Billy Connolly

The lively Celtic comedian plays dead.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly

He may be the only Scot ever to both play banjo with Steve Martin and receive a CBE award from Prince Charles, but Billy Connolly never lets it go to his head. His easy laugh, sweet-as-shortbread accent and gregarious charm have been key to his foulmouthed success ever since the 1970s, when he joked on British TV about a man who murdered his wife and buried her butt up so he'd have a place to park his bike.

He may be the only Scot ever to both play banjo with Steve Martin and receive a CBE award from Prince Charles, but Billy Connolly never lets it go to his head. His easy laugh, sweet-as-shortbread accent and gregarious charm have been key to his foulmouthed success ever since the 1970s, when he joked on British TV about a man who murdered his wife and buried her butt up so he'd have a place to park his bike.

In the years since, Connolly's stand-up tours have sold out arenas worldwide, while his acting career has won him acclaim for roles in Mrs. Brown and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. His latest film, the zombie satire Fido, required the 64-year-old to shave his trademark goatee and trim his hippie locks for the part of a rotting domestic servant. Connolly caught up with TONY at a Cosi on lower Broadway—just blocks from the apartment he and his family moved into a few months ago.

You're virtually unrecognizable in Fido. Why bother?

I no more wanted to be in a zombie movie than fly in the air. But when I read the script, I thought, I love this. I couldn't speak and I had no hair. It was completely liberating. And it's astonishing what you can do just by looking left and right.

You've been doing stand-up comedy for more than 30 years. How has it changed?

The shock changes come and go, but there are fewer taboos than when I started. I remember the horror when I spoke about farting. The people loved it, but the newspapers said, "Who is this?" Because I went into great detail and depth—hemorrhoids and venereal diseases—all the weird areas. And I thought, This is fucking wonderful.

What do you think is edgy?

Most successful comedians are just trying to be funny—they're not trying to be edgy. They don't see this envelope that needs to be pushed all the time. It's a natural thing—you're seeking fun wherever it shows up. If people are asking for edgy, they don't know what it is. Edgy would frighten them shitless.

Immediately after September 11, certain types of humor were considered off-limits—

I never saw such shite in my life. Those pricks on television, and their shitey boring talk shows—fuck off! They should get the fuck out of the way of comedy. They've no fucking business anywhere near it. There are no rules: How fucking dare you impose one? We teach you what's funny—you don't fucking teach anybody.

So do you think Don Imus should have been fired for saying "nappy-headed ho's"?

I love Don Imus. He's made me scream with laughter. You should hear the things he says about alcoholism: It's so fucking bang on the money. He's got a heart like a lion. But that comment was mean.  I thought it was awful, and he deserved everything that came to him. "Ho" he could have gotten away with, but it was the "nappy-headed." It's racist.

Your wife, Pamela Stephenson, is a sex therapist. Must be a lot of pressure when you two make love.

Not really. I thought, Oh, God, I'm going to seem so boring now. But knowledge about sex doesn't raise her expectancy—and certainly doesn't raise my ability!

Have you met any of her clients?

She's an expert—especially in cross-gender—so we've had a few interesting people in the house. Slaves and masters, too. What a delightful bunch they were! Did you know there are guys who fuck the earth? They make a wee hole and fuck the world! That appeals to me. And you don't have to look your best.

You lived in Los Angeles, and now you've moved to New York City. Do you still feel Scottish?

It's the most extraordinary thing. As I grow older, I seem to be becoming more Scottish. I look at Sean Connery: He's not Sean Connery anymore. He's an old Scottish guy!

What's your favorite New York pastime?

I've always loved walking in New York. I want to do more of it. And I learned a great thing from a Woody Allen interview. He loves walking the same as I do, and he said, "You can't do it until you know where to pee." And it's absolutely true. You'll only get four blocks if you don't.

Fido opens Fri 15.

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