10 comedians reveal how Billy Connolly influenced their work

Billy Connolly in 2002. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
Billy Connolly in 2002. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
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Billy Connolly, the Glasgow-born comedian loved the world over, celebrates his 75th birthday this year. The Big Yin has already been the subject of two recent documentaries on ITV and BBC to mark the occasion. Now a mixture of experienced and up-and-coming comics have revealed how Connolly influenced their own work.

‘He appeals to all generations’ Fred MacAulay

Billy Connolly at his exhibition "Art Of Billy Connolly". Picture: Ian Watson

Billy Connolly at his exhibition "Art Of Billy Connolly". Picture: Ian Watson

“I think, for me, what makes Billy one of the all-time greats is the combination of longevity and the amount of material he has generated in his career. And for someone like me – now catching up with him in age – the fact that he still appeals to all generations is remarkable.”

Fred MacAulay is performing his show In Conversation at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘He makes the audience relate to him’ Bec Hill

“A lot of good comedians relate to their audience – they make common observations and talk about topical events. What sets Billy Connolly apart from everyone else is that he makes the audience relate to him.

“I remember watching his TV specials growing up. As a 12 year old Australian girl, I was nearly the opposite of Billy Connolly, and yet I loved watching him tell tales about his life. My Grandma hates swearing, and yet I remember catching her giggling at him. Now, you’ve got to be the best to be able to pull that off.”

Bec Hill is performing her show Out of Order at the Edinburgh Fringe

READ MORE: Billy Connolly: ‘Illness has robbed me of the things I love most’

‘Ultimately he wants to make you happy’ Janey Godley

“Back when comics were doing jokes about their mother-in-law he was holding a mirror up to society, making them look at themselves and laugh at that.

“He is a great comic because ultimately he wants you to be happy.”

Janey Godley is performing her show For Godley’s Sake at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘The finest observational comic on the planet’ André Vincent

“I think the word ‘genius’ is liberally used in comedy, but it goes hand in hand with this man. His ability to find the peculiar in the mundane simply makes him the finest observational comic on the planet.

“He crafted a new style of comedy in the UK, at the time we were used to people just telling jokes, a set-up and a punchline. In the decade of ‘pub’ jokes his brash, blunt honest humour crafted him into the force that he is today.”

Read about comedy history at Andre Vincent’s site mislaidcomedyheroes.com

‘A working class guy who transcends all class’ Shazia Mirza

“Only a special, unique comedian can universally travel so far and wide and for so long. Everyone likes Billy Connolly; old ladies, young people, old men, women, Whoopi Goldberg.

“He can swear all day and night and people still like him. He is funny, political, totally original, a storyteller, a truth teller and a working class guy who transcends all class, who speaks to everyone and makes them able to relate to him.”

Shazia Mirza is performing her show With Love from St Tropez at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘Being called the Big Yin the best compliment I ever had’ Michael Redmond

“Although our styles are very different, Billy Connolly was, and still is, a huge influence on me. When I was growing up in Dublin, the only type of comedian I was familiar with were of the traditional type. Then I saw Billy performing a routine on television and thought: ‘Wow! I wish I could do that.’

“I have admired him enormously over the years, but for one reason or other, I only saw him live for the first time ever this year in Dublin. He is in his mid-70s and remains a giant comedy icon to so many.

“I have lived in Glasgow for 19 years and someone at a gig I was doing recently called me ‘Big Yin’. Best compliment I’ve ever had.”

Michael Redmond is performing his show I Wrote a Joke in 1987 at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘That guy in the pub who makes you all laugh’ Ray Bradshaw

“The moment I found out Billy Connolly’s first punchline on TV was about parking a bike in someone’s bum I knew I’d found someone hilarious. When I found out I’d grown up a mile from the shipyards he used to joke about, I felt a strange sense of pride.

“Billy Connolly is that guy in the pub who makes you all laugh and you’re not really sure why, the guy that every Glaswegian can relate to.”

Ray Bradshaw is performing his show Deaf Comedy Fam at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘He could read out a recipe book and people would fall about’ Ayesha Hazarika

“Billy Connolly is the embodiment of Glasgow humour. Dry, dark, self-deprecating, cynical, honest and madly funny.

“I love his voice. He could read out a recipe and people would fall about.

“My favourite moment has to be his jojoba shampoo routine. I burst out laughing just thinking about it.”

Ayesha Hazarika is performing her show State of the Nation at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘Everything a comedian should aspire to be’ Mark Nelson

“If you are a stand-up comedian then you are influenced by Billy Connolly. It’s that simple.

“He is essentially everything a comedian should aspire to be.”

Mark Nelson is performing his show Irreverence at the Edinburgh Fringe

‘He invented a genre and then mastered it unlike any other’ Scott Agnew

“He invented a genre and then mastered it unlike any other.

“There’s the straightforward laugh-out-loud storytelling, the physicality, the joke telling and the surrealism.

“And then he can mix the whole lot together, holding audiences rapt – dropping the thread, leaving it for 30-40 minutes and going off on a tangent before coming back to it and blowing the room away with a punchline you never saw coming.”

Scott Agnew is performing his show Spunk On Our Lady’s Face at the Edinburgh Fringe

Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

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