Comedian Billy Connolly takes a personal trip down memory lane by visiting his Glasgow roots in a new documentary.
The Big Yin is awfully philosophical these days and although we’ve seen plenty of him over the years in travel series, Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland (Prime, Sunday, 8.30pm) is his most personal TV show yet.
As the title suggests, he’s going back to the place that formed him. In the first of two episodes, it’s right back to his hometown of Glasgow and the shipyards and working-class neighbourhoods that were full of blokes swilling beer, going to the football and being funny. You were expected to be funny in Glasgow.
The trip down memory lane begins “in the middle”, at that most important of Glasgow institutions, the pub. In particular, the Saracen Head, or the Sarry, as it was known. “This world of drink was an incredibly rich vein to be tapped.”
Out of this he created a new genre of comedy: “conversational stand-up”, says fellow comedian Eddie Izzard. “He’s the godfather of alternative comedy. ‘This is my take on life.’”
“It was funny because you recognise the truth in it,” says writer Val McDermid.
The River Clyde was the city’s lifeblood. “It gave the entire city our identity.” Connolly remembers going into the shipyards along with all the other boys. The shipyard was “rough and there was a lot of swearing. The gate was closed and it was all guys and the jokes were furious and the language was strong.”
But Billy stood out, wearing bright clothes, falling in love with Hank Williams and learning the banjo.
He also remembers the fellow welder who told him to use his talent: “The most important thing he said to me was, ‘You don’t want to be sitting here as an old man knowing you could have got out. I’ve known guys like that and it destroys their whole life telling themselves they could have done better, but didn’t take the chance.’
“So I did it – I was off being a hairy banjo player, touring the world.” This included forming a folk duo, the Humblebums, with Gerry Rafferty, in which his comedy stories got “longer and longer”.
As we know, Connolly has Parkinson’s, but he looks back on his life with joy in this lovely documentary. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a talent that’s taken me further than I could have dreamt of.”
This article was first published in the July 27, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.