Opinion: Billy Connolly, Prostate Tests & Comedy

billy connolly

Update 18/9/13 – After this piece about comedians discussing their prostates appeared I received some interesting feedback. I was advised by one reader that I should go back to my doctor and insist on an examination or change doctors. Or maybe I should take the approach of comedian Bob Slayer (pictured below), who ran Heroes @ The Fringe in Edinburgh this summer and has reminded me of a story he told in his act, as follows:

Three years ago when I was doing "wild and crazy guy" Bob Slayer shows at Edinburgh Fringe I spotted a fresh young face smiling up at me from the audience... I found out that her name was Amanda and in an exchange which was perhaps designed to usher her out so that the adults could continue with their fun I said: "You should be shocked by this..." But she did not seem to agree "Oh you won't shock me" she replied. My shows at that time were billed as "No Rules, no limits, no refunds..." and I had just effectively been issued a challenge, a challenge that it would have been churlish of me not to accept. What followed was an off the cuff, unprepared response, I knew I had to try and shock this supposedly unshockable girl and the first notion I had was to ask her her age"17" came the reply  "Well I am old enough to be your dad..."She nodded, still smiling "Would you like me to be your dad?""OK, If you like..." she replied It was what I said next which surprised me"Does your real dad abuse you?" oh dear did I just say that? "Because that is the kind of dad I would like to be..." Yes I did say that...

People in the room immediately showed their disapproval. I apologised to them and told them that they had the right reaction whilst also pointing out the interesting thing was that they were in the minority in this crowd. Their disapproval was overshadowed by considerable laughter and even applause around the room. "You are bad people" I told them and then feeling a very bad person myself I turned back to Amanda to make another apology. I quickly realised this expected need for an apology was based on my own arrogance, it was evident by the big grin on her face that she wad not bothered and she really meant her opening statement.

This was going to be a tougher challenge than I thought. I was going to have to up my game and get freaky. And so I said to her:"Now Amanda, I am approaching 40 and I have not had my prostate checked...would you please stick your finger up my bum?" I thought this was a simple masterstroke and she would surely back down? However it seemed she was not quite ready to concede: "No problem" she replied but with a cannily added condition "So long as you have a rubber glove for me..." This was a smart move that was keeping her in the game but had also put a barrier between her and the potentially shocking act that I am suggesting.

Or so she thought, I had a bag of props on stage for these gigs, some of which I used regularly and then others amounted to a collection of tat that I thought might come in handy for random occasions such as these. It just so happened that not only did I have a rubber glove in there I even had the choice of three colours. I put my hand straight into my bag and pulled out a blue washing up glove. It was met by much applause and merriment from the crowd and I held it out to her. Surely she would back down now and reject it? But no! She took the glove without hesitation...

So now we were at a situation where it looked like she really might not back down at all... and of course there is no way I could back down (Some people have told me that I really could have backed down, but i don't really understand that concept). Clutching at straws I had the idea that maybe the audience could assist me here, if they didn't want this to happen then I would be off the hook.

"Do you want this to happen?" was my simple question to the room And "Fuck Yes!" was their simple answer...Or at least the only answer I heard, I am sure there were those that didn't want it to happen but by now they were hiding behind their hands. I turned to Amanda, hoping that having had a bit of time to process what the next step was going to be she might have discarded the glove and the bet would be off. This is not what happened. As I turned around I saw that not only was she wearing the glove... She was spitting on the finger!bob slayer

There was no other option but to drop my trousers and let it happen. Again it has been pointed out that I had a number of other options, none of which I could really comprehend and so it was that my naught was double knuckled live on stage.At the start of this story it seemed that poor young Amanda was the victim, but now it is not so clear is it?I am sad to say that I have never experience such a huge reaction on stage as I did during these moments of unexpected rectal examination. "I wish I had proper jokes..." I told the audience who were shrieking, laughing and clapping. Yes some still had their hands in front of their faces but not one of them could resist parting their fingers for a peek at what was happening... 

The beautiful thing is that Amanda was not done yet, she went to pull her finger out and then pushed it back in again, which caused another wave of excitement from the audience. Then she withdrew her finger altogether... as I had pointed out the reaction up until that point had been large but now people eclipsed even that and seriously lost their shit. Not only did Amanda possess perfect comic timing, but when she removed her finger she had the comedic fortitude to leave the glove inside. And to cap it all, as a final flourish, she did 'Jazz hands' and put on a huge happy smile. She was declared unshockable and it was the start of a beautiful friendship which continues to this day. Oh and by the way, for those who are wondering she gave me the all clear, but I am not sure she is actually medically trained...


Interesting to hear earlier today that Billy Connolly has been treated for prostate cancer and pleased to read reports that he is "fully recovered". I was not surprised to hear that the cancer was spotted early. Connolly has been talking about having prostate examinations during his stage act for over twenty years. The examinations didn't take place onstage, of course, I think you know what I mean…

Connolly is about twenty years older than the current wave of male post-alternative comedians, so perhaps it is no surprise that recently I've seen a lot of stand-ups doing prostate material. Micky Flanagan mentions it in his current show, Jack Dee has talked about it. Ricky Gervais played the doctor who gave Louis CK a rectal test in the sitcom Louis and Sean Hughes said something in his last show on the lines that "you've never lived until a man has put his finger up your arse". As Connolly describes the doctor's examination of the prostate gland, "it's kind of like a doughnut and it's his job to check it hasn't become a bagel yet"

Now this is where it gets personal. I quite like a nice bagel but not really in this context. I'd heard so many comedians saying that they had had the test that I thought maybe I was getting to the kind of age where I should have a test myself. Though I did ask around and none of my peers had had the test. Maybe they were too embarrassed to say. Maybe they were too embarrassed to go. I began to wonder if maybe comedians were just having the test to generate some material for their latest show. Because my own experience certainly suggested that it is an area that is positively oozing, if you'll pardon the expression, with comic potential. 

So just before I went up to the Edinburgh Fringe in August I made an appointment to see my doctor. Before I went, of course, I did what everyone does before they visit a doctor these days and googled what was likely to happen. I was pleasantly surprised to read on a website that the examination is not particularly painful, just a bit uncomfortable.

When I walked into the surgery I explained that I wanted to have the test. "Are you sure?" my GP asked. I explained that I felt I should have one to check all was OK. He warned me that it would be "very painful". I said I'd heard that it wasn't. He held his hand out, showed me his index finger and said something on the lines of "I'm going to put my finger right into your rectum and reach in as far as I can. Of course it is going to be painful." 

I braced myself and had visions of not being able to walk out of the surgery, but my doctor was clearly reluctant to give me the test and was doing his best to dissuade me. Maybe I should have told him I was a stand-up comedian and was looking for material for my new show and I'd give him a credit. 

Eventually my doctor said that he could do it, but that it was not even a conclusive test. A much more reliable test was a blood test, so he referred me to the local hospital and the next day I had a needle in my arm rather than a finger in my bottom. I'm glad to say that the results were "normal". I'm also glad to say that next time I'm concerned about my doughnut turning into a bagel I'm going to have a blood test. I don't know how Billy Connolly's cancer was spotted. I'm just glad it was. Here's a clip of Connolly talking about having the test. 






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