Books: The Dreaming Swimmer — Fanfare for a Big Yin |
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Fanfare for a Big Yin

(A note for the theatre programme of Billy Connolly’s one-man show at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1991)

Billy Connolly is a man loved even by those who hate him. A press photographer who was once punched in the mouth by Billy Connolly has been heard to say: ‘I lumpf hmmff lime own brummumf.’ Billy Connolly is the tough product of an even tougher environment. He was raised in the toughest area of Glasgow, a town so tough that a lot of people refuse to go there. Almost the entire population of the Soviet Union, for example, have never even mentioned the place except when mispronouncing the word glasnost during heated arguments around the samovar. The baby Billy was handed the unopened bottle of milk and told to get on with it. He has been getting on with it ever since. He is, above all, a dynamic comedian. He moves with the balletic grace of a ballet dancer in... a ballet. His extension is terrifying in its completeness. He puts out one foot, slaps it on the floor in front of him, and looks at it. With his exquisite hands pinching the air at each side of the respective shoulder, he continues to look at that foot. Is there another one like it? Why yes, there is! Triumphantly he produces it and slaps it on the floor beside the other. His cry of triumph is drowned by a squeal of pain as he falls over backwards. But within weeks he is back on his feet, ready, before the gale of laughter has subsided, to continue with his non-stop stream of jet and antidote.

To be serious for a moment, though I court solemnity, let me say that Billy Connolly has the great secret of uttering the unutterable. What he says could be said by the Archbishop of Canterbury to any audience of Mongol storm-troopers on a three-day pass. Finally, he is funny. He knows who you are. He knows what you do when you are alone. But then so, you might object, did Sigmund Freud. What a Viennese psychoanalytic genius couldn’t do in a lifetime, Billy Connolly can do in the twinkling of an eye. He can put you in touch with your secret self. You fall on each other’s necks, crying: ‘Fancy meeting you here!’

Punching a sudden hole through the wall of our amour propre and filling the aperture with his hirsute, wildly staring visage, Billy Connolly reminds us that within the tungsten carapace of our dignity quivers a secret nose-picker. We forgive him. We forgive him everything except his talent. Those of us who have to sweat over our secretaries all day waiting for that rare moment when an idea comes unbidden can have only one reaction when we hear this supernaturally gifted man in the ecstatic throes of making the stuff up even faster than he can spit it out. In tones of hushed awe we say ‘**@£&1/8 % him.’ Too much talent, too much life — and on top of that he is generous, gregarious, gentle and compassionate. No wonder Billy Connolly is a man hated by those who love him.