William "Billy" Connolly, CBE (born November 24,
1942) is a comedian, musician, presenter, and actor. He is sometimes known,
especially in his native Scotland, by the nickname "The Big Yin"
Big One", a reference to his height).
Billy Connolly was born in Glasgow, Scotland to Mary and William Connolly,
the son of an Irish immigrant.
Connolly was brought up in the Anderston, and later Partick, districts of
Glasgow and attended St. Gerard's Secondary School. He started his working life
at the age of 15, becoming a welder in a Glasgow shipyard, but left that trade
to become a folk singer.
Together with Tam Harvey he started a group called the Humblebums, which
later included Gerry Rafferty. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar and
entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs.
Eventually the duo broke up and Billy went solo. His first solo album in 1972,
Billy Connolly Live! on Transatlantic Records, features Billy as a
singer, songwriter and musician.
His early albums were a mixture of comedy performances with comedic and
serious musical interludes. Among his best known musical performances were "The
Welly Boot Song", a comical ode to the working class which became his theme song
for several years; "In the Brownies", a parody of the Village People classics "Y.M.C.A."
and "In the Navy" (for which Connolly filmed a music video); "Two Little Boys in
Blue", a tongue-in-cheek indictment of police brutality done to the tune of Rolf
Harris' "Two Little Boys"; and the ballad "I Wish I Was in Glasgow" which
Connolly would later perform on a guest appearance on the 1990s American sitcom,
Pearl. In 1985 he sang the theme song to Supergran, which was
released as a single. By the late 1980s, Connolly had all but dropped the music
from his act, though he still records the occasional musical performance. Most
recently, he sang a song during the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of
It is as a stand-up comedian that Connolly is best known. His observational
humour is idiosyncratic. He talks about himself, who he is, where he's been,
what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged
audiences, critics and, of course the media, with his free use of the word
F.... He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, sex, his
father's illness and his aunts' cruelty to entertain. By exploring these
subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos
surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way. At the end
of a concert the audience can be convulsed with laughter but few can remember a
specific "funny" line.
One of Connolly's most famous comedy skits is "The Crucifixion", an early
1970s recording in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out
in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Around
this same time, a joke told during a television talk show appearance (about a
murderer, his dead wife, and him needing a place to park his bike) became a
sensation that, reportedly, people still remember three decades after the
Billy Connolly also performed a sketch broadcast on TV, when talking about
national anthems, and comparing the UK's slow tune to the lively ones of many
other nations, Billy suggested that it should be replaced by the theme tune to
Connolly launched a second career as a film actor in the 1970s, and after a
string of obscure and unsuccessful films, he was officially introduced to
mainstream American audiences when he took over the lead role (from Howard
Hesseman) in the sitcom Head of the Class in 1990, which was followed by
a brief stint as the star of a Head of the Class spin-off entitled
Billy. Since then, he has gone on to become a character actor of some
repute, appearing in a number of major films such as Indecent Proposal,
The Boondock Saints, The Last Samurai and Lemony Snicket's A
Series of Unfortunate Events . He received his best notices, including BAFTA
and Screen Actors Guild award nominations for his co-starring role in 1997's
Mrs. Brown opposite Dame Judi Dench.
In recent years Connolly has appeared in various Billy Connolly's World
Tour of... series, in which he combines touring with travelogues, giving his
views about the history and culture of the places he visits between excerpts
from stage shows performed in those regions. He also visited the frozen north in
A Scot in the Arctic.
A notable feature of these shows is that he strips naked in one scene in each
of them, usually in some remote wilderness area where no one is likely to
complain, although for Comic Relief he once danced naked around Piccadilly
In 1998, Connolly was the subject of a two-hour retrospective entitled
Erect for 30 Years that included tributes from Sean Connery, Whoopi Goldberg
(who the program credits for introducing Connolly to American audiences), Robin
Williams, Dustin Hoffman and others. The special was released on DVD in North
America in 2004.
Billy's second wife Pamela Stephenson and mother of 3 of his children, has
written a biography Billy which outlines his career and life including
the sexual abuse by his father that lasted from his tenth to his fourteenth
year. Much of the book is about Billy Connolly the celebrity but the account of
his early years provides a context for his humour and point of view. A
follow-up, Bravemouth, was published in 2003.
Connolly himself is credited as writing several books, including Billy
Connolly (late 1970s) and Gullible's Travels (early 1980s), both
based upon his stage act, as well as books based upon some of his "World Tour"
television series. Connolly, however, has stated that his comedy does not work
on the printed page.
In October 2004, the comedian was criticised for making jokes about the
hostage Kenneth Bigley. Shortly after Connolly joked about the future beheading
of the hostage, Bigley was beheaded in Iraq.
However, despite the bad press, in January 2005, he came 8th in The
Comedian's Comedian, a poll voted for by fellow comedians and comedy insider
and embarked on a major U.K Tour with an impressive 15 sold-out nights in
Billy Connolly was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University
of Glasgow on July 11, 2002. This particularly bemused his wife, who noted that
she had studied for six years to obtain her Ph.D., whereas Billy merely had to
turn up and collect his. 2003 saw him presented with a BAFTA Lifetime
Achievement award and a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
- Billy, Pamela Stephenson, Harper Collins, 2001. ISBN 0-000-711045-6
- Bravemouth, Pamela Stephenson, Headline, 2003.
- The Aristocrats, 2005
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004
- The Last Samurai, 2003
- Timeline, 2003
- Gabriel and Me 2001
- An Everlasting Piece, 2001
- The Man Who Sued God, 2001
- The Boondock Saints, 1999
- Still Crazy, 1998
- Beverly Hills Ninja, 1997
- Mrs. Brown, 1997
- Muppet Treasure Island, 1996
- Down Amongst the Big Boys, 1995
- Pocahontas, 1995
- Indecent Proposal, 1993
- The Big Man, 1991
- Crossing the Line, 1991
- The Return of the Musketeers, 1989
- Water, 1985
- Blue Money, 1984
- Bullshot, 1983
- The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, 1982
- Billy Connolly Bites Yer Bum! 1981
- Absolution, 1981
- The Elephant's Graveyard, 1976
- Big Banana Feet, 1976
- Just Another Saturday, 1975
- Third Rock From The Sun, Season five guest star
- Columbo - two appearances
- Pearl, guest star
- Billy, 1992 sitcom
- Head of the Class, 1990 Season
- The Kenny Everett Television Show (guest star)
- Not The Nine O'Clock News (guest appearance)
- Parkinson (repeated appearances as chat show guest)
- An Audience with Billy Connolly
- Deacon Brodie (drama) (1997)
- Gentlemen's Relish (comedy-drama)
- A Scot in the Arctic
- Billy Connolly's World Tour of Scotland
- Billy Connolly's World Tour of Australia
- Billy Connolly's World Tour of England, Ireland and Wales
- Billy Connolly's World Tour of New Zealand