Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 11:28 pm Post subject: Bill Bailey
Bill's on song, but needs a tune up
[i]By Julian Hall
03 December 2007
Leaving the aesthetically challenged Brighton Centre, my companion and I tried to work out what was missing from Bill Bailey's show. My friend, seeing Bailey for the first time, wished he could have had more arrogance, à la Ricky Gervais, whereas I saw a persona tip its balance from loveable hobbit to grumpy curmudgeon. We both agreed that there's somehow a charisma deficit – and one that has to be paid for if you're on a stadium tour, a concept that is often anathema to the rhythms and workings of comedy.
Despite the sense of "removal" from the gig it's hard not to be drawn in by a popular entertainer who can name-drop philosophers and play Kant's categorical imperative to the tune of Match of the Day, yet still moan at modern stars for their shortcomings. On the latter, he lays in to indie rockers The Killers for their lyric: "I've got soul/but I'm not a soldier", from which he concludes one might as well sing: "I've got ham/but I'm not a hamster."
The lyrical shortcomings of others are a matter of understandable concern to this musical comedian and self-confessed muso, and his victims range from the easy target of Katie Melua's "Nine Million Bicycles" (to which his riposte is: "there are eight million iPods in Rangoon/ but they can't download so they use them as spoons") to the less contemporary but equally ludicrous "Dancing on the Ceiling", where he suggests that the feeling that Lionel Ritchie so enthusiastically describes in the song must be one of "nausea and disorientation".
Unfortunately, much of Bailey's undoubtedly delicious phraseology is tinged with what might well be end-of-tour fatigue or genuine impatience with his comedy targets. He asks us to imagine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina set to the theme tune from Friends and imagine Bush waving, ironically, to the victims on the line: "I'll be there for you." It's a searing criticism but, like most of Bailey's shtick, a musical doodle that sits amid a quick flit through the ills of the world, religion, creationism, the royals and what it would be like if we had the theme from The Pink Panther as our national anthem. The upshot is that boredom never creeps in but nor does a resonant memory of the set linger.
The closest Bailey comes to really giving flight to his ire, and marrying it to music, is in a section where the comedian describes how he turned down the offer of doing an advertisement for the supermarket chain Asda. Though he sets up the premise of the perceived evils of Wal-Mart, owners of Asda, rather too quickly, his composition: "Hey Asda, I Ain't Gonna Be Your Bitch" is rather a refreshing refrain and a stance that others in the comedy fraternity might have done well to take.
Rather than staying with the theme of corporate ills, Bailey is then off talking about James Blunt, again. Yet he returns to the idea, with the story of UBS and Nazi gold, in the second half. It's a pick and mix scenario with some of your favourite flavours coming up repeatedly but losing their distinctiveness along the way. Further underlining the random element of Tinselworm is that a sizeable percentage of it is made up of previous shows, but rather than being a "best of" compilation, the show feels like one of those compilation albums you are contractually obliged to bring out to fulfil your record deal.
There's no doubt Bailey can knock out a tune and a gag, and some of his oldies are goldies, but it's difficult to enjoy the quality of a performer, however obvious, if you aren't quite sure they are enjoying themselves. It's only when Bailey zooms out into the crowd on a "motorised trouser press" that it feels like he's truly free to smile at his own ability.
Bill Bailey sets up merchandising firm
HAVING TOLD Asda "I ain't gonna be your bitch" when the supermarket offered him a lucrative advertising contract, comedian Bill Bailey has set up a merchandising company in Edinburgh to cash in on the slogan. With the spat having inspired a song and a routine in Bailey's current UK tour, Bill Bailey Merchandise has been selling commemorative products including mugs, T-shirts, sheet songbooks and guitar picks at each venue. But the products will be on sale across the country from this week when they are put on the comedian's billbailey.co.uk website for the first time.
Bailey commented: "Seeing what we've got now, I am shocked at how bad it the merchandise was before. I just decided that people deserved better." Bailey has invested a low six-figure sum in the company, which is being run by long-time friend Gill Robertson and his Scots-born wife Kris. Using ethical suppliers and fair-trade materials and working from her home in the city's Leith area, Robertson has designed the products herself. The fact that they are considerably more expensive to produce than most other merchandise has meant that there is a much smaller mark-up than usual, where 20 times costs are not uncommon.
While spin-offs have been around since the days of Charlie Chaplin, it is unusual for entertainers such as Bailey to create their own products. Robertson said: "An awful lot of merchandise that you see is really poor quality. There is a huge mark-up once the logo is added. You see £1 T-shirts being sold for £20 or even more. Bill just decided that he didn't want to do that any more. Everything that we sell has to be ethical and has to be Fairtrade. Bill oversaw all the content himself. The T-shirts are printed in water-based ink without harmful chemicals. We got someone to turn the Asda slogan into a bar code and it really works if you scan it."
Having also organised merchandising stalls at Bailey's recent gigs, she added: "Lots of the people at the venues and involved in the touring business have been waiting to see how this works." There are currently no plans to make the products available in supermarkets.
Popular television comedian Bill Bailey yesterday opened a new wildlife sanctuary in the heart of Exeter. More than 500 people gathered at the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) site at Cricklepit Mill, which has been restored as the trust's new headquarters and as an historic and wildlife visitor centre.
Born in Bath, Bailey is best known for his appearances on BBC quiz shows Never Mind the Buzzcocks and QI, but he also has a keen interest in wildlife. The comic entertained the crowds with anecdotes from his Channel 4 series, Wild Thing I Love You. He said memorable moments from the 2006 show included losing a dormouse, the rather unglamorous job of filming otter droppings and travelling in a car full of adders.
Bailey said his love of wildlife came from his parents and praised the DWT for its work in developing Cricklepit Mill and the surrounding wildlife habitats. The trust's marketing manager, Rod Birtles, said they were delighted the comedian had agreed to open the centre. He said: "He is a great character and proves that it is cool to love wildlife." Cricklepit Mill was purchased by the DWT in July 2004. Over the past few years, the charity has concentrated on the lengthy process of restoring the milling machinery, moving in and more recently installing the interpretation displays.
Yesterday's grand opening involved a full afternoon of events and activities. These included nest-box making, a rubber duck race, guided tours and various workshops around the site. For the first time in decades the mill was in use, grinding flour that Ian Shears used to bake bread.
Bill Bailey explains why he loves his old rock, Stonehenge Bill Bailey tells James Rampton about the mysterious allure of Stonehenge
Bill Bailey fell in love at a young age – not with a girl, but with Stonehenge. The hirsute comedian, who, in a certain light, could be mistaken for a wizard, reveals that “my bond with the place started when I was just a youngster. I remember at that time there was a big battle at Stonehenge between the police and the hippies."
“It was quite a dramatic scene. There were lots of beardy, long-haired people hanging out of the back of Transit vans, smoking funny cigarettes and dancing in a silly way. Sadly, it got quite unpleasant. All the hippies were bundled into police vans, and afterwards the authorities said, ‘Right, that’s enough of that. Let’s put up a fence and keep the hippies back’. I wasn’t actually there in person – I was at home diligently doing my geography homework. But I was there in spirit, and I thought, ‘Those hippies are my kind of people’. I’ve felt an affinity with Stonehenge ever since.”
So it was Bailey’s “dream job” when the History Channel asked him to front a documentary on Stonehenge. The first episode of a new series entitled My Favourite Place, it homes in on the monument’s mystique. Nobody knows what this conglomeration of about 60 stones is for – and that’s just the way Bailey likes it.
The 44-year-old – who made his name as one of the team captains in the enduringly likeable BBC Two pop quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks and is a rare example of a comedian who is as funny off screen as on it – is delighted that the monument can’t be rationalised.
“Even as a child, I had a sense of the anarchy of Stonehenge,” he muses. “It’s a maverick, antiEstablishment monument. It’s become synonymous with alternative lifestyles and been claimed as their own by Druids and pagans. I like the fact that you can’t enclose it. You can put up railings, but Stonehenge is still there for all to see. It’s not cloistered away. What are the stones for? Aliens, perhaps, dropped them there and used them as a beacon, a landing platform, or a pod. The Arthurian legend is that giants brought them from Africa to Ireland as healing stones, and then Merlin carried them across the Irish Sea using some special, wizardy telekinetic skill.”
Or, Bailey posits with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Stonehenge “could be one giant musical instrument, a huge windchime. That puts those nasty little bamboo ones into perspective, doesn’t it? My own theory is that it was all one massive stone at one stage, and it’s just been chiselled out by ants.” Another proposition is that Stonehenge, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, has significance because it lines up directly with the sunrise at the summer solstice. “Could it be a giant calendar for worshipping the midsummer sun?” asks Bailey.
But, the comedian affirms with satisfaction, “one can only speculate so far. What is great is that it will always be a mystery. No one knows what really went on at that site, but Stonehenge is still there. It’s been standing there for 5,000 years – and it endures. I love the fact that after so many millennia, it remains such an enigmatic and charismatic place. I’ve got a feeling Stonehenge will always keep some of its secrets.”
In the film, Bailey digs out some of the remarkable stories surrounding this astonishing feat of prehistoric engineering that has fascinated everyone from Charles Darwin to Spinal Tap. The presenter is tickled, for instance, that in 1913 Sir Cecil Chubb gave Stonehenge as a present to his wife, having purchased it through the estate agents, Knight Frank and Rutley. “I’d love to know what the estate agent’s blurb was,” says Bailey with a smile. “For sale. Henge. Pleasant outlook. Good local travel links. Needs attention. 24 bedrooms. Would suit wizard, hermit or wild man. No chain.”
Making My Favourite Place gave the comedian the opportunity to get up close and personal with the stone circles – something that is now forbidden to the rest of us. “In the past, Stonehenge was so accessible – you could just pitch up and wander around the stones,” Bailey recalls. “But I suppose it was inevitable that one day the British Establishment bureaucracy would say, ‘This isn’t right. We need a guard rail and a gift shop. For any national monument to function properly, you need to be able to buy tea towels and key rings!”
Looking back on the project, there is just one thing Bailey would have done differently. “It was so cold, I wore a hoody. The problem is, on screen I look like an unsavoury character let loose at the monument. I appear to be the sort of person David Cameron wants to hug. It was an ill-advised fashion choice. Next time I’ll wear a three-piece suit.”
Bailey concludes that, despite the hoody, “the best thing about making this documentary was the chance to walk around Stonehenge when no one else was there. We had to get there before the official opening. It was six in the morning and it was wet and freezing, but it was so worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of having the place to yourself.”
Close encounter with: Bill Bailey Sunday Star Times, NZ
08 June 2008
YOU'VE SEEN British comedian Bill Bailey, haven't you? He played deranged bookshop dogsbody, Manny Bianco, in splendid TV sitcom Black Books. Funny looking geezer. Extremely bad facial hair. A limp goatee hangs from his pasty chin and a monk's fringe of straggly locks hangs from the back of his otherwise bald head like a hair curtain. He's not tall, either, and thus quite accurately refers to himself as "part troll". If you can picture the man I'm talking about, you can perhaps imagine my distress when Bailey picks up the phone and informs me he's in the bath. You know, naked. In all his hairy glory. I am not paid enough to have to cope with mental images like this.
"Nah, mate" he says. "I didn't say `in the bath'. I said I was "angin' about'. You know, doing nothing, waiting for your call. But I share your distaste for phone calls where the other person is in a compromised position. I hate it when I phone someone, talk to them for a while, and then there's a flushing sound. That's just wrong. Worse still, I phone them and in the background I can hear the sound of a small domestic animal slowly being slaughtered."
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the alarming and wondrous world of Bill Bailey, the man British TV network Channel Four recently proclaimed "the seventh-greatest stand-up comedian of all time". Born 44 years ago in the fair city of Bath in England's West Country, Bailey lives in London with his wife and four-year-old son, Dax. After putting a succession of mind-numbing day jobs behind him, he has been a professional mirth merchant for 20-odd years. If ever a man was born for this job, it is Bailey. It might be the sight of him that gets the first laugh, but then he opens his mouth and out flows some of the most original and peculiar stand-up comedy you will ever hear.
He's bringing his new Tinselworm show here in a few months, and those lucky enough to snag a ticket can expect an inspired mix of surrealism, mimicry, philosophical monologue and musical theatre. He is a relentlessly post-modern funny-man one of Bailey's trademarks is deconstructing traditional gags, getting his laughs by messing with the structural conventions of the joke rather than by supplying the usual kind of punchline. He has endless variations on the "lightbulb" joke ("How many amoebas does it take to change a lightbulb? One, no two! No, four! No, eight ... ") and barely lets a show go by without coughing up several new versions of the old "three blokes walk into a pub" chestnut.
But the thing that seems to tickle his fan-base the most is when Bailey uses the the format of a geriatric joke as a springboard for a truly ridiculous rant, as in this little snippet from his Bewilderness live DVD: "Three blokes go into a pub. Well, I say three; could be four or five. Could be nine or 10, doesn't matter. Could have been 15, 20, 50. Round it up 100. Let's go mad, eh 240. Tell you what, double it up 500. Thousand! Two thousand! Small town in Hertfordshire goes into a pub! Fifteen thousand blokes! All right, let's go population of Rotterdam. The Hague. Whole of Northern Holland and Mainland UK. Let's go all the way to the top Europe, all right? Whole of Europe goes I say Europe, but why not go bigger still. All right, continents North America! Plus South America! Plus Antarctica, though that's just eight blokes in a weather station. Not a good example. All right, make it a lot simpler, all the blokes on the planet go into the pub, right? And the first bloke goes up to the bar and he says "I'll get these". Pause. "What an idiot."
So, what is it that excites Bailey about overhauling traditional jokes?
"I mostly do it to tip my hat to the history of comedy culture that's gone before, but to put my own spin on it," he says. "We have an oral culture, and just like songs or poetry or even advertising catch-phrases, the best jokes get handed down from one generation to the next. They have their own life and often exceed the life of their creator. I like to use some of those old jokes as a starting point for elaborate tangential flights of fancy, but it always bugs me when people say, `Oh, he's so trippy and weird and nonsensical and druggy' because really, I'm not. What I do is all about the application of the imagination to everyday things, putting them through my own filter while trying not to underestimate my audience."
Besides his comedy career, Bailey hosts a lot of TV series, from game shows to wildlife docos, and is also a talented actor, appearing on stage alongside Vanessa Redgrave and in movies such as Hot Fuzz. He also plays every musical instrument under the sun. He tells me he has done time as a lounge pianist and crematorium organist, and played in everything from classical ensembles and jazz trios to punk and "krautrock" bands.
Somewhere along the way, Bailey discovered a gift for fusing music with jokes and theatre, and spent the latter half of the 80s touring as one half of comedy musical duo, the Rubber Bishops. Years of slogging around the circuit doing stand-up shows followed, until he was approached by his good friend and fellow stand-up Dylan Moran in 1999 to co-star in Black Books. The show made him a household name in the UK and Bailey's stand-up career has taken off, to the extent that Tinselworm sold out three consecutive nights at MEN Arena in Manchester, the largest indoor stadium in Europe.
"The thing I love most about stand-up is its hidden depths," he says. "Providing some sort of commentary on contemporary life is the aim of any stand-up who aspires to deliver anything more than jokes. If you're making people laugh, they're also more receptive to a few more profound ideas or elegant deconstructions of modern society."
In Bailey's view, the best comedy is ultimately a sneaky way of telling the truth. As an example, he points to one of his famous monologues that kicks off with the line "I'm English and, as such, I crave disappointment".
"Now, people laugh themselves silly over that, but it's absolutely true. Growing up in England in the 70s as I did, there was never really a culture of enjoyment. To eat decent grub, or enjoy a nice glass of wine, or go somewhere warm and interesting abroad, these things were all seen as ludicrously indulgent. We English were conditioned for a life just short of pleasure, but at least we were allowed to have a sense of humour."
Bailey is intrigued to hear that one of the guiding principles of my own life is to never trust a person who doesn't like music or has no sense of humour.
"But a sense of humour is a very complex thing, isn't it? It's not just about making people laugh. A big part of having a sense of humour is being acutely aware of yourself, or of the inherent absurdity of social situations. To be honest, I know several comics who have no perceptible sense of humour. They can write jokes, and they can get up on stage and deliver those jokes and get laughs, but if you take the piss out of them they just look blankly at you and say, `What do you mean?'. Humour isn't part of how they engage with the world; it's just their job. They tell jokes, someone hands them a cheque, they pay their mortgage that's it."
On the flipside, says Bailey, you go some places and everyone's funny, because their culture encourages that. "When I play in Dublin, I get the feeling that everyone would have a great old time, entertaining each other, whether I'd turned up or not. New Zealand is much the same. When I was there a few years ago, I was struck how unusually perceptive and intelligent the audience was. I was also struck by the food, the fresh air and the greenery. The place felt sheltered from the worst excesses of the wider world, though I daresay New Zealand society has similar sorts of problems to every other modern civilisation."
Indeed, it does. Wherever you live, the world seems to be becoming a far more serious sort of place. If you didn't laugh, sometimes, you would most certainly cry. I wonder how it feels to be a comic when there's so much pain and sadness in the world. Is it hard to be funny in difficult and desperate times?
"Perhaps it is, but it's more necessary as well. People badly need a laugh when things are going tits up. Everyone's walking around in a state of permanent pre-apocalyptic tension, worrying about nuclear war, floods, pestilence, disease, environmental destruction and so on. There aren't the same certainties many of us grew up with, so everyone's stressed to the gills. At times like that, a few laughs can be very useful indeed."
Grill Bill June 21, 2008
By Russell Baillie
Bill Bailey is grateful Flight of the Conchords have made musical comedy popular. He brings us his brand of it with his show 'Tinselworm' touring the main centres, starting at the end of August. He is returning to New Zealand with his musically inspired, hilariously rambling brand of comedy. But first he has to answer some of Russell Baillie's questions
Before you phone Bill Bailey up for an interview, he needs to see your questions. Why? So he can "prepare" we're told. Oh. But this is a man who when on stage - when he's not doing brilliant comedy songs which can make Flight of the Conchords look like, well, NZ's fourth most popular folk-comedy duo - gives the appearance of making surreal stuff up as he goes along. We'd rather he do some of that in our 20-minute chat, frankly. But we dutifully send off 10 or so inquiries (yes Wikipedia may have been involved) and once he's on the line from London, he's happy not to stick to the script.
So here's Bailey - a friend of British woodland creatures, avid Star Trek fan, and someone whose fans keep creating petitions to get him roles in things - on various subjects dear to his heart, and other parts ...
On the name of his show Tinselworm
The tinselworm, yes. Well, it's a kind of a cheap low rent worm. A gaudy worm. Not like a silkworm. Silkworms are kind of classy and a little bit exclusive. Tinselworms are more your cheap and cheerful worm - a street level worm. It's like the flipside, the underbelly of tinseltown and mainly the idea of sticking up for the underdog, that's the thing.
On why his real name is Mark but it got changed to Bill because of a certain song
That's exactly what happened. My old geography teacher at school started calling me Bill Bailey for no apparent reason and when I asked him about it he started singing this song [Won't You Come Bill Bailey]. And it's like a jazz standard.
Yeah, strangers do come up and start singing it - that amongst other things. I usually say "you know. I've never thought of it like that. I never thought of that song ..."
On how come a academically gifted rugby-playing, cricket-playing public schoolboy who won a classical music scholarship ended up ... well, like him
I suppose I just drifted from the line of academia. I was headed down that road and I got the bug at school, that is what it was. Me and two friends had put on a show at the end of term in a school revue and got a real buzz out of it. Then I did a school play and so I was always doing that and I always played in bands when I was at school. I really enjoyed all of that. I enjoyed performance - it was a very liberating thing to do. So comedy was a natural logical progression from that.
According to my careers adviser it was either going to be the diplomatic service or a museum curator. If you divide the two it comes out "comedian." Like a computer programme - if you put all the data in it spits out "comic".
On his affection for Britain's woodland animals which led him to front the show Wild Thing - I Love You
I was approached at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago by a company who wanted to make a wildlife programme which was just a bit different from the normal. It had kind of an engineering practical element to it which appealed to me.
We have a tradition of David Attenborough presenting these very lavishly photographed wildlife documentaries about the most stunning parts of the world, the most beautiful animals and the most exotic creatures.
I kind of feel that British wildlife gets slightly neglected. It's not as exotic. We don't have huge great big things like leopards or amazing gazelles. It's all small brown things that are quite dull and get run over. And that was it - why not build a bridge for an otter? Let's see if we can help them out. We built a log tunnel for a doormouse. For badgers we actually built a whole set - we relocated them to a new purpose-built badger set which was great fun.
It was "here's some wildlife. Isn't it lovely? But it's in a bit of strife. Let's see what we can do to help out" rather than "look at the lovely snow leopard, isn't it lovely? You don't even need to leave the room or even your armchair to enjoy it."
On his guest role in edgy youth drama Skins as Walter, a man who dances with his dog and is the Dad of gay character Maxxie
Oh yes. Being someone's dad, that's a reality check. But I'm a dad now so it wasn't too weird. It was great fun and I've got a whole new audience - school kids shouting and pointing "it's Maxxie's Dad" - so that's quite a novelty.
I really enjoyed the first series. I thought it was quite funny and sharply written. It's quite a good depiction of what teen hedonism is actually like. So when they said you are going to be playing Maxxie's dad and you are going to dance with a dog I thought "I can't turn this down". Where do you get asked to dance with a dog? That's just the top of my list of TV moments.
On Flight of the Conchords and why musical comedy isn't what it use to be - it's better
If someone has enhanced the enjoyment of musical comedy and turned more people on to it, all the better. It was always kind of denigrated. Every review I used to get was "musical comedy is normally bloody awful and an excuse to run to the bar ... but actually he's all right". And that was kind of the tone of it - despite the fact that your preconceptions are "this is going to be awful", it's actually all right.
What I hope I had a small part in was the actual music itself is the funny bit. If you are pastiche-ing something to a level of accuracy, there's an affectionate tribute element in the music, then it becomes something more than just having the music as an add-on. It becomes integral to the comedy.
On his current musical weapon of choice
I am bringing my bazouki with me this time which I have sadly neglected in the past. If you are going to be picky about it, it's not your actual pure bazouki, it's got four strings - four sets of two, double strung with violin tuning. But this is actually a Turkish saz tuning which is three sets of two and tuned to perfect fifths so it's a hybrid. It's a bazouki-saz. It's something I had especially made. You can't just pick them up. You can't just walk into a store and shout "I want a bazouki-saz".
On whether he's going for a Klingon role in the new Star Trek film
Er, do you know I've been quite busy. I haven't had a chance to prepare. I've been a bit rusty on the Klingon. I used to have this phrase I could say in Klingon because I've got a Klingon phrasebook which is a fantastic thing and there's a guy in Wales - single guy who lives with his parents, funnily enough - and he's contructed the entire Klingon phrasebook. And it's an extraordinary thing. The only phrase I learned was `ak dok mok ok ah" but it was conversational Klingon. It wasn't like "revenge is a dish best served cold" or "prepare the blasters" it was "is this seat taken?".
On those fans of his and their petitions to get him roles in things like The Hobbit
Yeah, there has been a petition. I am actually slightly nervous about this whole petition thing. I am getting a bit worried about it. I've had a few petitions. I had a petition to get me into The Lord of the Rings and there was a petition to get me on Eurovision - A Song for Europe and now there is this petition to get me into The Hobbit.
I am starting to think it's actually working against me, it's kind of counterproductive. Producers are going to go "not this guy with the petitions, Christ not this petition guy again". My name turns up and there's a big pile of signatures next to it. I don't think it's helping. I think it's just pissing people off.
On the joys of having your life and career on Wikipedia
The book of lies. It's sort of half and half. It's vaguely right. My birthday is completely wrong which is very sweet because it's a very good gauge of how well people know you. Your friends phone you up on your Wikipedia birthday. I've decided to keep my real birthday a secret because it's on a lot of my PIN numbers.
Tinselworm Bill Bailey loves all creatures great and small - and quirky comedy. Charles Purcell
August 14, 2008
FEW people can say they've genuinely considered the plight of the otter in modern society. Yet English comedian Bill Bailey did just that while hosting a TV show called Wild Thing: I Love You. He and his team solved a variety of physical and emotional problems for the animals - including that very contemporary one, boredom.
"Yeah, if you're an otter, you're just swimming around thinking, 'What am I going to do all day . . . try to catch a fish? Oh, what's the point?' One of my theories is that the dinosaurs just died out from boredom, gripped with a type of existential doubt, a world-weariness. We went around finding out where animals were in strife and waded in whether we were welcome or not . . . In the north of England, there was a problem with otters getting killed on the roads and it's an odd thing - why did the otter cross the road? Because it was bored with life?
"Here we are being liberal do-gooders and maybe they've just reached their evolutionary peak. Where now for the otter except maybe downhill? What we did [is] we realised, we figured out that when the rains . . . are you interested in this?" Yes. "I thought I detected a note of boredom there." Maybe I've reached my evolutionary peak. "Yes. Anyway, it turns out that the waters are too deep and fast-flowing for the otters to swim through it, so we built a footbridge so they could stay out of the water and off the road - an otter walkway - and they used it, apparently."
Such quirky interests aren't out of character for Bailey. From his appearances on British comedies Black Books and Spaced and the TV show Never Mind The Buzzcocks (which inspired Australia's Spicks And Specks), Bailey has carved a niche for viewing the world from a curious perspective. For example, take his fixation with clothes trouser presses, one of which he mounted on a Segway during his current tour, Tinselworm. "In British hotels, every single one I've been to has a trouser press whether you request them or not." Along with a Gideon Bible in the drawer.
"A Gideon Bible, a trouser press and tea and coffee making facilities. It's a kind of a constant. And when you're on tour for months on end these things kind of become your companions, the things you rely on. They're always there regardless of how the show has gone, how you're feeling, drunk, whatever, you can always come back and the trouser press and the Gideon Bible will be there. Strangely, I've never really used a trouser press - I've never felt that I've needed creases in my clothes to improve my appearance."
Bailey's slightly odd appearance - long beard, Hawaiian T-shirts, look of bafflement and/or fear - and comic stylings were shown off to best effect on the comedy Black Books, where Bailey was a doormat assistant (Manny) to misanthropic book seller Bernard Black (Irish comic Dylan Moran).
One suspects his co-star Moran hates talking to strangers in real life almost as much as his character Bernard did. "He doesn't like talking to people - anyone. It irritates him that he has to walk across the room to answer the phone."
Bailey says his favourite episode of Black Books was the wine-themed episode Grapes Of Wrath, in season one: "I got to shuffle along like Igor [the hunchback]." The adventures on Black Books did seem to involve a lot of sitting around drinking. Seeing how much Moran's character enjoyed sinking endless rounds of cheap wine made me almost want to embrace his lifestyle.
"No, don't. When we were growing up in the '70s there was a game called Drink Along With Dallas. Every time they'd have a drink you'd have a drink with them. The first episode I joined in on was the oil barons' ball, so the whole episode was drinking from start to finish. I was virtually hospitalised. But no, Black Books is not a life guide."
Yet it's easier to picture Bailey with a guitar rather than a glass of wine in his hand. From his very comic beginnings in his native Bath he was strumming on stage. One early gig was a true challenge. "We did this guitar act, the Rubber Bishops, and the place was full of big, scary West County skinheads," Bailey has said. "One came up to me, poked me in the chest and asked me if I'd been the bloke on stage. I was already flinching, bracing myself for a doing, when he said, 'Bloody funny.' "
Bailey won an Edinburgh Festival Critics Award for his solo show, Cosmic Jam, in 1995. His rising profile earned him his own TV show, Is It Bill Bailey? in 1996. It also starred Simon Pegg, who later returned the favour and gave Bailey a part in the seminal English share-house comedy Spaced. That year, his surreal humour was shown off to millions on the comedy-musical-trivia quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks. By the time of Black Books (2000-2004), Bailey was regarded as one of Britain's best comedians, touring with solo shows such as Bewilderness and Part Troll, the latter his last show here. Lately, he has dabbled in films such as Pegg's cop comedy Hot Fuzz.
Music figured large in Part Troll. Armed with keyboard and guitar, Bailey likes to experiment with music and genres, such as mixing trip-hoppers Portishead with the English national anthem or pretending to lick a theremin (always a crowdpleaser). Trip-hop, death metal, happy hardcore: a lot of those genres are just made-up nonsense, aren't they? "Crunk. Skiffle . . . John Lennon started off as a skiffle player." Maybe he should have stuck to skiffle.
"I try to look for musical styles that have become so entrenched that they become a form of shorthand. So if you said trip-hop, people would immediately have an idea. "I'm looking at emo in Tinselworm - a particularly overwrought, gothic, pounding, teen-angsty kind of music."
How would Bailey go as a goth? "I have quite a big goth following. I was confronted by a group of goths in London and they asked, 'Have the otters used the walkway?' And when you're confronted by people with piercings and no eyebrows and towering over me in rubber trenchcoats, I had to just lie: 'Yes, they have been using it.' I suppose the lesson is: don't lie to goths about otters. That way madness lies."
Cultural Life: Bill Bailey, Comedian Interview by Charlotte Cripps
Friday, 22 August 2008
I read a lot of books because they inspire my material. The Reluctant Mr Darwin by David Quammen is an extremely well-researched account of Darwin's life after he came back from his South American trip on the Beagle. He lived in Kent with his wife, a devout Christian, which made him question his own thoughts on evolution. I read The God Delusion. Parts of it were brilliant but Richard Dawkins loses it a bit. He says that people who are religious are not as intelligent as people who aren't. This zeal about evolution is just as evangelical as the zealots that he's trying to belittle. Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel by Gordon Burn guides you through events of 2007 but cleverly worked into a novel.
I hardly watch television. I have a child, Dax, four, who requires a lot of entertaining. I watched the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. What made me laugh was just the fact that how on earth are we going to compete with that?
People always talk about the latest films. I think, "Well, give me six months and I will be able to join in on this conversation." I saw Control [about Joy Division] because I'm a bit of an old punk. It brilliantly conjured up that era. I watched Cloverfield with the big monsters in Manhattan. I saw Beowulf starring Ray Winstone. I don't know if it was meant to be funny, but I found it hilarious.
I like electronic music – Aphex Twin, Hot Chip, Justice. I finally got around to listening to In Rainbows, the new Radiohead album. I like the lo-fi nature of it. We went to the First Night of the Proms. Messiaen's organ works was overwhelming, crashing out this wall of sound at the Royal Albert Hall. There was an amazing piece of piano music by an American called Elliott Carter. He wanted to write a piece with no chords – just one continuous flow of notes.
Bill Bailey at the Aotea Centre By Darren Bevan
I guess if you're a comedian, then there are some things which you can expect. Such as heckling. Although watching the start of Bill Bailey's show at Auckland's Aotea Centre last night, it didn't look as if the former Black Books and Hot Fuzz star was expecting the crowd to heckle him about the noise level. But it set the tone for a suitably surreal and nonsensical evening.
As he shambled on stage after a multimedia slide show demonstrated how he'd evolved from an amoeba years ago, Bill Bailey seemed ready to let fire with his usual stream of verbose consciousness, laced with musical moments. However, when one of the crowd shouted that his microphone was too loud and another joined in saying that it was too quiet, Bill quickly adapted to the somewhat laid back attitude of the Monday Auckland audience, by incorporating a sound check into the beginning of the show.
Once he was satisfied that it was all ok - this was gauged by an audience member telling him that it was fine now - there was no stopping him from touching on the absurdities of life and general non- sequiturs on anything which seems to cross his mind.
His set up on stage looked as if an electronic band such as Orbital or Kraftwerk were about to rock the venue, with a rack of synthesisers, guitars and lights strewn all over. But being a classically trained musician, Bailey has always incorporated music into his ramblings - and this time, on an unsuspecting audience, he unleashed the horrors of what a sampled customised English song for the London Olympics would sound like - complete with its catchy and irritating "Go London" chant.
With a smattering of topical material - including how there was likely to be no half measures for Barack Obama as he'd either be president or shot, and how the opening credits for Friends would look different if it used exactly the same lyrics to the Rembrandts' annoying ditty but interlaced the montages with shots of the people of New Orleans rather than the annoying likes of Ross, Rachel et al, it was clear that Bailey's admission that he had a tendency to over analyse things was what led him on a path to absurdism.
It's very difficult to analyse what makes a comedian funny and I'm willing to admit that to some, those comments about New Orleans and Obama may look crass. Yet, Bailey's strength has always been that he's so disarming and at times, a wide eyed buffoon obsessed with the insane minutiae of life, that he's instantly likeable.
However, he's equally unpredictable with seemingly out of nowhere comments like "It's the joggers I don't trust, they're always the ones who find the bodies" and "Ever noticed how on film, Ben Affleck looks like he's just realised he's left the back door open?" perfectly natural during discussion on topics like celebrity, customs and terrorism.
Another cornerstone of Bailey's stand up through the 20 odd years he's been performing is the music - his range as a musician is just incredible. During his show he managed to turn the UK National Anthem into a jazz number, fashioned quotes from George Bush about the wetlands into a dance number reminiscent of Paul Hardcastle's Vietnam hit, 19, converted the Imperial March from Star Wars into a scat number before going to put the Some Mothers Do Have 'Em music under a Terminator 3 sequence to comical effect.
If there's one criticism of the show, it's that the second half felt a little flatter than the first with the material not feeling as strong. Honestly though, that's a minor complaint given how hard I laughed during throughout the performance.
I left Bill Bailey's show feeling none the wiser but thoroughly entertained and when you go to see a comedian of his calibre, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Bill Bailey is stepping down as a team captain on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' after 11 series on the TV quiz show.
The comedian's place on the BBC2 show will be filled by celebrity guest captains. They include music producer Mark Ronson in the first episode of the new series, followed by Frank Skinner, Dermot O'Leary, Jack Dee, Johnny Vegas and Bob Mortimer. Simon Amstell returns for his third series as host of the satirical pop quiz next month.
Bailey, 44, who had been on the show since 2002, has stepped down because of other work commitments. The show's producer, talkbackThames, said: "After 11 series selflessly, heroically and hilariously captaining one side on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, other commitments have sadly led to Bill Bailey being unable to take part in the forthcoming series of the hit comedy pop quiz."
'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' launched in 1996 and is one of BBC2's longest-running shows. Former stand-up comedian Amstell took over as host from Mark Lamarr in 2006. Bailey was replaced by Noel Fielding as guest team captain for three episodes in the last series.
That's a shame as he's always good value on the show. Hopefully he'll be going on to something else and soon...
Anything's better than shaving The Courier-Mail
September 20, 2008
BLACK Books star Bill Bailey has a long stand-up comedy career behind him but still his fans petitioned him to write a Eurovision song. Bailey hates petitions. It's not that he's averse to signing them but rather that he seems to be the topic of them a little too frequently. After several fan petitions urged him to nominate himself as Britain's Eurovision entry this year, the British comedian bowed to the pressure and actually wrote a song for the contest.
"I thought I'd just do it for a laugh and see whether I'd get anywhere but, in the end, I got quite into it and wrote this song which was like a big climate change anthem," Bailey says before launching into the melody: "We lost the keys to Eden, save the planet. I could imagine people holding up lighters in the air and then feeling guilty, like 'oh no, I shouldn't be burning fuel'. I really got into it, even to the point where I did a demo of it with a mate of mine. The BBC loved it and I thought: 'Oh s***, it's all getting a bit real and serious'," he says. It did not come to pass.
Bailey was invited into the studio for a photo shoot with other Eurovision contestants but could not make it because he was doing a gig. "They got all huffy like I was giving it the big diva," Bailey says. "I think they realised I was taking the piss and it was going to be a bit silly and they wanted it to be serious. My thing was like: 'What, you're worried we're going to get humiliated?' It's been a joke in England for years and years that we come last every time. In the '60s and '70s we'd win it occasionally and now we come bottom. Last.
"The big joke is all the Baltic states and Serbia and Croatia and Bosnia all vote for each other and they all hate Britain. They never give us any points at all and it doesn't help that we put in all these terrible acts. It's all political."
Bailey is known for his trademark long hippie hair and unkempt goatee, a look he started in New York to avoid the attention of muggers. Would he ever consider changing it?
"I can't be bothered to change it," Bailey says. "I started shaving the beard off but the bloody thing just keeps growing back and you think: 'oh no, shaving again, so tedious'. It's the same with haircuts. I've got other things to be getting on with, like picking up stones and putting them down again, looking at bees, or clouds. Anything's better than shaving."
It is an ironic twist that Bailey's recognisable look now draws attention from passers-by, even if it leaves them confused. "My beard and my hair can grow out, be slightly longer or shorter, and you never quite look exactly as you do on the TV," he says. "Somebody thought I was a look-alike of Bill Bailey the other day. Some bloke came up and pointed at me and went: 'Ah, yeah yeah yeah yeah, nice try, I see what you've done there', and he walked away shaking his head."
Bailey has been on the comedy circuit since 1986 when he performed in a double act. For the next 10 years he would play up to 300 shows a year, making the most of London's thriving comedy scene. "It was great fun and it was a lifestyle we led for years where we'd get in at 4 o'clock in the morning and play cards all night and then wake up in the afternoon and do it all again," he says.
In 1995, he went solo with his first show, Bill Bailey's Cosmic Jam. It incorporated his musical talents and was later broadcast on British television. In 1998, he scored his own TV show, Is it Bill Bailey?, before making the big time with cult hit Black Books in the role of Manny starring alongside Dylan Moran.
"It was certainly something that captured people's imaginations in a way you can't ever predict," Bailey says. "It was unusual, I think, because Dylan and myself had a background in stand-up and a lot of new sitcoms don't tend to take a risk like that. They tend to say: 'Well, we need some proper actors who know what they're doing, we can't have comics doing it, they won't be able to remember their lines. They're a disaster.' It was quite a risk on their part to get the thing going, but it was a funny idea and great fun to do. And, obviously, a bit of TV exposure is good to help you get a stand-up audience."
With no plans to do another television series, these days Bailey - whose real name is Mark ("Bill was a nickname I was called at school and it's kind of stuck since ... the only people who don't call me Bill are my parents and the bank") - prefers doing guest appearances. "Guest spots are easier to fit around comedy tours and all the other stuff I'm doing," he says. "TV commitments can be quite long and, doing a series - even six shows - can take 20 weeks to make. It's a long chunk out of the year and in that time you can't really do much else. It's great just being able to dip into a show."
Bailey would rather spend his time performing live and working Britain's music festival scene. A lot of it's to do with the atmosphere, the audience, and the flexible nature of the show. "Festival crowds are a different audience," Bailey says. "In theatres people sit down and they're very well behaved and it's all very nice, but festivals are a bit looser. You can try things, experiment a bit, mess around, and you're on a bill with a lot of other acts so you might be able to get them to come and do something with you and things happen. It's a bit more spontaneous."
It will be a bit different to performing in the Concert Hall this month, but Bailey is nonetheless pumped about doing his first show in Brisbane. Like most comedians, Bailey is working on another show while touring Tinselworm, this time with more of a musical bent. Writing music with Anne Dudley, the Academy Award-winning composer (The Full Monty) and founding member of synth-pop band Art of Noise, Bailey is creating a live show with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
"I'm getting the orchestra to do mad things they wouldn't normally do, like playing a piece of music as if it had been fast-forwarded," he says. After that, if his fans have anything to do with it, he'll be starring as a dwarf in the 2010 film The Hobbit. It's another one of those bloody petitions - although if I got it that'd be rockin'," he says.
The worm turns From nature watcher to hobbit to Tinselworm, Bill Bailey's evolution makes for a curious tale. Kylie Northover
September 26, 2008
BRITISH comedian Bill Bailey, performing in Melbourne this week, is fresh from touring New Zealand, where he found himself in demand — but not as a comedian. Much to his chagrin, Bailey discovered he's the subject of an online petition put together by fans in an effort to have him cast in the coming film adaptation of The Hobbit. Bailey groans theatrically when asked about the petition, although (of course) he appreciates the absurdity of it. "Oh God, I don't initiate these things," he says, laughing. "I found out that it started off as a petition for me to be in The Lord of the Rings, and now people want me to be in The Hobbit!"
Presumably it has at least something to do with his hirsute appearance, but is Bailey feeling insulted or flattered?
"I don't know quite know how to take it," he says. "Should I just generally be in The Hobbit, or is it a very kind thought? I can only imagine these petitions just irritate film producers. Everybody else goes through normal channels — casting agents, auditions — and then they get a big pile of signatures with my face clipped to the front of it!"
It's not the first time Bailey's fans have petitioned on his behalf. Last year, another group of signatories urged the BBC to choose Bailey, who is also a talented musician, to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. Given a choice between that and Tolkien, which would be worse?
"I'm not sure, although I think The Hobbit wins," Bailey says. "Actually, the Eurovision thing could have been a bit of a laugh, so I went ahead with it. I wrote a silly eco-anthem and the BBC said it was too silly for Eurovision. It was almost like the implication was, 'If we have this, we might get humiliated.' As opposed to what? Coming last again?"
Bailey, 44, is perhaps best known as the long-suffering bookshop assistant Manny in the television comedy series Black Books. In person, he is exactly as you'd expect, if a little less goofy; friendly, charming and very, very funny. He is in town with a new show, Tinselworm, which prompts the obvious question: What does it mean?
"Tinselworm is an interesting name; it provokes comment, discussion, and it's two words very rarely seen together," he says, offering little further enlightenment. "It's a kind of gaudy, Christmassy worm. But the Christmas thing wasn't a marketing ploy. Silkworms are quite classy, but a tinselworm is a bit cheap. There's a bit of self-image there."
So, is there any nematode element to the show?
"There are no worms in the show. Or tinsel," he says. "It's about saying that's how comedians see ourselves. My last tour was called Part Troll."
Perhaps that's what prompted The Hobbit petition, then.
"Ooh, you're right," Bailey says, all wide-eyed. "They figured I've done trolls so they think I could turn my hand to anything, any mythical beast."
Bailey is certainly capable of wearing a few different hats. He's a classically trained musician (he was an associate of the London College of Music and has long incorporated music in his stand-up act), an actor and a TV presenter. As well as his comedic turns on British gameshow Never Mind the Buzzcocks (the inspiration for the ABC's Spicks and Specks), he presents a wildlife series, Wild Thing, I Love You.
"Both my parents were very much into conservation, so as a kid we'd go to bird and wildlife sanctuaries," he says. "Where we lived there was a river at the bottom of the garden that had water voles (a mouse-like creature) in it. That was the atmosphere of growing up. With my travels as well, naturally we've come into contact with people who run conservation projects." (The "we" refers to Bailey's family; he is touring with his wife and his four-year-old son, Dax.)
For the past year, Bailey has put that interest to work, doing research for a film script he's writing about a 19th century naturalist, who, he says, was the real genius behind the idea of natural selection. "It's a doco about the life of Alfred Russell Wallace," he says. "Hardly anyone knows who he is and that's the reason I wanted to make the film. He was an amateur naturalist, explorer and field biologist who had quite lowly beginnings.
"He got into beetles and was fascinated to know there were thousands of types of beetles. Anyway, the short version is that Wallace, through his own efforts and brilliant theorising and through being a field biologist who sent things to collectors, was able to spot tiny differences in the species. He was onto it before Darwin."
Don't be surprised if Bailey slips a Darwinian gag or two into his show. Though he himself might be — apart from some musical numbers, Bailey says he never knows what will happen in each performance. "My show tends to evolve; wherever I go things happen. It's good touring outside of your own country because the comedy changes. It sharpens you up a bit.
"You have to do interviews like this, and you think, 'Actually, what is the show about? What am I doing? Who am I?' I like going out and doing whole new bits of stuff in front of a big crowd. It's like a bungee jump thrill."
Bill Bailey: I don't mock the weak Bill Bailey's comic targets include the lofty giants of capitalism, whom he attacks like “some beardy bloke shaking a fist” Dominic Maxwell
Bill Bailey is not exactly what he seems. He's a cuddly hippy with an acid tongue; a light entertainer who once performed for the Workers Revolutionary Party; a panel-show regular who's had his fill of panel shows; an arena-filling comedian who reckons that most people have no idea who he is. Judge him by his rocker's hair, his psychedelic posters and his show titles - Cosmic Jam, Bewilderness, Part Troll - and you'd think he's some reefer-damaged dropout. Hear his stand-up, and his manner is more Hancock than Hawkwind: “I'm English,” he once announced, “and as such I crave disappointment.”
He began a West End run of his latest show, Tinselworm, last night. He plays a scat-jazz rejig of the death march from Star Wars. He sets Kant's categorical imperative to the Match of the Day theme. He raps at a supermarket chain for asking him to be in its adverts. A 43-year-old white beardy bloke, co-opting hip-hop to moan about Asda? “I though it had a sort of poetic incongruity about it,” he chuckles.
And that sense of poetic incongruity is the defining feature of a man who one minute is outgunning second-string pop stars on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the next is staging Pinter sketches, and a guide to the orchestra at the Albert Hall.
Bailey is angrier and more interesting than his cartoon image. Is he misunderstood? He certainly hopes so, he says cheerily, nursing a pot of mint tea at a café near his home in Hammersmith, West London. “Maybe it is just a childish thrill, but I think there is so much about popular culture that is so readily understandable, so readily packageable: oh, that's him, he does that. It's easy and you don't have to think too much about it. And I resist that.”
So when Asda came calling, asking him to be part of its series of adverts in which celebrities dress up as Asda assistants, he wasn't just resistant. He was offended. He took it as a suggestion that his relationship with his audience, something he'd built up over 20 years, was just another commodity to be bought or sold.
“I know people aren't really bothered by that sort of thing,” he says, “they just think: ‘Oh he's that bloke, he was quite funny in that ad.' But I don't think that. I see the ad and I think: ‘What the hell are you doing? Have you not got enough money? Why are you taking the Wal-Mart [Asda's parent company] dollar? Have you seen Wal-Mart - The High Cost of Low Price, the documentary about Wal-Mart? Watch that and then tell me you want to do the ad.'”
Bailey is crazily bright, musically gifted (he has perfect pitch) and endearingly self-deprecating (a quarter of the population has perfect pitch, he insists). He plies his vulnerability with the steady charm of someone who, secretly, is comfortable in his own skin. He's also a rare example of a star comedian who's equally interested in popular culture and intellectual pursuits.
He spent the day before we meet, he says, “trying to get my head round the post-Structuralists, thinking: ‘Come on, there's something here!'” So he goes through Derrida and Baudrillard with a highlighter pen, looking for gags? Not entirely. “If I'm really honest,” he says, “I'm trying to look for meaning in things. And philosophers, that's their job. So anyone that is doing that I'm going to give the time of day to, even though it might just be pretentious bollocks.”
He was born Mark Bailey, but at school he got the nickname “Bill” (after the song Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey) and it stuck. His mother, a nurse, never got used to the name. “People would ring asking for Bill. She'd say: ‘There's no Bill here. Would you like to speak to Mark?'” His father, a GP, now calls him Bill.
He started playing the piano as soon as he could reach the keys, then taught himself the guitar. At his boys' school, King Edward's in Bath, he was a bit of a prodigy. But he traces his distrust of authority to his experiences in the sixth form. Starring in a production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, for which he dyed his hair black - “It was the only time my Mum said my hair looked nice. I said, ‘Mum, I'm supposed to look like Hitler!'” - he found teachers scrapping over him. He realised that teachers had “a rather childish ownership of how well you do”.
Bailey went to university in London to study English and drama. But he spent his time in a French-speaking theatre company, putting on A-level texts for schools. “It was such a blast. And I thought, this is much more fun than sitting in lectures, listening to iambic pentameters.”
He left university after the first year, “by mutual consent”, started doing stand-up and appeared in the odd play - including Printers, a play about the print unions written by Corin Redgrave for the Workers Revolutionary Party. Was he WRP himself? “I never joined the party, but I joined in. I enjoyed it. But I stopped short of the idea of England being ready for revolution. I was only 21, but I could see that that's not going to happen, is it, if the snooker's on?”
Slowly, Bailey's musical comedy act the Rubber Bishops started to get work. From 1988 to 1994, he and Martin Stubbs played at clubs all around Britain and Ireland. “It felt like I'd found my niche,” he says, “my world.” But they were doing “ludicrous amounts of gigs”. Once, in the summer of 1994, they did four gigs in one night in three cities, ending up in Birmingham at 3.30am playing a student ball sponsored by ProPlus. “It was light when we came out, and I thought, it can't go on like this.”
Bailey made his Edinburgh solo debut in 1995. He crammed in all his hobby horses - music, politics, sci-fi, telly, intellectualism - because he didn't know how else to keep people interested for a whole hour. After ten years, he was an overnight success. The next year he was nominated for a Perrier award, losing to Dylan Moran, who later gave him his breakthrough sitcom role as Manny in Black Books.
He married his wife, Kristin (they have a son, Dax, 4) and his career blossomed. Even so, never mind 100 episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, he still sees himself as a cult act. “I think I've got a small audience. Lots of people come to my shows but it's not a mainstream audience. If I walk down the street and there's a group of people, maybe one of them will go: ‘That's Bill Bailey.' Four of them go: ‘Who?'”
He has just decided to go cold turkey on the lucrative panel shows, the erudite QI included. “I must admit,” he says, “I've never, ever felt comfortable doing them. I enjoy them, but I've never felt that it's my niche. I'm quite low-status, and those things are very competitive, you have to be quite ruthless, and that's not really me at all. Yet if you're not like that, you just get buffeted around.” And for a man with perfect pitch, it must have been hard to endure some of the singing on Buzzcocks? “Yeah, you think: ‘I can't stand here with some gormless indie twerp humming the intro to In The Air Tonight to some daytime TV presenter... this is my life!'”
His live shows are his metier. But they aren't without their frustrations either. Last year, he staged Pinter's People, a production of Harold Pinter's sketches, in the West End. But the daily critics couldn't see any poeticism in this incongruous cast of comics' “coarse” approach. Bailey is still bruised by it all. “Even now,” he says, “objectively, calmly, I do think it was unfair. It sounded like a bunch of dyspeptic colonels being told that there was jazz being played in the club bar. There was a harrumphing tone to it.” Before the far more positive Sunday reviews came out, Pinter rang Bailey to commiserate. “He said it was totally undeserved and they'd missed the whole point of the exercise.”
Next year Bailey will make another of his television wildlife series, then do a stage-show guide to Alfred Wallace - the amateur botanist who came up with the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin, but who is unlikely to get much other coverage in the bicentenary year of the founding father of natural selection. It's got a bit of everything Bill Bailey in it - music, jokes, scholarship, drawings of funny-looking creatures, tackling injustice.
First, there's a final fling for Tinselworm - a smaller version of a show that toured Britain last winter. There'll be more music, less technology. More room for a few poetically incongruous digs at capitalism at its least charming. “You have to pick your targets,” he says. “And I've realised that, consciously or unconsciously, I tend to target multinational companies! The world's richest banks, the world's richest retailers, people who aren't vulnerable. Because I think, of anyone, you can take this, me, some beardy bloke, shaking a fist at you.
“That was the thing about the whole Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross affair. It was just the wrong targets.” They mocked the weak? “They mocked the weak. You have got to aim a bit higher than that.”
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