At 72, Billy Connolly has had surgery for prostate cancer and in 2013 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but the actor, comedian and musician still finds plenty to laugh at.
“I talk about it on the stage. In a funny way it helps to get rid of it,” he says in a faded Glaswegian accent. “When you talk about it, it gets it off your back. You know that way, like, if you have a problem and you write it down it kinda takes it away from you. Well comedy is like that. When you talk about it, it temporarily removes it from you. That’s not why I do it, I just found that’s one of the side effects.”
Connolly’s been living in New York for the past decade, and continues to tour and travel as much as he did when he was younger.
“I’ve done it all my adult life so it’s kind of normal to me. I remember reading about a girl rock singer in the ‘90s and she said, ‘I’ve been on the road for two weeks I’m exhausted, I need a holiday.’ Oh Lordy – she’s got a lot to learn,” he says with a laugh.
Connolly’s High Horse Tour began in mid-October in Toronto and brings him to Victoria for two shows Nov. 3 and 4.
“I like the journey to Victoria across the water,” he says. “I always hope to see an orca and I’ve never seen one.”
Travel is one of his passions and he’s been able to make it part of his career as well. His television series Journey To The Edge Of The World brought him here via the Northwest Passage in 2008.
“I didn’t realize how massive Canada was. I realized of course, it was a big place but when you actually cover it from the Yukon it’s an extraordinary size of a place – but nobody’s there.”
Recalling the journey, he says the wildlife made a great impression on him.
“We were in the forest in the Yukon, they gave me a thing to scare bears away. It’s about the size of a fountain pen – have you ever seen them? It fires a cartridge, and he says, …” Connolly begins to giggle. “He says, ‘make sure the cartridge lands between you and the bear, because if it lands behind it, it’ll chase it towards you,’” he continues laughing … “Then when I was camping they give me an aerosol to frighten the bears off, which I’m sure doesn’t frighten them one little, bloody bit.”
His most recent travel adventure took him around the United States in a four week journey by train for an upcoming BBC series titled Tracks Across America. He particularly enjoyed a stop at Louisiana’s bayou.
“It’s startlingly beautiful. There was pink birds and fish leaping out of the water, it was just an extraordinarily beautiful place. … They’ve got cougars and bears and antelope and stuff. I thought it was all reptiles and strange things in the night, but it isn’t. I thought it would be things slithering up the boat and giving us all frights, but it isn’t. They’ve got those Chinese carp that leap out of the water and they jumped into the boat and all that – it was a scream.”
He would, however, rather be chased by bears than trolls on social media.
“I was being attacked by three guys and I just decided I didn’t need it in my life,” he says of his Twitter account that has been dormant for more than two years. “This is a cowardly thing too. They know you can’t get them, you can’t go and kick their asses no matter what they say to you. I always get the feeling they’re sitting in their underwear in their mother’s basement.”
When he’s not on the road touring or filming, he enjoys simple pleasures such as reading, quiet dinners with friends and watching Alone on the History Channel.
“Even in Vancouver, I didn’t realize it was so wild. With bears and lions and all that. … I saw it on TV, with those guys who were isolated there. … You should see it, the bears are unbelievable, those pumas and things – Jesus – cougars.”
Told a cougar was captured in Victoria recently, Connolly replied: “Well there you go! You could be shopping in Victoria and a lion’s chasing you down the street.”