Billy Connolly: My Absolute Pleasure, review – A defiantly upbeat catch-up with the great comic in Florida

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  • Billy Connolly
    Billy Connolly
    Scottish actor and comedian
Billy Connolly in the Florida Keys (ITV)
Billy Connolly in the Florida Keys (ITV)

Going into Billy Connolly: My Absolute Pleasure, you might have reasonably expected an all too sombre affair. The revered Scottish comedian announced three years ago that he was giving up stand-up due to Parkinson’s disease; his retirement and half-century-long career were celebrated in the 2020 ITV documentary It’s Been a Pleasure. But this year’s follow-up is defiantly upbeat.

Roughly half the hour-long programme is made up footage of Connolly in his new home in the Florida Keys. We see his daily routine, the way he is looked after by his neighbours and family; it’s clear he is living well out in the Sunshine State. Connolly speaks a little slower than he once did, a little softer, but he’s still as droll and genial as ever. Partway through the episode, we are given a behind-the-scenes look at Connolly’s recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show (via video chat) – a tangent that seems quite pointless and dull, until Connolly hangs up and addresses the documentary camera in a moment of quiet, revealing candour. “It’s good to still be Billy Connolly,” he says, having briefly re-entered the world of showbusiness. “Because here, I’m somebody else.”

The other half of Absolute Pleasure comprises clips of Connolly in his pomp, performing stand-up. What saves this from being a run-of-the-mill clip show is both the quality of the jokes and the diversity. Cropped from a number of filmed gigs across Connolly’s life (evidenced by the comic’s ever-mutating facial hair), the stand-up segments really give some idea of the sheer breadth of his comedy career. There’s something discombobulating about seeing a young Connolly – rowdy, forceful, energetic – juxtaposed with his current self; in the differences and similarities we can discern eternal truths, both sad and comforting.

For much of the special, Connolly does not mention his health struggles. When he does, at the end, it is with a stubborn levity. Though he admits that Parkinson’s has “taken a lot from me” – favourite pastimes such as playing the banjo and yodelling – he remains committed to facing the disease with a “Glasgow attitude” (“Oh, you think you’ve got me beat? Try this for size!”).

My Absolute Pleasure may be too slight to really distinguish itself as a documentary. Connolly’s life in Florida is not the stuff of compelling television. But nor should it be. For fans of the comedian, this special will surely be a quite heartening catch-up, a chance to spend a bit more time with Connolly in his twilight years, while looking back on what made him such a sharp, distinctive comic voice in the first place. There’s plenty of pleasure to go around.

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