Scotland’s best-known comedian says he has always wanted to make people laugh but he never set out to deliberately shock anyone.
Billy Connolly tells the new BBC Scotland documentary Billy and Us: “I just did what I thought was funny. But looking back I can see that by sending up what was around me at the time, I might well have ended up breaking down barriers and taking down the odd taboo.”
The 77-year-old funnyman’s new six-part series sees him reflecting on his life and career with the help of archive material of his five-decade career.
In the first episode, Connolly discusses his childhood and talks about how, in post-war Glasgow, beating your children was seen as normal.
“People were beaten for the slightest things,” he says. But Connolly says that amid the darkness he always found humour in the strange and inconsistent things adults would do and say.
“I seemed to spend my time standing apart from it, looking at it. It’s easier to deal with that way,” he says.
In the programme, Billy recounts how he went back to his early primary school for a TV show after he had become famous in the 1970s.
He found his name had been “removed from the books” at the Catholic infants school he had attended because his comedy material joked about religious subjects such as the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
The documentary shows Connolly being quizzed by school children in the late 1970s about why he presented Scotland and Glasgow in such a bad light.
“I’m a comedian, I’m one guy, how can I give a nation a bad name,” he says.
“When I speak to school kids, I always try to get them to think for themselves and be proud of where you come from but don’t let it be a leash around your neck.”
He says his comedy about psychopathic teachers was just his experience of school.
“It was traumatic,” he says. “It lent itself to comedy. The big boss and the wee man.”
Connolly adds: “Good comedians tend to have a dark past. When I say a dark past it does not mean you have to have something sinful or weird or criminal about your past. My background was the inability to be educated. It made me think differently to everyone else and I’m grateful for it.”
He tells the programme that his comedy material about childhood has often had a profound effect on people, who recognised their own struggles.
“That’s not why I did it,” he says. “I just thought it was funny.”