Billy Connolly isn’t just a comedy legend. He’s also a film star, a musician, a philosopher, a husband, a dad, and an national treasure–if Scotland had a Mount Rushmore, Billy Connolly would be on it. The 73-year-old has been making people laugh their heads off at theatres across the globe for close to 40 years, and he’s not about to let age–or even Parkinson’s disease–prevent him from doing what he does best. Fresh from a 15-show run at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo, Connolly is bringing his critically acclaimed “High Horse” tour stateside for a three-date mini tour of the East Coast which includes a Warner Theatre performance on May 14.
Brightest Young Things: Hi Billy, how are you?
Billy Connolly: I’m doing good.
BYT: You’re about to embark on a three date tour of the US—Does touring get easier or harder as you get older?
B.C.: Well, it’s become kind of complicated because I’ve got Parkinson’s disease.
BYT: So presumably the traveling is exhausting?
B.C.: Nah, the traveling is dead easy because I have about four days between each gig.
BYT: You’ve been doing this for a long time, were you still on board with touring before your health issues, or was it starting become repetitive?
B.C.: No! I’ve always found it exciting to do. And I’ve been very lucky because I’ve always had movies to do. So if I got bored between shows a movie would turn up. Like when I was touring New Zealand I was also shooting The Hobbit.
BYT: Of course! How was that?
I had to be able switch in and out of different modes, because acting is a different discipline. On stage I’m free to say what I please. But the change is very good for ya.
BYT: Are you living in the UK at the moment?
B.C.: No, I live in New York.
BYT: Do you remember your first visit to the US?
B.C.: Oh it was a long, long time ago. Late sixties/early seventies.
BYT: Did you come to perform or as a tourist?
B.C.: I came to perform. I was in Boston and the Vietnam War was on. America’s changed radically since then.
BYT: Did you ever have to tailor any of your material and make it a bit more region-specific?
B.C.: At first I did. I had to change to suit the different culture. I had to change all my words and everything, because in those days, I was dealing in a lot of colloquial Scottish stuff–so I had to change it. It took a while. Subsequently when I came over, I would always go to New York first. I’d go to these lovely old pizza parlours with the ovens in the middle of the room. There’d be a shelf around the wall, and I’d get my pizza and go stand at the shelf with my back to the people and just listen to them. Listen to them talking.
BYT: I should give that a try. I’ve been here for four years and I’m still figuring it out.
B.C.: Yeah, it’s the weird things like “pavement”. If you walk on the pavement over here you’ll get killed, so you have to adjust it. Now I find myself saying “sidewalk” when I’m in Britain.
BYT: I do that too! My friends laugh at me.
B.C.: Yeah, me as well.
BYT: If you could change one thing about the US, what would you change? Most people say guns, but I’d like to change their milk to be honest. I’d change the milk first, then the gun laws.
B.C.: I’d like to see them cut down on the guns a little. But you have to remember they’ve got a completely different history and culture. You have to take a step back and remember that every now and again. Revolution was written into their constitution so it’s like they’re in a constant state of revolution. But then again, happiness is written into their constitution as well, which makes them pretty unique.
BYT: Yeah but do you think their milk tastes funny?
B.C.: The milk?!
B.C.: Aye, but you can find regular milk. They have about 17 kinds of milk in the supermarket! I’m not big on milk anyway. I remember being shocked the first time I went to an American supermarket and they had dairy free milk. Where do they get that? Snakes?
BYT: If you could change one thing about the UK, what would you change?
B.C.: The weather (laughs).
BYT: Solid answer. What are your thoughts on the UK’s potential exit from the European Union?
B.C.: I would like them to stay in. I think the longer we’re in Europe the better.
BYT: Of all the films you’ve been in, which is your favourite?
B.C.: Mrs. Brown!
BYT: I really liked The Last Samurai. That movie didn’t get enough love.
B.C.: Oh I loved that!
BYT: I remember seeing it in the cinema with a few friends when it came out. Some of us were in tears by the end.
B.C.: I died in the first 20 minutes! My children get upset. When I get a movie now they say “do you die?” It must be weird watching you father die all the time. I even die in a Muppet movie for god sake!
BYT: Oh yeah, you’re in Muppet Treasure Island!
B.C.: Yeah, and I die in it! I think I’m the only person to die in a muppet movie.
BYT: Which of you own films is your least favourite?
B.C.: I don’t really think along those lines. I like them all.
BYT: I can only assume that you’re looking forward to visiting D.C. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but D.C. currently has a very vibrant and burgeoning comedy scene. Do you have any advice for DC’s up-and-coming comics?
B.C.: Keep your heels on the floor. It was different for me starting out because I was actually in the folk scene. I’ve never done a comedy club in my life. It’s weird because I don’t have the same background as most comics. I don’t have a history of going up and only doing eight minutes. The shortest gig I’ve ever done was two 20 minute spots in the same night. It changes the shape of your material, ya know? I don’t have that sound-bite stuff, I tend to just ramble. The guys who come up in comedy clubs don’t have the luxury of rambling. They have to get to the point straight away. They have to make their mark, get the hell off stage, and get to the next gig before the other guys.
BYT: The standard amount of stage time at open-mics these days is five minutes.
B.C.: I don’t envy those guys. It takes me that long to get to the microphone.
BYT: Are you familiar with IMDB?
BYT: It’s the Internet Movie Database. It’s a website that collects information on movies and screen performers. Pretty much every actor has a page on IMDB, including yourself. Now, these pages have trivia sections which are not stringently verified. Any random person with internet access can add a fact to someone’s IMDB trivia section. If I read out a few of the “facts” from your trivia section, would you mind verifying them for me?
…I don’t really understand what you said.
B.C.: Okay, let me hear them.
BYT: “He is a long time supporter of Glasgow Celtic Football Club”
B.C.: That’s right.
BYT: “He is a former reserve soldier in Britain’s elite parachute regiment, serving with 15 Para (now a disbanded battalion)”
B.C.: That’s right.
BYT: “In September 2005, he announced that he is returning to live in his native Scotland, after residing in the United States for some years.”
B.C.: That one’s not true. I’m glad you mentioned that one–I love Scotland and I speak about it a lot, so people think I’m desperate to go back. They just take it upon themselves to say I’m going back, but I’m not. I’d rather concentrate on becoming a citizen of the world.
BYT: Well Billy, thanks for chatting to BYT. Before I let you go, I want to let you know that I’m actually a budding stand-up comic, so keep me in mind if you need an opener for your Warner Theatre show.
**I’m still will waiting to hear back from Billy’s People**