The Scottish comedy legend has admitted that the prospect of going on stage has “scared the life” out of him throughout his career.
Writing in a new book bringing together classic live material, Sir Billy has confessed to feeling “riddled with anxiety and self-doubt every time.”
He tells how he even feared he was mentally ill because he kept forgetting his routines - until he asked a group of Buddhists for advice.
The 76-year-old, who announced his retirement last year from performing live after more than half a century of entertaining audiences, insisted his nerves had forced him to work harder. But Sir Billy, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, admitted finding it difficult to perform in Glasgow - because audiences knew if he was lying or not during his routines.
Sir Billy writes: “Being a comedian has always been a bit of a mystery to me, because I actually very rarely get funny ideas away from the stage.
“I can’t churn out jokes like some people can. I wouldn’t know how. But I can always tell stories.
“And the comedy seems to emerge out of the stories as I tell them. The thought of going out on stage scares the life out of me. It always has. I’m riddled with anxiety and self-doubt every time. What the **** am I going to say to these people?
“But the nerves are good for me, they force me to work harder. And if I didn’t – if I got complacent – then it could fall flat and I’d make an arse of myself. But when it’s good, there’s no better feeling.”
Sir Billy, who worked as a welder in a shipyard on the Clyde after leaving school, recalls in the book how he learned to become a “storyteller” during teabreaks with his work-mates.
He writes: “They could be rough, rude, cruel even, but they were always funny. And there were some brilliantly funny men there, much funnier than me, real patter merchants who couldn’t make a life out of comedy. But I guess I had a banjo and that gave me a ticket out.
“I usually don’t enjoy performing in Glasgow very much, because it’s my hometown, which is really difficult when you’re a comedian because you can’t lie in your hometown.
“It’s essential when you’re a comedian that you lie well, but when you’re performing in your hometown – and especially in Glasgow where they don’t hang back – they know when you’re lying.”