As a Scots comedian of a certain age there obviously must be one influence on me that stands head and shoulders above any other. When I was a very young kid I always wanted to be a Sex Pistol. Then my brother came back from University with Billy Connelly’s first albums and I discovered there was another thing you could be that’s just as exciting.
In my journey as a comic I’ve known a couple of comics who became famous that never rated Billy. I’ll not mention names the clue’s in where I live. After that I never really rated them. I can forgive younger comics not knowing him or finding the humour a bit distant. However I really do feel if you’re a comic and you don’t have some place in your work/heart for him then you really shouldn’t be doing the job.
The routine I’d like to discuss here I hadn’t listened to in some time. I was worried it might be dated. I’ve just listened to it now and I’m over the moon with how good it is. In fact after hearing this again I’ve decided I’m going to spend the coming months collecting his work and falling in love with him all over again. The routine of the Crucifixion is now 51 years old and it’s as hilarious and vibrant and at times risky now as it was when it was being touted around halls and working men clubs in the 70s.
Recorded at a small venue, The Tudor Hotel in Airdrie, it’s from the double album (vinyl) titled Solo Concert. I would urge anyone to seek out the whole thing. Releasing a live double-album by a comedian who at the time was virtually unknown (except to a cult audience in Glasgow) was an unusual gambit by the people behind it but their faith in Connolly’s talent was duly rewarded and they successfully promoted the album to chart success on its release in 1974.
What put’s Billy among the comedy Outlaws is a thing that people often don’t credit him with. He has constantly throughout his prestigious career tackled some of the darkest or potentially most offensive of subject matters. From many meditations on religion, to disability to causing outrage with a routine on hostage Kenneth Bigley (About which he says he was quoted out of context) But through force of personality and more likeable charm than a million Macintyre’s could ever hope to muster has so far only ever managed to offend exactly the sort of person you really hoped he would. Upon his debut on the TV chat show Parkinson in 1975 he told a bawdy joke about a man who had murdered his wife and buried her bottom-up so he’d have somewhere to park his bike. His own management had begged him not to do so. He made the right choice and ignored their advice and his bawdy humour was a sensation. Stardom came rapidly and he became good friends with Parkinson himself. He still holds the record for most appearances on the show at 15.
In saying that he offended the sort of person you hoped he would among the more famous of the morally outrraged were Pastor Jack Glass and self-anointed morality police officer in Chief Mary Whitehouse.
Jack Glass was Described by the Rev Ian Paisley as “a bit of an extremist” Jack vehemently denied being a bigot but actively attacked and campaigned against, amongst other issues, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and rights for gay people, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, the Papal visit to Scotland, the Catholic Church, in fact, against anything or anyone who didn’t fit into his extreme Calvinist view of the world as being dominated by the Power of Darkness. And naturally, anyone who disagreed with Jack was a servant of Satan.
Perhaps it’s a bit cynical to say it but Jack was never one to pass up the opportunity for a bit of self-promotion, and one of his most notorious escapades was when he began picketing Billy Connolly’s concerts on the grounds that he regarded Connolly as a blasphemer. The cartoonist Malkie McCormick lampooned him in his weekly “Big Yin” strip in the Sunday Mail, by having a piece of graffiti on a wall saying, “Jack Glass is a wee pastor”. He died of cancer with which upon being diagnosed was quick to blame Satan for his malady. Looks like the Devil won in the end. Connolly himself credits him with being a fantastic help in selling out his early tours. Bringing him the type of publicity you just can’t buy. He dismissed the campaigns by Mary Whitehouse against him with the fantastic line, “Who wants to be told what to do by someone who’s name rhymes with toilet?”
So I’ll end this wee tribute to my hero by encouraging you to go find and listen. I’ve posted the full Crucifixion routine here plus another favourite. The former routine is just rammed with great one-liners and hilarious characterisation. “Jesus doesn’t need to come to the boozer. He can make a bucket load at home.” “I cured a deaf and dumb guy. His first words…Is it alright if I’m a protestant” “I got arrested by the Romans. I thought should be alright it’s my first offence.”
Scottish humour has always had a layer of darkness in it. That probably comes from it being a wee bit tough to live there. It exists in my humour and many of my fellow Scots comedy comrades. I’m actually proud of it. Comedy should be a rollercoaster ride. It should be exhilarating and a wee bit scary. I don’t think anybody will do it better than Billy when he’s on to a good one. He generates a thing that few comics can. Rolling laughter. Sure we can all get a big laugh or applause break but very few can induce hysteria. He has consistently throughout his life. He is the king of comedy as far as my not so humble opinion is concerned. Although I don’t think he’d appreciate being called King Billy for reasons to obvious to explain to those not from Glasgow. He still makes me fall on my side on the couch when I’m watching him and he should be credited with giving most of us a job. No Billy no modern comedy scene. It’s as simple as that. Enjoy.