As Spiritualists we accept that we own our deeds. We believe that our sins belong to us and actually help us to develop spiritually. We also own the experiences that form our characters and make us what we are. What we do with our lives, the product that is the result, belongs to us. By their fruits shall you know them, so the Bible says; St. Mathew Ch.12 V.33 ‘The tree is known by his fruit’. The enigmatic comic genius that is Billy Connolly presents his fruit, nuts and all, via an idiosyncratic, highly original interpretation of life to audiences around the world. His internationally broadcast television programmes, such as ‘Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Australia’ etc. have been viewed by tens if not hundreds of millions of people. So the man is doing something right and that something, in my opinion, is a lot more important than just making people laugh. Billy Connolly makes people think and he does so by expressing, in highly exaggerated, outlandish language many of humanities innermost foibles and fears. The innocent honesty with which Billy exposes his own self, both physically and emotionally, enables his audiences to relate to a sometimes terrible truth and it is that truth which sets them free to laugh out loud at its obvious absurdity. When we laugh at fear, any fear, it loses its power over us. I believe that Billy enables us to do just that.
A cursory glance at Billy Connolly working on stage in front of an audience would likely give one an initial impression of a long haired, wild-eyed, belligerent, intimidating, aggressive, verbally abusive, Glasgow/Scottish ‘See-You-Jimmy’ buffoon. If that were truly it then he would never have succeeded and won over the entire English speaking world and half the rest too. The foul-mouthed expletives used by Billy Connolly in his work as a comedian would, in other circumstances, offend many people. Yet the man has a way of making even offensive language laughable. I had often wondered what made the man capable of doing this. I found the answer in ‘Billy: The Complete Life Story Of A Comic Genius’ by Pamela Stephenson, his wife.
Pamela Stephenson holds a Ph.D in Psychology, though she is probably best known as the beautiful blonde comedienne in the long running television series ‘Not The Nine O’ Clock News’ in which she starred alongside the likes of Griff Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith. Her book about Billy Connolly reveals a dark and insecure side to his life that has undoubtedly molded the man in a truly mysterious and, in my opinion, magnificent way. Read the book and you will see why I believe that one has to admire his indefatigable determination to overcome the kind of start to life that would have broken most people’s will to live never mind to seek international success.
Born in a Glasgow slum tenement, where the entire family had to wash in the kitchen sink, Billy experienced real deprivation, hardship, physical and sexual abuse as a child. His mother was an alcoholic given to bouts of violence and his father, who shared a bed with Billy, would frequently interfere with him. Eventually things became so bad Billy was sent to live with two of his aunts who beat him without mercy for any minor or even imagined misdemeanor. Amazingly Billy coped with all this and did so by disassociating himself from what was happening. That is his mind switched its perception from subjective to objective viewing the abuse as though it were happening to someone else. He survived, but the mental scars remain and can occasionally be seen as Billly Connolly bares his soul, consciously and unconsciously, before audiences around the world.
The horrendous childhood Billy suffered has, I believe, given him the ability to observe and articulate humour in even the most difficult subjects. He brings a kind of sub-conscious release valve to the unspoken terrors of today. I think of his hilarious account of having a rectal examination of his prostate gland, in which Billy described in minute and excruciatingly embarrassing detail how he had to bend over whilst someone he had never met before inserted a rubber gloved hand into his rear end. ‘What a way to make a first acquaintance’. Then he explains how he was caught masturbating and attempted to explain that a spider had jumped on his willy and he was swatting it off. Pamela Stephenson, who has likely seen more of Billy on stage than anyone else, comments in her book that she has wondered if some invisible demons are whispering in his ear as he prances about the stage spouting inspired, unrehearsed, yet meaningful meanderings.
It is Billy’s gift to make us all smile at even the little odd things in life that is one of his main attributes. Which brings to mind his television series ‘Billy Conolloy’s World Tour Of Scotland’. In this he was again seen doing what he appears to enjoy doing a lot, that is either playing with or exhibiting his willy. In that series he confidently whipped off his kit and danced starkers round a group of standing stones on some remote Scottish island. Now, from what I have seen Billy’s willy is not anything to write home about, one would not be struck dumb at its appearance, which seems fairly normal to me and I should know having been a nurse for many years. But when his willy makes an appearance people smile. Now that is, in my humble opinion, an amazing achievement.
Throughout his early adult life Billy Connolly was a drunk. Today he is sober, but for many years he suffered from a form of alcoholism. That is he could survive without drink but chose not to do so, he simply enjoyed being a crazy, out of control, drunken, brawling, outrageous, Oliver Reed type individual. Eventually Billy realized that if he continued to drink he would lose his new wife Pamela, also his children and ruin any chance he had of long lasting happiness. So he quit. Anyone who has ever been hooked on the booze knows that takes some doing but Billy did it and his career continued on from success on television to even bigger things in Hollywood and many movies including the voice of Billy Bones in ‘The Muppets: Treasure Island’ which is among my own very favourite films of all time.
As I said we own our sins and our characters are molded by the experiences we encounter in life. To understand why I believe Billy Connolly to be a truly inspiring spiritual being who has broken the mold you should read Pamela Stephenson’s book: BILLY: The Complete Life Story Of A Comic Genius. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN 0 00 7110928