Scotch on the rocks

Billy Connolly perseveres with his ad-libbed life
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  May 31, 2007

VIDEO: a clip from Billy Connolly's standup

Billy Connolly regularly has sex with farm animals. Okay, that’s not actually true, but he’ll never know we wrote that about him, since the Scottish actor and comedian — who’s played all manner of material, from the TV sit-com Head of the Class to starring opposite Judi Dench in the 1997 film Mrs. Brown — says he never reads anything written about him, figuring “the good is more dangerous than the bad.” Sitting on a couch in the American Repertory Theatre offices, he briefly considers whatever public perceptions, or misconceptions, might be floating around before concluding, “No idea. Haven’t a fucking clue. I’m 64, so I don’t give a fuck. Before I was 50, maybe I would have been bothered; now it just irritates me like a stone in the shoe. Fuck off. It’s too late to dislike me.”

Lest you sense antipathy, let me assure you there’s not a whiff. Connolly — tall, with long gray-blond hair and round glasses — establishes fabulous rapport and has boundless energy. It’s not unlike his act — which is unscripted and has been compared variously to Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard, and George Carlin. When he’s performing, he says he’s driven by three things: “adrenaline, anger, and coffee.” A hugely popular stand-up comic in Europe, he brings his one-man show (which played last year around this time Off Broadway) to the Loeb Drama Center, June 12-16.

When did you play Boston last?
Uh, I can’t remember.

You’ve sold more DVDs and CDs than any non-American comedian in the world. Are you trying to crack the US market now?
It’s not really important to me. It would be nice, but I’m not on some cause to conquer America. I think America takes you when it’s good and ready. Or not. I play all over the world. I have a pleasant life.

You never write material down.
I’ve never written anything down.

How many hours of material do you have to call upon?
Great huge lumps of it disappear. I did one [bit] on the Crucifixion and the Last Supper [years ago] in Britain and I couldn’t do it now with a gun to my head. I know people who know it all by heart, and I can easily ask them. But I have no interest. The show constantly moves along. . . . Those big story bits that I do, they’re born of ad lib. I’ll be talking about something and ad-lib on top of that. If it goes well, it stays in. If it ever becomes a bit unwieldy, sometimes I’ll lop a big chunk off it.

Ever lose the main thread?
Oh, all the time!

The British tabloids have been having a run at you for a while, now, since you had the temerity to (a) leave the country, and (b) become very successful.
Yeah, they don’t like either of those things. I don’t know what it takes for them to like you, and I don’t care anymore.

It’s amusing to look back, though.
It is. Eventually, time and distance give you a certain clarity. You think, ‘Why was I worried what they thought of it?’ When I started, I was very original and kind of unique. There was this Glaswegian language I used very deeply, all the slang. I chose various off-the-wall things to talk about. I got into hemorrhoids and venereal disease, and I dwelt very much on this little bit here, between the belly button and the crotch. It’s where I lived. Back and front.

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