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THEATER REVIEW

Just too many empty calories

Billy Connolly looks like a biker, but his comedy show at Brentwood Theatre is too soft and too gentle.

March 09, 2007|Charles McNulty | Times Staff Writer

Don't tell Billy Connolly about the latest evidence that the Atkins diet really sheds the pounds. His act is loaded with carbs -- crumpets, scones and shortbreads turn up repeatedly in his jokes. There's even a long riff about the superiority of white bread over brown. Maybe he should have eaten before he went onstage. "Billy Connolly Live!," the popular Scottish comedian's stand-up act that opened Wednesday at the Brentwood Theatre, is, well, disappointingly doughy. After a rambling two hours, you're left feeling full yet unsatisfied.

One wouldn't expect so much bakery wit from a guy who looks as if he just motorcycled in from the 1960s. Sporting a goatee that's as gray as his thick mane of hair, a black leather vest and prominent tattoo, Connolly could easily pass for a Woodstock holdout were it not for his brogue crunching out colorful pub profanity.

It's an unusually long windup before he gets to the racier vomit jokes involving drinking, drugs and one-night-stands (which, truth be told, aren't worth the wait). But then again he's still regaining his bearings now that he's back in L.A., where he lived while starring in the old sitcom "Head of the Class." He likes it here but marvels at how much time residents spend defending their town from the rest of the world. "Aren't the people pretentious there?" the more pretentious sort are always inquiring.

Connolly is Scottish to the core, and something about his humor doesn't translate well into American vernacular. Touted as "the bestselling comedian in the world," he kept cracking himself up to the point of near asphyxiation. No doubt his mates would keel over with laughter too from his shtick about randy shepherds and sheep. But in the middle of his routine about the castle he owns in the Scottish countryside, which he likes to pretend is haunted to visiting friends, I started imagining the beauty of highlands and lowlands and secretly wishing I were on a plane.

Unlike Eddie Izzard, whose comedy feeds on often overlooked oddities (such as the refusal of pears to ripen), or the hordes of other comics fulminating about the petty injustices raining down on them, Connolly isn't idiosyncratic or angry enough. His targets are too soft (New Age types in crystal shops, a freeloading aunt who clogs his toaster with her jam-slathered muffin), and his manner is more elfin than scourge-like.

Sure, the hokum of psychic phenomena (tarot card readers, ghost hunters and spiritual auras) and religious hucksterism of all denominations clearly frustrates him. But it's a chuckling annoyance over mislaid common sense rather than the true hilarity of rage.

There's something way too mellow about this 64-year-old funny man, who refers to his hair as "winter plumage" and teases that he's "hurtling toward the grave." (A hippie who still looks hip, Connolly holds out hope that 64 is the new 48.) But I suspect that given a more fraternal vibe in the room his free-ranging material would hit on more explosive stuff.

As it turned out, the point that elicited the biggest laugh of the night was when an audience member let out a Herculean yawn, and Connolly, thinking fast on his feet, offered thanks for the "sleeping ovation."

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

*

`Billy Connolly Live!'

Where: Brentwood Theatre, Veterans Affairs grounds, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Ends: March 24

Price: $53 to $58

Contact: (213) 365-3500 or www.BrentwoodTheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

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