WITH millions of fans around the globe and a comedy CV that spans five decades, everyone knows “the Big Yin” is funny.
And now it turns out that Billy Connolly is also influential – in fact, the most influential British stand-up comedian of all time, according to a survey of fellow comics and the wider public.
Out-ranking the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Victoria Wood and Peter Cook, the Glaswegian was nominated by comedians Jason Manford and Jack Dee for the survey, which also saw Robin Williams named top international comic, narrowly beating Spike Milligan.
Twenty-six per cent of the 2,000 people who took part voted for Connolly, who was praised for his “free use of language and unorthodox topics” by the TV channel Dave, which commissioned the poll.
Susan Morrison of the Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh said: “I’m very old, so I remember when the LPs came out and we heard for the very first time a Scots accent doing stand-up comedy.
“Every Glaswegian likes to think they’re Billy Connolly, but he has taken it to another level. He is an incredibly and naturally funny guy, engaging and warm. He is a defining moment in Scottish culture.
“I think he is the funniest man on the planet, and I’m very proud of him. I’m really chuffed he is number one.”
Younger comedians regularly cite Connolly as a strong influence. Daniel Sloss, a 21-year-old Edinburgh comic, said: “I’m a big fan of Billy Connolly. At the time, he did something new.
“He was one of the first stand-ups telling you a story, but as though it was being told by your mates, not a stand-up comedian.
“He has not influenced me directly, but I imagine he influenced comics who influenced me.
“I think people coming through now have not seen as much of his stuff because there’s more comedians now. Generally I don’t think you can influence an entire thing like comedy, but you can influence people.”
A shortlist of 40 international and UK acts was put to the public vote to mark the launch next month of a comedy festival in Leicester.
Steve North, channel head of Dave, said: British stand-up is up there with the best in the world and this is reflected by the fact that audiences for live comedy are at an all-time high.
“It is great to see trailblazing stand-ups such as Connolly and Robin Williams get the respect they deserve.
“Both Connolly and Williams have consistently pushed the comedy envelope and while they may have over 40 years of experience between them, they are still the funniest men on the planet.” But Tommy Sheppard, who runs the Stand in Edinburgh, suggested the list was as much about people’s awareness of comedians as the influence they wield.
He said: “A lot of people have made an influence on comedy. You can’t take away from what he did, but probably the survey is just a test of people’s awareness of comedian names.
“Billy Connolly remains a great comedian, in spite of that survey almost.”