IMAGINE a challenge even bigger than the banana boots Billy Connolly once wore while performing; how to mount a stage show that captures the essence of the world’s greatest comedian?

Trying to replicate Connolly’s energy, his sense of mischief, is like catching lightning in a bottle. Attempting to emulate this national treasure’s intricate, sometimes deviant sense of humour, his inordinate cleverness . . . well, copying Dali’s Christ of St John on the Cross with a packet of colouring in crayons would be less demanding.

But that was the task facing theatre maker Gary McNair and director Joe Douglas.

Yet, Glasgow-born McNair maker is set to undertake a Scottish tour with Dear Billy – produced by the National Theatre of Scotland – in which he has forged the ultimate tribute to the former welder.

Yet surely this must have been a terrifying ordeal? How could you even come to consider a task the like of which Hercules would have passed on?

READ MORE: Billy Connolly: 'I suspect happiness is having a joy in being with yourself. I’m not sure I have that.'

“The idea had been mulling around for a while,” he says of the production’s three-year gestation period.

“A lot of people had said to me, ‘You should do a show about Billy Connolly,’ because I do monologues, and they are funny and dramatic and relatable.

“So, when I heard this constant question, I thought it would be a good idea – but what to do with it? I knew I didn’t want to do a bio-play, a standard life story which said, ‘Here I am!’ and play Billy Connolly, because I can’t compare myself to Billy Connolly. No-one can. And we know his story so well because he’s told us it. All I could do was tell it less articulately.”

How do you then create a show with insight, humour, pathos and lashings of love for our comedy legend? One day, Gary McNair had his Billy-Eureka moment.

“The more I’d talk to people about possibly doing a show about Billy, the more I’d listen to stories about how they felt about him,” he says.

“This went on for ages, until one day I realised – ‘That’s the show.’ So, it’s about collecting all these Billy stories together into a monologue, which feels in the Billy style, putting together this mosaic.”

The Herald: Theatre-maker Gary McNair, writer of Dear BillyTheatre-maker Gary McNair, writer of Dear Billy (Image: free)

McNair acknowledges that the “Billy style” of performance – stream of consciousness tales which often meander into adjacent fields of lush comedy opportunity and then return to the original idea – plays right into the stage conceit he has created.

“Yes, he jumps around a lot, and because we have multiple stories from so many different people desperate to tell us what Billy means to them, it all works out.”

But the process must, nevertheless, have been scary in terms of tackling such a behemoth of an idea. Does he agree that he and Joe Douglas were the Butch and Sundance of theatre making, making the leap off the clifftop into a raging river? (Although by now they had little water wings in the form of the format.)

“That’s definitely the case,” he says, laughing. “There is nowhere to hide with this show. You see, everybody knows Billy Connolly.

“And one day, after we’d gathered all these wonderful interviews, and we had been given the green light to begin [pulling the show together] I turned to Joe, jokingly, and said, ‘Look, the only way we can go forward is if we are prepared to face the eventual reality that in five years’ time we’ll be sitting in a pub, looking back and saying – “Remember that time we destroyed an icon?”’ And then we laughed. But we are so aware of the responsibility. We are so aware of what he means to people.”

McNair underlines the intent of the show. “I want audiences to feel they are being offered a genuine thing,” he says. “We’re not out to do Billy’s routines. But revealing these hilarious, poignant tales we’ve been told about him is a way to get across what he means to others.”

He adds, grinning: “And hopefully the audience will be able to see themselves up there, via the lots of different angles of Billy we’ve gained from the interviews.”

Gary McNair is perfectly placed to produce a show that screams out originality. His bio-play of Scots poet McGonagall was hilarious and bold. His stage show, Born to Run, about a woman who has to run or she will die – set on a treadmill – was incredibly inventive and totally deserving of its forthcoming reprise.

McNair has also written Letters to Morrisey. He’s tackled male toxicity in Locker Room Talk. He even stood on stage at T in the Park and delivered 25 minutes of bad puns to an angry audience.

Yet, how far will his stage show go in pulling back the curtains on the bed that is Connolly’s life? Will it be warts and all? he show the damp patches?

McNair, a three-time Fringe First winner, acknowledges that the comedian is never likely to have angelic status conferred when he departs this world. If great comedy means leaving behind some dirty laundrya few soiled sheets, then so be it.

“Yes, that’s fair. We’ve built that in,” says the writer, smiling in agreement.

“It’s a 99-and-a-half per cent glowing endorsement, but it would be wrong not to reference how he could turn at some times. But we’re not trying to surprise or shock anyone. And we need to remember most of us love him.”

He adds “This isn’t a show about suggesting we’re all clever and smart. If we’re saying to an audience, ‘This is a show that belongs to you’, using their thoughts we need to make sure they are aware that this is not a Billy Connolly tribute act.”

McNair, whose plays have been performed across the world, adds: “People may come along expecting to see a show that makes them laugh as much as they would at seeing Connolly. I can’t help that, there is a risk. But what I can do is make a show that rounds off and manages these expectations, by taking them on our own journey.”

Thanks to McNair’s talent, there can be no doubt he will have gathered, collated and fused together a show which features “a cavalcade of characters”, all delivered with a wonderful sense of chaotic energy and cadence.

Which sounds very much like a Billy Connolly performance.

So, will the 80-year-old legend appear at one of the shows? “We’d love to see him, it would be delicious, what a buzz it would be,” says the writer.

“You know, I was excited when Neil Tennant [of the Pet Shop Boys] came to see one of my shows at the Traverse. Can you imagine how I’d feel if Billy turned up?”

Dear Billy is touring Scotland, May 16-June 24, culminating at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, June 22-24