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comment How silly Billy Connolly can help you escape the suffocating vice-grip of Covid gloom

"Laughter really is the best medicine in times like these," writes Roy Curtis

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Billy Connolly understands the power of comedy and its cathartic abilities

Billy Connolly understands the power of comedy and its cathartic abilities

Nphet should have advised RTÉ to prescribe us nightly doses of the Marx Brothers

Nphet should have advised RTÉ to prescribe us nightly doses of the Marx Brothers

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Billy Connolly understands the power of comedy and its cathartic abilities

The laughter - bone-shaking, hysterical, life-affirming, ceaseless - arrived as if fired from a machine-gun.

It riddled the air, detonation after detonation of uncontrollable chortling and disabling joy, induced by maybe the most accomplished living mass-producer of happiness.

Billy Connolly, anaesthetic against the ache of our stalled lives, philosopher- comedian, Scottish seanachai, the sunshine of his irreverent wisdom so capable of bronzing, moving, and lifting the spirits, rode to my rescue this week.

Like a genie from a bottle, he appeared at the touch of a YouTube screen: And immediately granted a desperate wish to escape the suffocating vice-grip of pandemic doom.

To carry us to a place beyond Covid. To help us forget.

Uniformed like a deckchair on an acid trip, eyes aglow with ten-thousand watts of mischief, his kind, bearded, intelligent face wreathed in conspiratorial gaiety, Connolly carried us to the safehouse of his brilliant mind.

Timeless

A palace of wit where the stupidity of wildebeest, the wearing of incontinence pants to nightclubs and the singing style at drunken Glaswegian house parties comprise the essential affairs of state.

An hour in Connolly's timeless company is like a car-wash for the soul: His stabbing, observational humour washes away the grime of this endless January.

He mends broken places: Billy's anarchic monologues reconnect the bit of us unmoored from the better part of life.

Oh, and that accent: Lilting and hypnotic, its Tartan music - "I've a voice like a goose farting in a fog" - snake-charming the audience into a dance of dissolving, joyful shrieks.

Years ago, three of us saw Connolly live at London's Hammersmith Odeon. We, quite literally, cried with laughter. The narcotic of his delivery was mind- altering. He drugged us with the opium of rollicking poetry.

We melted back into the Thames-side night, sides aching, weight-liberated-from-our-shoulders, reborn.

'The Big Yin' is 78 now, retired from stand-up, grappling with the pernicious, remorseless chokehold in which Parkinson's disease clamps brain and body.

Yet, on last month's powerful TV tribute, Billy Connolly: It's Been a Pleasure, there was no trace of self-pity. He was both accepting - "my illness has rendered me different" - and defiant as he fished and sketched by his Florida home.

When he giggled, the rays of happiness were not only on his face, they inhabited his eyes.

"Why do I like to make people laugh? Because it is a jolly thing, it is good for you and it is good for them."

In times of horror, there is a redemptive alchemy in surrendering to laughter.

There is scientific proof that guffawing and convulsing at a one-liner or submitting to an absurd story is as restorative as a bracing walk on the beach, as effective as a few soothing weekend pints in taking the edge of the day.

Research has illustrated the cardiovascular benefits of a good laugh, while the endorphins released by the brain when we "get" a joke send fuzzy, feel-good messages to the body.

Connolly, all long-haired charisma, the wise shaman of his comedic factory-floor, is one thing more than anything else.

A therapist. His words heal and cure.

Fuelled by a ferocious curiosity and an agile intellect, he burrows into the mineshaft of the everyday and pans for offbeat gold, inevitably locating a gut-busting nugget.

Educational

"Life is a waste of time. Time is a waste of life. Get wasted all the time and you'll have the time of your life."

Listening to Connolly this week was more educational and infinitely cheerier than tuning into any of those "celebrity" scientists or medics who have emerged from every laboratory on the planet with what feels like a po-faced mission to terrify and blame and upend morale.

Maybe I'm bitter and twisted, but they seem to revel in evangelising misery and advising us we are all doomed.

Nphet, if they truly understood the human condition and its need for the antibiotic of hope, would long ago have advised RTÉ to prescribe us nightly doses of Connolly or Dermot Morgan or Groucho and his Marx Brothers.

Billy, high on the narcotic of four- lettered expletives, is a medicine like no other.

As he explains: A lot of people say that it's a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear. Rubbish. I know thousands of words, but I still prefer "f**k."

In his hands that beautifully descriptive four-letter word is an instrument, one he plays as note-perfectly as Jimmy Hendrix did his Stratocaster.

In his book The Humour Code, Peter McGraw finds there is evidence of us using laugher as a coping mechanism.

The Persian-American comic Jamie Masada puts it bluntly: "We need comedy like air to breathe."

Connolly, then, in the argot of the times, can be described as a human ventilator.

Here's one piece of advice for the weekend: Turn off the news, tune into Billy, and inhale deeply.

There is no better or more empowering way of telling Covid to F**k off.


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