TV Review: Billy Connolly's Big Send Off

TV Review: Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off

Billy takes a comical approach to the inevitability of death

By Mark HadleyWednesday 9 Jul 2014TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

Anyone who is familiar with comedian Billy Connolly’s work knows he’s no great friend to Christianity. A bitter experience with the Catholic Church in his youth has produced a jovial but hardened atheist. However Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off still manages to show just how brittle unbelief can be in the face of the big full stop.

Billy Connolly investigates the biggest conversation killer - death.  

Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off is a two-hour examination of the commercial realities of death. It’s also Billy’s attempt to find something positive to say in the face of the world’s biggest conversation killer: 

“I’ve come to explore the only certainty in your and my life – death. I’m fascinated by death. How we deal with it, fear it, and hopefully come to terms with it. I’m going to strip away the taboos to reveal that, far from the doom and gloom you’d expect, the world of death is full of wonderful people doing extraordinary things.”

What gives the show a touch of added poignancy, though, is that it’s being made shortly after our comedian host receives the news that he has Parkinson’s Disease as well as prostate cancer.  Our host assures us he’s not rattled, and Connolly’s trademark lightheartedness is still there, but it’s also clear that he’s thinking a lot about the choices he and his family will one day have to make. 

Billy’s guests offer the occasional sentimental thought about the afterlife but the majority of the program is devoted to the financial realities of death. In the United States it’s a $21 billion dollar industry with the average American funeral costing $10,000. Connolly’s exploration is a real education, turning up everything from zombie-proof steel coffins to eco-friendly death suits (composed of mushroom spoors that eat up your earthly remains). And the comic cynicism he expresses in the face of all this is easy to appreciate:

“The graveyard says more about living people than it does about dead people – because they’re the ones who spend the money. You spend the amount of money that makes you feel better.”

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But the personal insights into Billy’s life make it clear that even a successful, wealthy and funny family man can’t laugh away death as just another part of life. His reflection on attending the funeral of a friend’s father uncovers the persistent wrongness of death which all people feel:

“What I remember most was his father being lowered into the grave and I was crying…and I’d never set eyes on his father. It’s puzzled me ever since.”

It’s no wonder that the Bible refers to death as humanity’s last enemy. It came into the world with the birth of sin and though we strive to improve every other aspect of our lives it will remain the final fact of our existence. The well-meaning efforts of the funeral industry amount to just so many trinkets in the face of that reality. Clearly only the author of life can rescue us from it, and He has put that power in the hands of His son Jesus:

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”  

Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off is more bluff than investigation. But Billy’s bravado at least seems to drop a notch every time the topic comes close to applying to him. He laughably suggests death must be good, “…because no-one I ever knew came back.” Maybe that would be a good prayer to finish a review – that he would meet the one man who did before death has the last laugh.

Rating: M
Distributor: ABC1
Release Date: Wednesday, 8:30 PM (July 9)