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Life lessons from a master of mirth

Life lessons from a master of mirth

The man, the myth, the comedy GOAT (and natty goatee sporter) looks back on his long and varied career, and offers some sage advice


By Jon Billinge, Staff Writer

Scottish comedy heavyweight Billy Connolly has lived quite the life. With a comedy and acting career spanning 50 years under his belt, to call him a titan of titillation is an understatement.

 

However, The Big Yin, as he’s affectionately known (ask your Scottish pals), officially stepped down from live stand-up in 2020. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, Connolly said the degenerative effects of the disease have made his brain “work differently”.

 

Billy Connolly at home in Florida

 

And yet, this most bonnie of bon viveurs is as warm, inviting and eccentric as ever, as GOLD’s Billy Connolly Does... reveals. Offering an intimate look at Connolly’s life as he lives it at home in Florida, the seven-part series mixes his musings on life with archive footage from his storied career.

 

Covering everything from his hatred of Brussels sprouts (“I suffered as a child”) and nylon bedsheets (“Can’t get any purchase”) to his love of fishing and a good back garden, the mix of life lessons and anarchic stand-up snippets go to show that love and laughter are sometimes all you really need.

 

Ahead of the show, check out our memories and moments from the legendary performer, including his divorce-themed hit single and a truly unforgettable Comic Relief appearance.

 

Winning one-liners

Billy Connolly doing stand-up


We’ll just leave a few of these here:

 

“Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”

 

“There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter.”

 

“A well-balanced person has a drink in each hand.”

 

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that, who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!”

 

Wildebeests

This routine is among Connolly’s best known, and with good reason. What starts as a comment on how people inexplicably shout at the TV more as they grow older transforms into his take on what the animals in a nature show might be thinking. From a wildebeest on hyper-alert to one blissfully unaware of danger, to the lionesses that stalk them, the routine somehow turns nature’s bruality into hilarity.

 

President who?

In a bit of freaky foreshadowing, while visiting Chicago in Billy Connolly’s Route 66, Connolly explains his love of several buildings in the city, before having slightly more colourful ways to describe Donald Trump’s Trump International tower. He then muses on Donald Trump’s political ambitions: “He wants to to become president... The place would be a toilet if he became president!”

 

Banjo Billy


In his early stand-up days, Connolly would often play the guitar and banjo. Indeed, before he turned to comedy he was something of a regular on the Glasgow folk scene. He released a slew of albums over the years, and even had a number one single in 1975 with “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”.

 

GOAT with a goatee

Billy Connolly with a purple goatee


With his trademark long hair and epic beard, Connolly was and still is instantly recognisable. And it wasn’t unusual for him to suddenly be spotted sporting a goatee dyed in a striking shade. 

 

Promoting the film Gabriel And Me in 2001 he said, “My beard is green because my beard is green. It’s like asking people why they wear nail polish – there’s no such thing as a good reason. I just fancied a change. I saw a guy in France with a green moustache and I thought I must do that some day, and then I was at a party in Hollywood and a guy had a red one and I thought “I must do that green thing”.” You tell ’em!

 

Mrs Brown’s boy


Connolly has acted in a host of films throughout his life, including Indecent ProposalMuppet Treasure Island and The Boondock Saints. But his turn in 1997’s Mrs Brown, for which he was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, is really something. Starring opposite Judi Dench’s formidable Queen Victoria, Connolly brought poise and pathos to his role as Scottish servant John Brown.

 

Nude to his word

In 2001, Connolly made a pact with Comic Relief viewers that he would streak through central London when the first £1 million in donations had been reached. Obviously the prospect was too appealing to pass up, and the target was quickly reached and surpassed.

 

Billy then promptly took to Trafalgar Square sans clothes, and with a camera crew following close behind (geddit?). A jig was danced, tourists were alternately shocked and entertained, and 83 complaints were sent to Ofcom’s door.

 

When is Billy Connolly Does... on TV?

Watch Billy Connolly Does... on Thursday 24 February on GOLD HD (CH 124). You can watch episodes 1-5 after broadcast in Catch Up > Channels > GOLD, with all episodes available in Catch Up in March.

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