Crowd angered by Connolly's 'get on with it' hostage joke

Key points

• One joke too far for Billy Connolly?

• Comedian makes gag over hostage Ken Bigley's plight

Key quote

"Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this ... aren’t you the same as me, don’t you wish they would just get on with it ?" - Billy Connolly - saying what he shouldn't

Story in full BILLY Connolly has carved a career out of his outrageous sense of humour, but the Scottish stand-up comic appears to have made a joke too far after touching on the plight of British hostage Kenneth Bigley in Iraq.

The 61-year-old comedian told a London audience during an on-stage live performance that he wished Mr Bigley’s captors, who have threatened to behead the British engineer as they have two Americans, would "get on with it".

The joke, made during a show on Monday night, was met with jeers from the audience at the Carling Apollo, Hammersmith. One man shouted: "You’re talking about a man’s life, Billy." Connolly apparently responded with a four-letter expletive.

During his routine, Connolly also touched on the subject of Bigley’s Thai wife, Sombat, remarking that she was far younger than her husband. Paul Bigley, who has been campaigning for his brother’s release, said that he was not a fan of the Scottish comedian’s material.

He said: "He’s a very charming chap. I’m not commenting. He’s not my type. Each to their own - if that’s what turns him on. I don’t like his humour anyway. If you want to be entertained by a person of that calibre, by all means go and queue up in the rain.

"That’s my comment; that’s all I’m going to say."

Connolly was also condemned by Bashir Maan, the Scottish representative of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said that at a time when people were doing all they could to secure Mr Bigley’s release the remark was "terrible".

He said: "That’s in rather terrible taste, especially when in their own way everyone is doing their bit to help ensure that Ken Bigley comes back safe and well. Across the country people are hoping and praying that he comes back alive, and I would expect people to behave with a bit more consideration and compassion.

"This is not a situation that is light-hearted in any way. I myself recently wrote to a newspaper that in the worst-case scenario if Mr Bigley does not come back alive it will be the fault of Mr Blair for blindly following Mr Bush, and even that upset some people. This comedian has gone too far by trying to make a joke out of a tough situation. The hostage images are difficult for Mr Bigley’s family, so this sort of thing does not help."

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Tawhid and Jihad fundamentalist group snatched Mr Bigley, 62, and his two American colleagues in Baghdad on 16 September.

The Americans have been beheaded and the British engineer has been seen pleading for his life on video footage released by his captors, with the British government insisting that it will not negotiate with terrorists.

The images of hostages being beheaded or pleading for their lives have provided some of the most harrowing of the entire conflict in Iraq.

Recent media reports in Kuwait claimed that the fundamentalist group were considering selling Mr Bigley to another militant group, who would demand a cash ransom. The more moderate terrorists are thought to be the same group that released two Italian prisoners last week.

Connolly is reported to have told the audience that he wished the captors would get on with the execution of Mr Bigley.

During his show, Connolly was reported to have told the audience: "Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this ... aren’t you the same as me, don’t you wish they would just get on with it ?"

He went on to crack a joke about Mr Bigley’s Thai wife, Sombat: "What is it with him and that young Asian wife?"

At the head office of the Muslim Council of Britain in London, which sent a delegation to Iraq to call for Mr Bigley’s release, there was also indignation at the remarks.

Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman, said: "I can imagine people getting upset about that kind of humour.

"This is the time when everyone needs to be showing solidarity with Ken Bigley’s family, to work for his release. The jokes can wait. When it comes to Ken Bigley we need to get the man free."

Connolly’s management declined to comment on the incident. The joke about Mr Bigley is not the first time that Billy Connolly has sailed close to the wind with his choice of sensitive subjects.

In 2001, the Scots comedian went into territory few would have thought accessible less than a month after the events of 11 September. During an appearance on Parkinson he said: "Imagine being the first Afghan to be killed, hit on the head by a food parcel. What are we going to do next - drop a huge Liquorice Allsort over the whole of Afghanistan?"

At the time the audience laughed at his attempt to make light of the scenario. This time the joke appears to have rebounded on the Big Yin.

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