Slightly surreal look at the Bailey grind

Bill Bailey Dandelion Mind
Bill Bailey Dandelion Mind
0
Have your say

BILL Bailey has a nasty cold when we speak but he seems determined to go and practise playing the oud for his tour.

BILL Bailey has a nasty cold when we speak but he seems determined to go and practise playing the oud for his tour.

Undated handout photo of (left to right) Manny (played by Bill Bailey), Bernard Black (played by Dylan Moran) and Fran (played by Tamsin Greig), who are to star in Black Books on Channel 4 in the spring, the station has announced, Wednesday March 8, 2000.  Irish comedian Moran, who proved a hit in the BBC series How Do You Want Me?, is to play an eccentric bookshop owner. See PA story SHOWBIZ Channel 4. PA handout photo.

Undated handout photo of (left to right) Manny (played by Bill Bailey), Bernard Black (played by Dylan Moran) and Fran (played by Tamsin Greig), who are to star in Black Books on Channel 4 in the spring, the station has announced, Wednesday March 8, 2000. Irish comedian Moran, who proved a hit in the BBC series How Do You Want Me?, is to play an eccentric bookshop owner. See PA story SHOWBIZ Channel 4. PA handout photo.

It’s not a pledge you hear very often from a comedian; then Mr Bailey is not your average mirth merchant.

For example, the former Never Mind The Buzzcocks panelist and star of classic comedy Black Books has a bout of Iranian hip hop in his Dandelion Mind tour, which returns him to Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on November 4.

“I haven’t been to Iran but I have been to the souk in Marrakech,” says Bill, when asked how he researched such a genre.

“That was quite an experience, not an altogether great experience I have to say. It wasn’t as authentically Moroccan as I thought it would be. I rather naively thought the ancient centre of Marrakech was going to be this place of fires and traditional foods and Berber culture meeting French and Moroccan.

Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey

“But it felt a little bit like Guildford market on a Saturday afternoon. It was all paved for one thing. It looked like one big suburban driveway and there was a lot of people speaking cod English, shouting out ‘all right mate’ and ‘lovely job’.”

Such disappointments are perfect fuel for Bill’s shows, a moveable feast that adapts with events that have shaped his day. It’s partly perhaps why his brand of comedy has taken him all over the world to like-minded souls in need of it.

“What I’ve found has borne out what I’ve always thought, that there’s no real gap between different cultures; funny is funny anywhere really.

“There’s a universal funny in the English-speaking world. Australia and New Zealand get it, the same with America and Canada.

“There’s always this thing, Americans don’t get it, they don’t get irony. It’s a complete, total myth. The most lacerating critics of American culture are always brilliant American satirists.

“There’s an audience for British comedy. The bar is set pretty high here, I think. Comedy here is very good, by and large. There’s a huge variety of it, all kinds from straight forward stand-up stuff, observational through to acerbic stuff, pushing the envelope stuff, sketch comedy, all manner and disproportionate really to the size of the country and the people that we are really.”

So while as a nation we don’t seem to do manufacturing any more, at least we can export mirth.

“Yes, maybe we’re offsetting all the previous imperial violence with a bit of whimsy.”

And if Bill had been around at the height of our colonial aspirations, with his skills he’d have surely been a royal court jester – except now people need distraction from soaring inflation and heating bills rather than the plague.

“A whimsymeister, yes. I do see that as what stand-up is, the continuation of a very long tradition of travelling entertainers.

“You are compelled to do it. There’s an element of fact that I have to do it. I get very jumpy and a bit antsy if I haven’t done a gig for a while.

“It’s partly that and in comedy there’s an obligation in a way to try to air views that are around. A lot of the time comedy is like a lightning conductor for a lot of thoughts and public views.

“One of the great joys of doing it is finding those moments, what is a general sense of distrust or anger or frustration with the modern world and then distilling that and managing to succinctly sum it up in a phrase. It’s quite a fluid form. It’ll fit most subjects and it’s your job to try and find it.”

Dandelion Mind had an extensive run in the West End. But even occupying a regular location Bill says the show had a chance to evolve.

“The time it had its residency I was talking about the Pope’s visit, and that sparked a whole routine about the hypocrisy of the Catholic church so I was angry the minute I walked on stage.

“Then there were the student demonstrations, which spun off into a rant about the coalition, politics and cuts, the legacy, the financial crisis. One thing led to another and I realised even when I was touring in Australia you find similar things, there’s so much resonance with these things in other countries, people have the same kinds of problems around the world.

“That made me realise, if you follow instinctively your outrage and general sense of injustice and anger at things like hypocrisy, greed and cruelty, the worst elements of human behaviour, and you home in on them you find they are universal and the comedy that comes out resonates anywhere.”