Comedy blogger Ben Keenan chats to one of his all-time favourite comedians, Bill Bailey, for the Ticketmaster Blog. Buckle up and check out the full interview below…
Bill Bailey started his comedy career way back in the early eighties alongside the likes of Mark Lamarr and subsequently with Rob Longworth in the rubber bandits, honing his now enviable knack for surreal humour and political satire that whilst poignant and topical, remains silly enough not to bog us down in the horrors of modern woes.
He, like myself, would also star in the highly acclaimed Musical comedy satire and sketch show The News Revue. A show that would give him one of his first tastes of comedic collaboration and the joys of combining music with comedy and parody. Many years later Bill is now one of the most recognisable names in comedy and television.
Through his tireless work ethic and seemingly unending creative output he has performed in a variety of different guises. Musician, actor, writer, presenter and composer. Yeah, I know! With a career spanning over 30 years, including comic classics like Black Books, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and far too many stand-up shows to mention individually. Yeah, you get my point. I wonder where he gets his energy? How he keeps on going?
Luckily for me, Bill is in a chatty mood. So much so that there’s time to discuss our shared love of PJ Harvey and Radiohead.
Hey Bill, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. You have so many dates on this current tour, do you ever forget where you are and need to ask someone prior to going on stage?
“Oh yeah, absolutely! I use to get my crew, firstly as a joke, to write the day and the name of the city on a piece of A4 paper and have it side of the stage. But then I realised this is actually a good idea.”
“Yeah I mean sometimes the days just blur into one another and I’ll be on stage saying to a crowd ‘You’re a good crowd for a…’, then I’ll realise I don’t even know what day it is! So I’ll ask people what day it is and they’ll be thinking ‘ah, thats a great joke Bill’. Then have some angry bloke telling me it’s a Tuesday clearly thinking, ‘this guy doesn’t even now what day it is!’
From the looks of your touring schedule it seems like an endurance challenge? Do you have any time off?
“Yeah, well, I’m taking August off as it’s school holidays so I want to spend time with family.”
“A much needed break it would seem…”
“Exactly. It’s been pretty full on up till now, with tours of New Zealand and Australia, and a mini European tour, but the last few gigs have been fantastic; the audience’s have been great, the shows are going well and each time the show evolves and grows so its’ lovely to see.”
You’re never one to rest on your laurels and that makes you stand out from your peers, is there ever a time where you think, and not in an arrogant sense, ‘I’m a household name I don’t need to be driving from town to town’?
“Well I have a crew that travel with me and we all get along really well and we’ve been together a long time and they know the show so well, and it’s a production. It’s got great lights and great sound. And when you have a show that’s humming along it’s great fun to perform it and you want to show it off and take it to as many places as you can.”
Do you find it hard to say goodbye to certain shows or material in shows?
“Well yeah, and I suppose that’s always going to happen so I’ll film a show and then that’s it. It’s done and you can move on from it.”
So how do you find the time to write these big shows and make them seem so seamless?
“If you’re in the business of writing comedy, as you know, it can be all-consuming. So it’s about blocking off time to focus on other things.”
It must be hard in your position, being offered so much work and picking the right projects you want to put your name to?
“Well yeah, that’s right, there’s so much you’re offered.”
So we won’t see Bill Bailey doing a shampoo ad anytime soon, eh?
“Maybe a beard dressing or guitar strings, something I’m interested in. Like once I was asked to do an advert with Kelly Osborne, and I thought, why? I did however do a food awareness advert to highlight the fact that a lot of school kids didn’t know which animal their food came from. And that was more serendipitous really as it was for a really good cause.”
You’ve had a remarkable career and we would be here all day if we were to talk about everything thing you’ve done, so what would say were some of your personal highlights?
“Well firstly I’d say working with Dylan and Graham Linehan on Black Books because it was such a great script and cast with Tamsin Gregg, and the guests we had and we really did have artistic freedom you know, there was no meddling from the channel or anything. And it was almost traditional in the sense that it was filmed in front of a live audience which is now seeing a bit of a resurgence with the likes of Mrs Brown’s Boys.”
“The next thing I suppose was the collaboration between myself and Anne Dudley and the BBC Concert Orchestra which then went on to tour the country with other orchestras and the link there is some of the best times for me is when you collaborate artistically. I remember when the BBC approached me about this and the asked me if I knew any arrangers (musical) and I thought no I don’t know any.
“That was a fantastically intense and creative time, I was utterly drained. Having to use two very different parts of my brain. The comedy side keeping it loose and then the strict musical side playing with these orchestra’s.
“And then I suppose my live shows really. Like my appearance at Sonisphere; that was great fun because again I was working with a great band and we wrote some songs. So yeah, that was great fun.”
On the topic of bands, it pleases me to say we like a lot of the same bands; Beck, Talking Heads, The Dandy Warhols. Bands that quite like yourself like to be very creatively interpretive and genre bending. Who is doing it for you now?
“Well right now I’m listening to a lot of PJ Harvey, music that moves away from the standard verse chorus into music, that’s more of a mood, you know? Like Radiohead’s new album. Where it doesn’t conform to a genre definition. You know they’re almost soundscapes as opposed to songs. Like Sigur Ros where some of their songs will start off as little noises, or electronic blips, or toy piano sounds, and end up as these amazing symphonic rock songs.”
Finally Bill you where once, like myself, in The News Revue, would you ever do it again?
“I was and it was a great experience; again a collaborative creative experience. Who knows if I’d go back!”
It’s a great show although it do with more non musical theatre numbers, eh?
“Yeah maybe a bit of Slipknot! Send in the clowns by Slipknot.”
Well I can now die (in 40-something years) a happy man. I honestly could’ve chatted to Bill Bailey for hours.
Catch Bill Bailey: Limboland in the UK until July 2016, with some additional Dublin dates in September. Book now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.