TV Reviews: Billy Connolly It's Been A Pleasure & Micky Flanagan Peeping Behind The Curtain

Reviews: Billy Connolly It's Been A Pleasure & Micky Flanagan Peeping Behind The Curtain
Reviews: Billy Connolly It's Been A Pleasure & Micky Flanagan Peeping Behind The Curtain

It's been a good festive season for comedy documentaries, particularly if you like your comedians with long flowing hair. Christmas has been bookended for me by two docs about two fantastic comedians who are among the best in the game. In the case of Billy Connolly, probably the best. Though Micky Flanagan is certainly no slouch either.

The latter judgement about Connolly is certainly the opinion of most of the people who chip into ITV's Big Yin tribute, It's Been A Pleasure. An A list of stars has turned out for the A list comedian – Dustin Hoffman, Paul McCartney and Elton John are among those paying tribute. Connolly famously opened for Elton in America – it was a rare occasion where he didn't storm it and that was probably no reflection on him, more a reflection on the fact that the crowd was impatient for the rocket man to come on.

To be honest you could string a sequence of Connolly routines together and it would still make a fantastic television programme. And alongside the celeb fans – Russell Brand, his dog licking its genitals and Aisling Bea also featured – Connolly's story was told through his career-defining routines. And there were some true classics here - from his wildebeest anecdote to his "wee jobbie" riff. As Armando Iannucci observed, he is everything from storyteller to physical comic to satirist.

Much was made of Connolly, now 78, never using a script, but that doesn't quite mean each gig was improvised. Though Connolly is such a perfect, natural, instinctive storyteller at his peak he probably could walk onstage and deliver an entirely new five star show off the top of his head. He still seemed pretty sharp when interviewed at home in Florida, it's a shame we will probably never see him onstage again as he now says his Parkinson's is so serious he has retired from performing. 

It's unlikely Micky Flanagan will be knocking it on the head soon, even though his record-breaking run at the 02 arena a few years back means that he doesn't exacty need to work. The documentary Peeping Behind The Curtain was almost four years in the making and the throughness shows.

This is as good as it gets if you want an insight into what makes a comedian tick. Flanagan was particularly candid about his early years - we got anecdotes and grainy footage from people at the stand-up school in Jackson's Lane where he first learnt the ropes. And although they spotted something special in him we still see a clip of him dying onstage at an early gig. While Connolly seemed to emerge fully formed as a stand-up Flanagan had a graft to hone his act. 

And boy has the graft paid off. Not just in ticket sales but in the respect of his peers. Sometimes comedians get big and it breeds resentment, but Micky Flanagan is so loved by the people he has worked with they are all delighted to see him doing so well. Their only suprise it that it took him so long.

Peeping Behind The Curtain, taking its title from an early breakthrough Micky Flanagan routine, has its own fair share of hilarious clips, but it also does what the title says and shows you how comedy works from the inside. It is fascinating to see him generate and work on new material for his big tour in small clubs, changing a word here, a phrase there, depending on the type of laugh it gets. Everything is polished to perfection – even if it looks like he is just making it up as he goes along. That's part of the magic.

Peeping Behind The Curtain really is essential viewing for comedy fans. File right up there alongside Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian documentary and Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up. 

Billy Connolly It's Been A Pleasure & Micky Flanagan Peeping Behind The Curtain are both available on catch-up. Watch Connolly here and Flanagan on Sky One/NOW TV.



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