Billy Connolly: 'Being a comedian has always been a bit of a mystery to me'

Book review: Tall Tales and Wee Stories - The Best of Billy Connolly

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'I can always tell stories' says comedian and writer Billy Connolly. Photo: Jamie Gramston.

'I can always tell stories' says comedian and writer Billy Connolly. Photo: Jamie Gramston.

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The Scottish funnyman returns with his new book Tall Tales and Wee Stories which brings together the very best of his storytelling and illustrations.

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If you're into the wry, sometimes sacrilegious, often absurd and outrageous humour of Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly you are going to love his new book Tall Tales and Wee Stories: The Best of Billy Connolly.

The book brings together the very best of Billy's storytelling and includes his famous routines The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting at Wilderbeest.

In December 2018, after 50 years of belly-laugh energy, Billy Connolly, known in his Scottish homeland as "The Big Yin" (The Big One) announced his retirement from live stand-up comedy. He had been battling Parkinson's for some years.

His has been an extraordinary career. When he first started out in the 60s, Billy played Banjo in the folk-clubs of Scotland. Between songs he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he worked.

In the process he made all sorts of discoveries about what audiences found funny from his own brilliant mimes to the power of speaking irreverently about politics or explicitly about sex.

He began to understand the craft of great storytelling and soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer. It wasn't long before he was recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.

But Billy's comedy could be laced with anger too. He hated pretentiousness and called out hypocrisy where ever he saw it. He loved to shock, and his startling appearance gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion.

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on. - Billy Connolly

It was only because he was so likeable that he got it away. Billy had the popular touch. His comedy spanned generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.

Writing in the introduction Billy says: "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.

As you're about to see, my stories usually don't come in a conventional shape. they're kind of lumpy and strange. They might appear to have a beginning, middle and end, but often they don't, it's an illusion.

"They're a merry-go-round of memories, observations, fantasies and ad-libs that somehow fit together and mean something.......They're not story shaped, they're me shaped."

Tall Tales and Wee Stories is an outrageously funny storytelling romp and Australia isn't exempt from Billy wit, like when he's telling the story of a shark attack victim who went to the hospital with the shark head still attached to his leg, his take on a funnel web spider, stingers and blue-ringed octopus and the Australian safari park with lions and tigers and the sign 'ENGLISHMEN ON BICYCLES ADMITTED FREE'.

Billy includes accounts of a swim in the North Sea when he was boy and a visit to his Roman Catholic primary school by a cardinal, his experience with sat nav, bungee jumping naked and how to un-beige yourself.

Interspersed with Billy's own artwork, Tall Tales and Wee Stories is 325 pages of humour which demonstrates his marvellous sense of the absurd. There's a fair bit of profanity so be aware.

Billy's other books are Billy Connolly Tracks Across America, Billy Connolly's Route 66 and Journey to the Edge of the World.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories: The Best of Billy Connolly by Billy Connolly (Hachette) $45 www.hachette.com.au

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