Opened April 2, 2008 at the Post Street Theatre, San Francisco
Connolly unbound: Comedy sets Scot free
3 1/2 stars — Big, bulky laughs
Billy Connolly must tell you something. He simply must.
The Scottish comedian, best known for replacing Howard Hesseman on the sitcom “Head of the Class” or starring (quite admirably) opposite Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown, is a stand-up legend in Britain and Europe, where he sells out arenas.
In the more intimate confines of the Post Street Theatre, he’s adorable (it’s the accent) but with edge (it’s the material and his love of a certain four-letter word beginning with f and ending with uck). The 65-year-old’s exuberance and energy is unflagging for two nonstop hours, and once your ears adjust to the Scottish brogue, he’ll keep your energy zooming right along with him.
Connolly reminds me a little of Robin Williams in that his comedy seems to come from his very core, and that core is a little manic, hence the constant running up to the edge of the stage with, “Oh, I must tell you this!” There doesn’t seem to be a lot of writing or shaping to this material — it feels genuinely part of Connolly himself and not part of some well-thought-out joke machine. There’s a lot of improv going on, some of it quite physical. All of it very funny. He’s also got a little Eddie Izzard vibe in that he riffs on curious things, both personal and cultural, and then weaves them into the evening.
On opening night, he began with thoughts on the movie Rob Roy and what “shite” it is because Rob, though portrayed as a hero on film, was a “thief and an asshole.” Then he explained that he loves cursing, especially through the use of the aforementioned f-word. “I may sally into the area of c—,” he added, noting that in his native land, that c-word, so dreaded here, is no big deal.
For the next couple hours, Connolly rambled most marvelously about things as varied as: the balaklava his Auntie Agnes knitted him; a one-eyed man’s puce Porsche; sneezing with your eyes open; evolving air quotes into other air punctuation (my favorite bit of the night); terrorism in Glasgow (“Imagine bringing terror to Glasgow! We love it!”); his father’s many strokes; shagging a lady dwarf (that was one of the evening’s more interesting side roads); and pranks — or “frights” as he called hem — that he and his fellow band members inflicted on members of society.
We learned a few things about Connolly, like he worked in the shipyards, played drums and is devoted to the elimination of “beige-ism” from the world — a noble pursuit to be sure. But the most important thing we learned about Billy Connolly is that he’s a true original, a comedy voice we haven’t heard and a style that knocks us about a bit and gives us a grand time. Judging from the number of times he cracked himself up, Connolly seems to be having a grand time as well.
I leave you with two of my favorite Connolly-isms: “You couldn’t hit a cow on the ass with a banjo,” and “If you’re on fire, and someone kicks you in the balls, it’s not your day.”
Billy Connollly Live! continues through April 12 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $50-$55. Call 415-771-6900 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.unionsquaretheatres.com for information.