Billy Connolly burst into tears on stage as performance too close to childhood abuse

Billy Connolly reveals he can’t yodel anymore due to Parkinson's

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Channel 5 show ‘Billy Connolly: In His Own Words’ is a profile of the beloved comedian, which draws on archive interviews, television appearances and Billy’s stand up over a five-decade career. Billy was abandoned by his mother when he was just four years old and adopted by his father’s two sisters Margaret and Mona Connolly in their cramped tenement in Glasgow. There, he faced verbal and physical abuse which still affected him well into adulthood.

In the Seventies, Billy went from working as an apprentice welder in the Clydeside shipyards to becoming a nationally renowned comedian. 

In the subsequent decades, he’s become a much-loved national treasure, while his work is admired across the world.

Billy would regularly draw from moments of hurt from his childhood and turn them into laughter onstage.  

Yet when appearing on Parkinson in the Eighties, he told the iconic chat show host that he once “burst into tears” while telling a joke in which he is getting chastised by his father.

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He said: “I did a thing about my father taking my picture at the seaside.

“I could never work the camera. I could never see him in it. It was one of those box jobs.

“And he said: ‘For God’s sake, look in it properly’ and I’d look and go ‘Christ’ ‒ I could only see myself looking back. 

“He would be with my sister and he’d go, ‘wait here’, and he’d go up and wack me, [and say] ‘now take the bloody picture’.

“And I would cry. I would explain to the audience that I did the yodelling crying”.

The comic then imitated his childhood self wildly crying, to fits of laughter from the Parkinson audience.

He then admitted: “Well, I was doing [that joke] one night and I burst into tears.

“I was too close. I was doing it too well.

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“I had forgotten to step back a wee bit.”

Billy changed the face of comedy in the Seventies by telling long, observational comic stories, rather than the one-liners and traditional joke structures adopted by most British comedians.

His choice of material, delivery and fashion sense all paved the way for the alternative comedy scene.

The programme also explores the comedian’s recovery from alcohol after his wife threatened to leave him.

Billy reveals he found comfort and solace in making people laugh, and that it was a source of escapism from his difficult upbringing.

He said: “I’ve emptied a lot of my personal problems onto the stage because I had a lot of things going on in my head. 

“I used the public as a sort of therapy.

“I just threw it out there and said, ‘Look, I’m really weird, you’ll never believe what happened to me.’”

All these years later, Billy, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since 2013, has come to be renowned as the ‘godfather’ of British comedy.

Watch ‘Billy Connolly: In His Own Words’ on My5.

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