First published in The Times, Tuesday October 15 2019
There is a moment early in this silver-screen tribute to Billy Connolly in which he reveals, with a certain amount of bemusement, that his most famous comedy routines are to be published in a forthcoming book. “It doesn’t make sense,” he says. “They don’t have a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes the punch line comes at the beginning.”
In its own modest way, The Sex Life of Bandages also defies convention. The bulk of the two-hour film is an unvarnished recording of a performance at the Sydney Opera House as part of the legendary Glaswegian comedian’s last-ever tour. It is prefaced by a leisurely interview, filmed in loving close-up, in which Connolly muses on everything from the origins and roots of his career, success and recognition, his love of stand-up, sex and swearing.
Pic: JAIMIE GRAMSTON
There is a deep poignancy to this opening section of the film. The great man has Parkinson’s disease, and now moves and speaks with scrupulous care. True to form, he is frank about his condition. “Drooling has taken over my life,” he says. “It’s so unattractive.” As he reaffirms here, no subject, however provocative, is off-limits for Connolly. Recalling one controversial routine, in which he imagines Adolf Hitler alive and plotting a comeback to a mantra of “no more Mister Nice Guy”, the comedian’s face shines with merriment.
He is just as upfront about the various ailments and indignities that accompany the ageing process in the stand-up section. The routine is scattered with references to invasive medical procedures and haunted by a vision of decrepit old age, living in an old folks’ home and “being fed out of a blender”. Billy’s physical dynamism may have dissipated, but the voice still booms forth, and his talent for patient, meandering storytelling, grounded in reality but improvised, embellished and full of digression, remains unrivalled.
Watching a stand-up gig in a cinema is a slightly odd experience. The laughter in the room is a little polite and restrained, eventually giving way to belly laughs. The material is as rich and dense as ever, from the apocryphal tale of the cat run over by the props man from the film Rob Roy, to the painstaking, dizzying recreation of a flight in a tiny aeroplane over Mozambique, which the comedian endured while filming for Comic Relief.