Going out reviews: Billy Connolly – ‘you’re only cheering as I’m not dead yet’

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Cancer-struck comedian Billy Connolly is playing live at Hammersmith Apollo
Overcoming the odds Multi-sphinctered comedian Billy Connolly is on top form at his London residency despite being hit by Parkinson's Disease and cancer. Image Picture Luke MacGregor/WPA Pool/Getty Images

BILLY CONNOLLY
COMEDY
HAMMERSMITH APOLLO, LONDON
JANUARY 9 2016
9/10

“I know you’re only cheering because I’m not dead yet.” So Billy Connolly marks the standing ovation that greets his entrance at the umpteenth residency at his favourite London stand-up venue.

That Connolly is able to still do any kind of stand-up after his battles against Parkinson’s Disease and cancer is remarkable. The fact his latest show is his finest in 20 years is frankly astonishing.

He mostly has to remain stood still now, no longer able to roam a stage. But in every other respect, Connolly’s light remains undimmed. The timing of his conversational flow is impeccable, and inevitably his illnesses make for some of the best material of his career.

“I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease and I wish he’d kept it to his fucking self,” he barks, before admitting he can no longer ejaculate during orgasm: “No-one sleeps in the wet patch in our house.” He goes on to describe in eye-watering detail how cancer surgeons had to operate on his genitals, including the revelation that he had a problem with one of his five sphincters. “I know – five. Turns out we need them all to keep our bum closed up, otherwise you’d flood the house every time you had a bath.”

Billy Connolly at the start of his career
50 not out Billy Connolly's new shows mark the 50th anniversary of his career.

But it’s not just the macabre that dominates a staggering two-hour show. Whereas shows in the previous decade relied too heavily on his showbiz connections, Connolly has reignited his unbeatable eye for the small details.

Everything from white bread to youth hostels fall under his hypnotic delivery. He’s known for being acerbic – he snaps “Stop talking!” at a fan over-eager to affirm how much the audience loves him. But it’s ultimately a delight for life’s absurdities that sets Connolly apart.

Two routines, about a dead cat and the Wankia music of Peru, are old. But they fit just fine in Connolly’s babbling brook diversions and there’s more than enough in the remaining material that’s fresher than just about any other comedian you can name.

After a finale about sexy bandages, he’s off. This time, it’s the sheer joy of Connolly’s comedy that earns him another standing ovation. Peerless.

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