Published in The Music (NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Oct – Nov 2016
Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To “Stuff That You Learn Along The Way”
Touring nonstop for the past 20 years, there’s one thing keeping British funnyman Bill Bailey sane as the world slowly unravels. He takes a break from juggling projects to chat with Daniel Cribb.
It’s a warm and muggy morning in London when Bill Bailey picks up the phone at his Glassbox Productions office, and while a hot cup of coffee might not sound like an enticing pick-me-up in such conditions, it’s necessary when you consider just how many projects he’s juggling.
“I’ve written a book on British birds,” a fittingly chirpy Bailey begins on his October Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To British Birds release. “I’ve written a sitcom pilot for the BBC and they accepted it so we’re doing pre-production for that,” he quickly adds – but it doesn’t stop there. “And I’m curating a Museum Of Curiosity in a maritime museum in the north of England; just usual sort of things.”
Anyone who has seen Bailey in action during his 20 years as a touring comic will know his definition of ‘usual’ differs to the conventional means. His unique brand of humour was first introduced to many Australians in the early 2000s during his stint as Manny Bianco in UK hit Black Books and quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, so the prospect of seeing Bailey back on TV with his own show is an exciting one.
“It’s based around a wildlife park, and I’m the aristocratic, slightly baffled curator and owner of the park. It’s set in the West of England,” he reveals. “It’s probably not a huge stretch for me. You have a lot of shenanigans with the animals; I think that’s a lot of the fun we’re going to have with it, a lot of the animals comment on all the humans in a slightly philosophical way so we’re just figuring out how to shoot that and it’s looking good.”
The theme of wildlife is front and centre, which is something the 52-year-old has been passionate about most of his life, stemming from trips to wildlife and bird reserves with his parents while growing up. Spending the past two decades taking his comedy to every corner of the planet, he’ll often spend his free time checking out the local scenery.
“It’s kind of reassuring – you realise, almost on another level, how interconnected the world is and how artificial the borders that we’ve imposed on ourselves are,” he explains. “When I was in Indonesia earlier this year, I was on a dive trip and I was looking out over a rocky shore at these little wailing birds, sandpipers, and these are the same birds that I see in my local reserve here in West London… you do get a sense of a wider view of the world.”
Wildlife is one of the constants Bailey has noticed during his travels, but he’s also noted some drastic changes. “The biggest change I think is development; I mean, we’re constantly encroaching on the natural world, that’s something I’ve noticed hugely. I’ve noticed an increase in population and the way that impacts on the environment in terms of building and traffic and people in general using resources, but some things don’t change, the politicians are still just as dodgy as ever,” he laughs.
Politicians (among others) took a beating during his last Aussie tour, Limboland, which fused music and more into one of the more engaging and diverse comedy sets going around. Bailey brings his new set Larks In Transit Down Under this time – almost a live, comedic memoir of sorts; a way for him to mark the impressive milestone that is 20 years of touring. “I think it’s quite important to do that along the way,” he says.
“It also struck me that when I first came to Australia I’d only just started doing stand-up – I mean, I’d probably been doing it maybe a year or less. I’d done comedy before in a double act and sketch comedy, I’d been an actor and a musician but just doing my own thing was a relatively new adventure and so the time playing in Australia really encompasses virtually my entire stand-up career.
“It’s partly a retrospective of all of that travel tales, stuff that you learn along the way, a bit of philosophy you’ve picked up, some stories and a lot of music. I’ve thought, ‘Okay, here’s a good point to collect a bunch of thoughts and stories and we’ll have music and lights and stick it in one show.’”