Two years ago Marisa and I sat in The Old Town Tavern patching up a particularly nasty argument that could only be resolved over drinks. At one point Marisa looked up and nodded down the bar “Hey look, isn’t that guy that comedian you love?” I looked around and standing a few feet away was Billy Connolly, chatting away to the locals looking everything I would expect him too. My favorite comedian of all time. The man I idolized as a child ever since finding a cassette tape of his album, “A Pick of Billy Connolly,” at home in an old suitcase. It was filled with wild stories and songs of his upbringing in Glasgow–terrifying hilarity that you could sing along with. Football violence, divorce and people shitting in your shoes. Everything a 10-year-old boy would love!
“You should go over and say hello. Tell him your a comedian too.” Marisa said.
“Nah, he looks busy”
“Go over and say hello or you will always regret it.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was riveted to the spot. What would I say? What I would I do? It’s Billy Connolly! He left soon after and Marisa repeated that fact that I would regret not saying hello to him. I did. I promised that if I ever met him again I would approach him, or anyone else I admired.
Today I was standing in the open air market at Union Square completely bewildered and confused by the whole frantic lunacy called Christmas shopping. The snow fell steady and straight, for the first time in my life I hated the stuff. Why? Just why? So many people. I couldn’t even get to the counter to buy anything. Who was I buying for again? What was I buying? Will I rely on the new and improved “I’ll know it when I see it” system this year or the alternate but still reliable “I’ll buy stuff I like and then later work out who gets what at home” system.
I seen a man walking toward me. I recognized him but who was he? He looked familiar, like a family relation I had not seen in a while or something. Then it dawned on me. It’s Billy Connolly! As he walked past I knew I had to say something.
“Excuse me, but are you Billy Connolly?”
“Aye” he said smiling.
“My name is Colin, I’m a huge fan”
I told him I was an Irish comic living in New York. I also explained what had happened two years earlier at The Old Town Tavern two blocks north of Union Square. He thought this was very funny.
“You should have just come over” he said laughing.
I told him how I promised my girlfriend that if I ever seen him again I would walk up and say hello, which is exactly what I was doing. He was more than happy to stop and chat and we did so for over ten minutes. I was so nervous my knees were knocking together. All around us people pushed by with their shopping, stressed, cold, panicked, I couldn’t have been happier.
I told him how I started out doing music just like he did and drifted into comedy. I told him about sometimes I return from the city after a bad show, confused, depressed and drained of confidence I always look at what I consider one of the funniest routines ever “Old Women On A Bus” to remind myself why I’m doing what I do. He laughed and said he was actually bringing it back into his act.
“Do you perform much in New York?”
“I’m performing here in April I believe”
“I’ll go and see it for sure” I said explaining how I never actually seen him perform live.
“How are things working out for you?” He said.
I told him how I was moving from jokes to stories and how it doesn’t always work. I grew up in North Dublin surrounded by very colorful characters and wanted to talk more about that instead of “jokes.”
“Well that’s all I do” he said, “I just talk about funny stuff that’s happened to me, the stuff that makes me laugh”.
“I get less laughs with the long stories but I enjoy performing a lot more when I do them” I said.
“I always find doing the stuff you do for yourself, is always best”.
That said it all for me, just to hear him say that.
I spoke about how I’m not a natural extrovert so pre-show nerves can get pretty bad.
“Oh I get worse as I get older!” he said enthusiastically
Then using his hand to form a graph in the air he said, “When I started off it was bad, then it got better in the middle for years, but now, it’s like this” and he raised his hand high up in the air to indicate it being worse than ever before.
Most of it was a blur to be honest. I shook his hand and told him it was great to meet him at last. I wished him the best with his Christmas shopping. He wished me the best of luck with my comedy. I turned to walk away and he suddenly decided there was something else he wanted to say.
“There aren’t enough comedians in the world. There are too many Policeman, and Fireman, and Lawyers” and then he laughed “…and Priests!”
I agreed and we went our separate ways. I walked to 34th street and took the subway home very happy I had made the effort the second time around.
Very well done, sir! Your story inspires me. The very next time Prince sits on my lap to play a guitar solo, I promise I will say something to him 🙂
warms the cockles of my heart, it does!
Saturday was a very good day indeed! The only person left now is Neil Finn and I can die a happy man.
i love this story!good for you, Colin. you know, ol' Billy was right. always remember, you are doing better than the other 93% of the people out there whose backbone has no creative life!
Thanks Sophia, great hanging with you last night. I'm sorry I drank all the wine!
It's a good story. It shows how opportunities re-generate when you put yourself in a position: you stayed in New York (whether legally or not), and you have kept at your passions. Connolly's "last words" ring true. And of course, the setting is amazing (that all this conversation took place among a horde of holiday shoppers in the snow). It's a good scene and I'm thankful you've shared it. Merry Christmas.
Wonderful, wonderful story!
Thanks MPH – I'm glad you liked it.