It’s a sign of how well Scottish actor and comedian Billy Connolly commands the stage in his one-man show at the Loeb Drama Center that when he checked the time after nearly two hours of performance and said, “I could go on for days,” he was met with cheers and applause. The show went on for another 30 minutes. Of course, we knew we were in good hands from Connolly’s first punch line — it wasn’t just the line, but the way he delivered it, tossed over his shoulder as he walked backstage toward the stool that held his glass of water, his glasses, and a page of notes he never consulted. You’re not supposed to hit the punch line with your back to the audience, but Connolly can do that — and he’s the funnier for it.
What did he talk about for nearly two and a half hours? The usual stuff: excrement, vomit, snoring, drugs, aging, sex, death, dying. The human condition, in other words, from the point of view of an adult mind with an adolescent’s appreciation of life’s grosser realities. Except for that stool, the stage was bare. A curved brick-wall backdrop — covered in graffiti, with a couple of broken windows — enclosed the space he stalked as a spot followed him. The set suggested the back alley of a theater, the legend TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG scrawled across it. Connolly looked tall and gangly, with a long mane of gray hair and devilish Van Dyke beard, in thick-soled sneakers, black jeans and leather vest, and a long-tailed black T-shirt that flapped behind him.
He explained his free-flowing curses, as if to his schoolteacher sister, by saying that it’s not sacrilege to swear: “It’s profanity, and I’m fucking good at it!” The f-word was his punctuation, his rhythm, his rim shot. His timing was flawless. Connolly’s stories stretch, digress, and double back to pick up where he left off, and the outlines of his improv are sketched rather than tightly adhered to. He didn’t tell the story of how he hit bottom as a drunk and decided to get sober (a Connolly staple), but he did talk about visiting his father in a stroke-victim hospital ward, about his “baronial mansion” in Scotland, about seeing Jesus walk down the street in LA, and — the long climax of his show — about the three women in his life who’d vomited on him. Aside from the swearing and his avowed hatred of Catholic priests, the evening was fairly apolitical and fairly inoffensive. He mocked his own macho pride, and when he told one hilarious story about a prostate exam, he followed it up with a sympathetic, equally funny epiphany (provoked by his wife’s derision) about gynecological exams.
Connolly’s not an observational comic — he’s a storyteller. And every story was vivid: that hospital room, that Scottish manor, Billy as a successful TV actor driving through Laurel Canyon in his 1937 Ford roadster and feeling as if he were in the middle of a Beach Boys song. Perhaps his most virtuoso turn was his last: struggling to escape from a sleeping bag (he’ll tell you why), he’s Jonah in the whale, a baby in the womb, desperately trying to be born. And he’s fucking good at it.
Billy Connolly Live! | Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St, Cambridge | Through June 23 | 866.811.4111