Billy Connolly received homophobic abuse as a young man but he responded by going into comedy

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
4 Min Read

Scottish comedy legend Billy Connolly has shared how the homophobic remarks he faced during his time as a shipyard apprentice fueled his journey into comedy. The iconic comedian delved into his past experiences in a recent interview for the BBC Scotland series “Billy and Us.”

Connolly recounted the challenges he faced as a young apprentice in the shipyard. He described how his distinctive dress sense, featuring beads and long hair, triggered relentless mockery. Despite the relentless “gay” jeers, Connolly reflected, “Without the shipyards, I would never have been a comedian. The shipyard was where I discovered humour in the world of the heavy industry-dwelling male and where I learned to cheer for the wee man, the underdog, the little guy.”

He attributed his ability to connect with the ordinary folk to the shipyard experience. Connolly observed that TV comedians paled in comparison to the genuine, unfiltered humour of his co-workers.

Connolly’s shipyard days shaped his humour

Connolly’s flamboyant and androgynous costumes, characterized by stars, stripes, and even a shiny satiny body suit with a diamond on his crotch, were, in his words, “great dressing up.” He explained, “I wanted to dress so they knew I’m the attraction.”

A young Billy honed his comedy style at the Shipyards.

Recounting his evolution into this eccentric wardrobe, Connolly noted, “I came upon weird costumes by mistake“. His journey through lounge bars across Britain saw him transform from jeans and denim shirts to flamboyant and attention-grabbing outfits, influenced by the glam rock era and the iconic David Bowie.

Among Billy Connolly’s unforgettable outfits were the big banana boots and the Pope’s robes. The former, inspired by John Byrne’s drawings for the Great Northern Welly Boot Show, proved uncomfortable.

“They were uncomfortable as when I pulled the leotard on I wore with them, all the hair on my legs went in a different direction, so I had to find a way with a knitting needle to put them back down again. I also had a suit that I liked with a pair of scissors on the front. The blades went down my legs and the nut holding them together was on my crotch.

“It was impossible to wear as the silver thread was like wire brush. I couldn’t wear it for more than three seconds.”

That infamous pope costume

As for the infamous Pope outfit, Connolly revealed it was a complete accident. Discovered backstage at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, he wore it on a whim, claiming, “I thought I looked like the Pope“. The visual of him peeing in the sink with the Pope outfit and a cigarette in his mouth became an iconic image.

Billy’s fashion often resulted in gay jokes.

Connolly emerged from the shipyard’s crucible of adversity with a unique comic perspective. He reflected on the shipyard, stating, “If they found a weakness or a difference in you, they would go for that. The shipyard was good for that. You didn’t mind, though as having a nickname made you one of the boys.”

This revelation not only sheds light on the roots of Connolly’s comedic genius but also challenges societal norms. It reminds us that the laughter born from adversity can be a powerful force for unity.

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