Stand-up comic Billy Connolly has been entertaining live audiences for more than 30 years, and while he's achieved superstar status in his homeland and in other parts of the world, he is relatively unknown in America.
Philadelphians, however, knew enough about him that the Scottish comedian quickly sold out three shows at the intimate Painted Bride Arts Center over the weekend. Connolly was signed for a fourth night, and he kept the audience at Sunday night's encore in stitches for more than two hours with his brilliant, and often off-color, monologues.
Connolly's humor comes from many sources from current events to personal experiences to everyday things that we all know about but don't necessarily see the humor in. He went on about politics, age, family situations and a few other topics that probably weren't quite politically correct.
To that end, he even poked fun at political correctness, using as an example a "personhole cover."
"It's a manhole cover," he insisted. "It's a cover for a hole that a man who works for the sewage company crawls into to work. And that man is up to his waist in (sludge) while he's down there working. When a woman wants to do that job, she can call the cover anything she wants."
Connolly is not for everybody he liberally sprinkles his monologues with profanity but he seems to appeal to a broad audience. Sunday's crowd ranged from groups of 20-somethings to middle-aged couples and was equally mixed with men and women.
"I'm a vulgarian," he said. "They call me, 'The foul-mouthed Connolly.' "
Connolly actually began his performing career as a folk musician. After playing with several bands, he formed the Humblebums with guitarist Tam Harvey in 1965. The duo became a trio when a young songwriter, Gerry Rafferty, was invited to join the band.
The Humblebums released several successful records in the United Kingdom, but friction eventually began to develop between Rafferty, who was quite serious about the music, and Connolly, who used to do comedy routines between songs during their shows. The band broke up in 1971, and Rafferty went on to make hit records with Steelers Wheel (Stuck in the Middle With You) and as a solo artist (Baker Street).
Meanwhile, Connolly pursued a stand-up career and achieved superstar status in the U.K. by the 1980s. He also was successful as an actor on the stage, screen and in television. During the same decade, he made appearances on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman.
American audiences might remember him as the actor who replaced Howard Hesseman in Head of the Class and for his own short-lived sitcom, Billy, which had a 13-week run on ABC in 1992. He also had a cameo role in the 1992 film Indecent Proposal.
Now married to an American, Pamela Stephenson, Connolly is familiar with American ways and American politics, and he began the performance by talking about the presidential election.
"I keep reading that Americans are embarrassed about the election," he said. "Don't be embarrassed that it's taking so long because when it's all over, you'll still have one of those two (bleeps) to deal with."
Some of Connolly's humor is visual like the hilarious routine in which he demonstrates the various ways that people walk when they are drunk and a lot of it is universal, particularly the bit about large families living in a crowded house with just one bathroom.
"Ever notice how people forget who they are when they're interrupted in the bathroom?" he asked. "If somebody starts to open the door, it's always, 'Somebody's in here!' Why can't they just say, 'It's me. Billy.' "
Connolly really enjoys his job and definitely feeds off of his audience. He has been playing to packed halls all over the world for years, yet he gave a command performance in a small venue for his Philadelphia fans. In the past, this town has given a boost to unknown artists who have gone on to greater things, most notably Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before the rest of America discovers Billy Connolly.
Visit Billy Connolly's Web site.