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Oct152015

« The Legendary Billy Connolly at Massey Hall, Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 »

Billy Connolly is a legend of comedy. One only needs to plug in his name on Youtube to find a long list of videos showcasing his hilarious standup routines, film clips, appearances on talk shows, and televised interviews. Start with “Terrorist Attack at Glasgow Airport” and you will soon be in stitches: it’s one of my favourites. I’m also quite fond of his “Fuck Off” routine. The man is a global superstar, and one of the few comedians who can made my sides ache with painful, uproarious fits of prolonged laughter.

The stage after the performance.

Last night in Toronto, Billy Connolly performed the first of three shows from his “High Horse” tour at the iconic Massey Hall. He came on stage less than half an hour after the city’s baseball team had won their first playoff series in 23 years, and the atmosphere was already electric because of the victory. He paid tribute to the Blue Jays, gave us a lovely story about meeting Gordon Lightfoot in the 1960s to celebrate the hall he was performing in, a venue closely associated with the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter. Having connected with the crowd through the use of local references, Billy began his routine with personal anecdotes about his battle with prostate cancer and more recently, with Parkinson’s disease.

What struck me the most, between loud fits of laughter in the almost-two hours of comedy, is what a gifted storyteller he is. He is all about the tale rather than the joke, and has a way of painting a scene with the most perceptive details, reeling you in and throwing parts designed to make you giggle often. Eventually the story reaches a hysterical climactic ending that leaves you clutching your sides as he assures you that everything he’s told you is “absolutely true”. I believed him at every turn last night, and especially loved the story of trying to buy a cigar in Margaret Square in Aberdeen and being besieged by autograph seekers wanting their money signed. It will remain forever memorable because of what happened after the show.

The Connolly-ed fiver.

To see a legend performing at any point in their career is one of the greatest joys, and for me, having never had (or taken) the chance to see him before, I thoroughly loved the experience of finally seeing him live. While he is no longer at the top of his game and sometimes lacked the physical energy that is so evident on those Youtube clips, it was a complete joy to listen to him: not only was it a raw and brave performance, but he was absolutely funny in a way I never doubted. He made great jokes at the expense of his shaking left hand, regaled us with tales of what his treatments for prostate cancer had done to his sexual abilities, and then encouraged the males in the crowd to get checked. If only all PSAs were this hilarious.

There were tales about Glasgow football teams and Scottish films, all weaved into little vignettes that often made interesting observations about the absurdities of life. One of the things that endeared me the most to him last night was how he started the show with four or five quick uses of the word “cunt”, only to completely remove the word from his vocabulary for the rest of the evening. It was as though he began the night thinking he was in the UK then readjusted himself when he realised he was in North American. “Cunt” was quickly replaced by the frequent use of the words “fucking” and “wanker”, often used together.

The author with the legend.

Amazing hair on both of them.

After the show ended, we somehow ended up in a laneway with about a dozen other fans. It is not my usual habit to wait for an artist outside a venue, but the small group was friendly and we chatted and shared stories as the possibility of his appearance at the stage door grew more possible. One couple had come from Inverurie in Aberdeenshire for a Canadian wedding, and had driven four hours from Windsor to see him because, to use their own words, “He’s so big in Scotland you can’t get tickets to see him.” Again, that legend thing. About twenty minutes after we had all hung out together, a security guard told us he wasn’t sure there would be any autograph signings or photos (he had apparently stopped to sign upon his arrival hours before), but that if it did happen, he wanted an orderly affair. How beautifully Canadian. We assured him we would comply and were greeted by a very charming and obliging Billy Connolly soon thereafter. We had formed a short line, and he was gracious and patient with all his fans, including the Scottish couple who were delighted to finally meet their idol. I presented him our polymer plastic five-dollar bill and said I doubted my pen would work on it as it would have in the Aberdeen story he had told; he pulled out a Sharpie and I am now the proud owner of a Connollyed fiver. He was also kind enough to sign my ticket, and to allow himself to be in a picture with me, and then in another one with my husband. They made quite the well-coiffed pair. I was surprised at how tall and majestic he still seems despite his more frail condition, and still look at him and see a strong face and solid frame.That said, it impressed me to no end that as fragile as he appeared up close, he took the time to greet all his fans before and after a long evening spent entertaining us so beautifully. Pure legend.

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