City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Review: Billy Connolly, Usher Hall

By Dylan Matthew - Posted on 25 September 2009

Billy Connolly
Show Details
The Usher Hall
Billy Connolly
Running time: 

The night before I saw this gig I watched the Edge of the World episode that took the iconic bearded big yin himself around Baffin Island beyond the Canadian Arctic Circle. Apart from the usual jaw dropping scenery and a bit of de riguer quad biking (fully clothed for once) there was a scene in which he went on a seal hunt with local Inuit fishermen.

He was initially excited about doing this but after a successful kill, they haul the seal aboard their little boat and leave it slumped right next to where Connolly's sitting. His fascination changes to mild horror as he reluctantly admits that the animal loving liberal hippie side of himself finds the whole thing a bit mortifying. Later we see the dissected seal's raw bloody flesh fed to eager Inuit children, not something you'd see on a Jamie Oliver programme. Connolly appears to be a little bit overcome and expresses regret for taking part in the hunt.

Well he might still be a fluffy-haired, bleeding-heart softy on the telly but after arriving onstage in Edinburgh to a deafening ovation he quickly casts aside that image and opens fire with foul-mouthed volcanic broadsides against corrupt, local councillors bringing Edinburgh to ruin and government politicians with their hands in the till.

He passionately advises us to "Hunt them down!"

"Hunt them down and fuck ‘em and then burn them!" he screams.

"Burn them!" He screams over and over.

He enacts the hunt, the raping of councillors (and local bankers) from behind followed by the tossing of lit matches onto the pyre.

Needless to say this is met with whoops of approval from the audience.

With his trademark Santa Claus beard and black and white striped trousers he bounces around the stage like a giant ring tailed lemur on speed. It's a great and energetic start and his childlike enthusiasm and energy levels belie that of a man heading into his late sixties.

The tram works in Princes St receives his next volley as he sketches out how his Sat Nav system couldn't cope with the changes. It's hilarious and prescient and this gives way to the well-worn Edinburgh versus Glasgow debates and the inevitable Scotland versus England tales in predictable but enjoyable fashion. I'm guessing this is his way of acknowledging he's returned to native soil by making a point that he hasn't lost touch with what's happening back in his homeland.

As if to symbolically re-emphasise this, the stage backdrop is a giant recreation of Da Vinci's drawing The Vitruvian Man but with Connolly's body and arms outstretched in the centre of the circle. Is he trying to tell us "I too am a genius"? I doubt it, but it's fitting, for he himself has come full circle both in terms of his comedy career and film roles, but also his round the world globe trotting for travel docs.

As one would expect, more than half the show is based on his observations and quirky encounters since he's arrived back in Scotland. Most of the topics are introduced with "This actually happened, I swear on my children's life" before collapsing with laughter himself before even telling the story.

It's not often you can laugh at an anecdote after the teller of the tale has already done the laughing for you, but Connolly always gets away with it. It's just part of his well known and endearing persona. It's the spirit of his character that engages, the material is secondary as he could probably improvise the whole shebang and sometimes I wish he had and left the longer stories of his youth behind, concentrating on the delightful idiots he always seems to encounter in his travels.

Much of the material railed against political correctness gone mad. He talked in fairly bad yet hilarious taste about "cripples", "spastics" and "fat people" and everyone rolled in the aisles in acknowledgment at our own verbal hypocrisies.

One unexpected and rather brave sketch involved a surprisingly vitriolic attack on our own national anthem which got up a few backs in the audience at first until he explained that he's sick of the dour nature of Scots songs, our miserable defeatist attitude. And, to prove his point, he sings the Macedonian National Anthem which is: "We're coming to Scotland and we're going to fuck you and destroy and we don't give a shit." It brought the house down.

It was a two-hour set which did eventually feel like a sitting-leaning-forward-to-get-a-better-view marathon and without an interval for a toilet or drink break I felt that the two long stories he told about his past slightly lost me and were a bit extraneous.

One was about his working days in the Clyde shipyards as he watched all the "cripples" getting a fifteen-minute head start to leave work so they wouldn't be trampled on by all the healthy workers stampeding to the pub at the end of their day.

And there was the tale of his mad knitting Auntie who put a jam-covered crumpet in an exploding toaster. They're amusing stories where you can see the punchline coming although he does get away with it for with Connolly it's the telling of the tale rather than the actual story that matters.

My favourite moments have always been the little tangents that he invariably goes off on and my favourite sketch of the evening was about how to solve the problem of submarines colliding in the Atlantic or hitting Australia (yes, "this actually happened", he reminds us).

The solution is to put in windows and employ old ladies as lookouts. It may not be as funny on the page here but I was still laughing about it the next day when it popped into my head. It was also a pleasure to see a genuine much loved national icon in the flesh.

Billy Connolly is still on tour:

Aberdeen Music Hall 25 September

Dundee Caird Hall 26 September

Perth Concert Hall 28 September

Glasgow Clyde Auditorium 1, 2, 3 and 4 October.