too broken up about it. In fact, he’s been hard at work back on the comedy circuit, with several successful tours of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. under his belt.
And this month, he starts a marathon run at Manhattan’s 37 Arts Theatre, though Connolly could be found taking it easy when the Echo caught up with him at his home in Scotland last week.
Based out of L.A., Connolly said he returns home often, perhaps to stay “a moving target,” as he put it.
He said he is looking forward to the extended run in New York, because he found when he would do only two or three nights, many fans would not know about it until it was too late.
His show is about as fine-tuned as they get by now. Connolly called it “an organic experience,” where he adds new bits and drops others as he travels and senses audience reaction. He thinks of his show as a naked Christmas tree he’ll decorate as he goes along.
“The funniest thing [about U.S. audiences] is that they think I’m an actor,” he laughed. “They remember me from ‘Head of the Class.’ But some of them think I’m John Cleese, so it’s fine.”
Connolly actually got his start in folk music, playing the banjo and slowly bringing comedy into his shows. But now, he said, there is no room for the music in his routine, though he admitted it shaped his comedy.
He added that if he weren’t a comic, he’d be “down and out.”
“I would be an unemployed person — no, I would play the banjo on the street,” he said.
After cutting his teeth on the circuit and the TV chat shows in Britain in the 1970s, he became as much a household name as any comedian could be.
Connolly said he is lucky to have not seen a bad reception in a while on the road. He recalled one instance when he decided to do a corporate function, which didn’t go over well.
“It was the only decision I ever made with money in mind,” he said. He went on to say what a bad idea that is. “It’s all golfers in suits,” he said. “Golf is for people who’ve run out of ideas.”
Given its identification with his native Scotland, it’s almost shocking to hear that Connolly does not find the game appealing. He prefers instead to fish in the lake on his property, where he can be left to think and relax.

While the idea of traveling is daunting at first, “once I get out there, it’s great.” He loves London and Paris and Rome: “You’re almost forced to like those places.” As for New York, said Connolly, a survivor from the days when Times Square was seedy, it isn’t as much fun as in the old days, but it’s still a world-class city.
A night owl by nature, the comedian has recently been staying up until the wee hours reading.
He makes no effort to wake up early.On those rare occasions he finds himself awake in the morning, he asks himself: “Why am I up? I do the late shift.”
He reasoned that if he wakes up later and has an 8 p.m. show, “I’m firing on all cylinders,” and it is the audience that have been at work all day and are getting tired.
The thrill of pulling his audience out of the doldrums and into his material is part of why he is out there today. He recalled doing a recent interview on NPR and liked that he was able to hear his audience laugh with him, unlike television delay.
“It shouldn’t tickle me,” he admitted. “I don’t want to come off like Judy Garland.”
One cause that has brought him back to Scotland in recent months has been the Borderline Theater Company in Ayr. The company put on two of the shows he wrote very early in his career, and he has a soft spot for them. Lately, they have seen their funding cut from the Scottish Arts Council, and Connolly has written an open letter asking them to rethink the decision.
“The Arts Council does great works, such as with [Harry Potter author] J.K. Rowling — look what she went on to do?,” he said.
“But sometimes people who are not struggling as badly need the help, too. It’s like they’re being punished for being successful,” he added.
And lest he sit still for too long, Connolly just wrapped up filming a sequel to last year’s Garfield movie. Called “A Tale of Two Kitties,” he plays the evil Lord Dargis.
Connolly and the other people actors had to make do without the film’s star, as the computer animated Garfield would be added in post-production.
“I was swiping at thin air, ’cause you can’t see the thing,” he laughed.
But it is well worth it, he predicts, since “all the 2-year-old will hate me. I love being the bad guy — it’s so great. Really, how lucky can you get?”

Billy Connolly will be performing at Manhattan’s 37 Arts Theatre, 450 West 37th Street from May 11 to June 3.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese