Billy Connolly, Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly was born on 24th November, 1942. His career path has taken him from the shipyards of Glasgow, where he worked as a welder, to life as a folk musician and then onto the stage as a stand-up comedian. He also did a stint in the British Parachute Regiment. He moved to both TV and movies as his star rose to the point whereby he received a CBE from Lizzie Windsor in 2017. He has led a strange life and holds surprising views on numerous topics. This book might just give you some insight into Connolly the man, away from the cameras.
This is not Billy Connolly’s first autobiography. Rebel Voice is always wary of any celebrity who indulges in gratuitous presentations of their own lives. It can indicate either an astonishing arrogance in thinking that anyone is all that interested, or regrettable greed, or both. From reading this particular offering, this site has formed the latter opinion of Billy Connolly.
The contents run thus:
- 1. Childhood & Family
- 2. Scotland & Beyond
- 3. Real Characters
- 4. Accidents & Adventures
- 5. Sex, Drugs & Folk Music
- 6. A Life Worth Living
This is not an in-depth examination of the life of one of Scotland’s foremost comedians. It is, instead, an account of supposedly humorous incidents from that life. Some of what is contained within is based upon, or is part of, Connolly’s various stand-up routines over the years. He has in places written a joke book as opposed to an autobiography.
Life in working class Glasgow was rough. There is little romanticism in poverty. But such circumstances do breed unusual people who in turn create unusual stories. Whether it’s recalling the visit of the local priest and his family’s attempts to hide their poverty from him, or the very funny incident where he and his sister ended up in the bed of another family’s children as the father was so drunk he didn’t know which children were his, Connolly does have some lightly amusing anecdotes to share. Childhood & Family is the best part of the book for Rebel Voice, as it gives some insight into his upbringing and provides the most natural humour. The story degrades somewhat after this.
Scotland & Beyond takes us briefly to various countries he has visited. There’s not a great deal to be enthused about in this section. It comprises mostly of standard jokes and is a big-let down. OK, there are one or two anecdotes, but nothing of any real impact. Bland, very bland.
Real Characters is better. Harkins, the barman who went to work in a morgue, is a good tale well worth the read. He also recounts his relationship with fellow Scot, Gerry Rafferty, with whom he played in a folk band. There is the risque retelling of a sexual encounter he had in a graveyard, one of the few stories that might raise an eyebrow about his personal life, but which should be standard fare for a Billy Connolly autobiography. But again, there are too many fabricated yarns from his comedy routines which do not sit well in a book such as this.
In Accidents & Adventures we again get the stand-up routine. But thankfully there is a smattering of stories from his private life, nothing of great interest or consequence but at least it’s real. He complains a lot in this book. A lot. Connolly has embraced the stereotype of the grumpy old man. He was likely wearing finger-less gloves, when writing it, to match his moth-eaten old cardigan, stopping only to shout out the window at impoverished children for laughing too loudly. His story about spotting a shark when snorkelling is amusing, slightly, and the story about the cat and the lost movie armoury man is a classic, if true.
Sex, Drugs & Folk Music is a decent look at Connolly’s life in his much younger days. The anecdotes are for the most part brief, but enjoyable, especially the one titled, Sex, Drugs and Vomit. It’s easy to see how something like this, or a variation thereof, could have happened. Yet there are also the ubiquitous stand-up stories that have no doubt been relayed a hundred times before, leaving the reader feeling cheated.
The final section, A Life Worth Living, is one big rant. In this Connolly moans about mobile phones, stupid questions, new-agers, Feng shui, computers and the American cinema experience to name but a few. He does address health issues such as his battle with Parkinson’s, which is refreshing, but much of this section seems to be about how many fucks Connolly can get into the text (he complains about people who complain about swearing too).
Overall, this is a piss-poor book. It reads as if Billy Connolly’s agent sat him down and said “Listen, Billy, you’re not getting any younger. You need to try to get as much cash in as possible to fund your lifestyle. Another autobiography would help to fill the coffers and the silly and loyal bastards who like you won’t care that you’re cynically exploiting them. Let’s do this ole pal.” Billy appears to have agreed.
Tall Tales and Wee Stories does not do Billy Connolly any favours. There may be those who thought highly of him prior to reading this book, who will then be tempted to change their opinions. His aggressive rants, littered throughout this book, leave a sour taste in the mouth. Rebel Voice is not a squeamish site. We have no problems with bad language. But Connolly’s use of expletives goes beyond what is funny and steamrolls into the territory of what is cringe-worthy.
This is a series of anecdotal vignettes that have no real structure or pattern. The inclusion of basic jokes makes the whole worse. Was there an editor on this project or did Connolly override all editorial input to get his own way? From the quality of the finished product, it seems as if he chose to listen to no one and pushed on to churn out a mess that resembles little more than a greedy ploy to take money from those who think well of him.
Billy Connolly comes from working class stock. It’s a proud tradition, especially in Glasgow. He’s has Irish ancestry and is an avid Celtic supporter. All of this would lead you to believe that he would be a strong supporter of Scottish independence. Not so. Not only did Connolly take an award from the English monarch, he has also vocally opposed Scottish independence on numerous occasions. He moved to the USA where he lives today. Is he one of those who try their best to forget where they came from? In Connolly’s case, no. But on the evidence of this book and his public utterances and life, it would seem as if he thinks that he’s now better than the place he came from, and is superior to the people he writes about with some (false?) affection. Disappointing.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. There are some comical stories in this book, but mostly it’s a flop. Connolly is not as funny as he used to be and maybe never was. His glorious Scottish accent and theatrical performances work well on stage but do not transfer onto the page. Ultimately, if you think back to Connolly’s routines, and strip away the two aforementioned pluses, you might be saddened to realise that Connolly was not really all that funny at all. He was a different person to that which we were used to on TV and that, apparently, was enough to make us fall about ourselves in questionable mirth whilst Connolly made himself a very rich man.