Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey is bringing his Limboland show to the region.  You can catch him in Peterborough, Cambridge and Ipswich in June.  Bill rang our offices in Ipswich recently to talk to Tony Bell whom we normally find taking pictures!

Tony Bell, Bill Bailey here…

Hello Mr Bailey, how are you this morning?

Very well thank you.

I should warn you that I am the magazine’s photographer

So, shall we talk about f-stops and lenses?

Could do but let’s talk about Limboland, that is the tour that kicks off its third leg next month if you include Australia…

Well actually, if you include the West End its actually leg four, if you are being pedantic about it but yes, it is well travelled.  It began back in 2014 when I tried out the show a few times in a little theatre in London and then it went off to Australia and New Zealand and then to the Far East, Singapore and Hong Kong and then it came back here last Autumn and now this is the second UK tour of this show, so it has been through many incarnations up to this point.

Does a show that lasts that long change in any significant way over the course of its run?

It does, yes, and it has quite radical changes from time to time.  The show will re-form into a different order and there’ll be certain set pieces which will stay which will get refined and added to and improved along the way.  Then suddenly I’ll have this burst of creativity when suddenly a lot of new stuff will go in and that’s what happened recently in the West End.  I think partly because, when the show is in one place for a long period of time it is creatively quite helpful.  On tour sometimes it is difficult to write because there is the logistics of getting from place to place and a lot of time is spent travelling and setting the show up and breaking it down and moving on.  But in the West End it had a residency so I focused a lot on the show, more music went into the show and it is quite different from when it started.

Do you adjust it to suit a regional audience?

I tend not to actually.  I tend to do the show as it is and not get too bogged down in making the show particularly region specific.  But there are a lot of conversations with the audience and if something does crop up of a local nature then of course I’ll run with it like anything else.

Does comedy change over time do you think?  Do we laugh at the same things today as we did 10 or 15 years ago?

I think we find the same things we laugh at, yes, over many many years.  Comedy styles, the kinds of comedy we like change, they ebb and flow over the years.  But as I tour this country and the world there are certain things that are universal.  Part of the job of a comic is finding those, the universal funny, pointing out the absurdity of daily life.  There is a lot of that in this show.

Image © Andy Hollingworth
Image © Andy Hollingworth

The show illustrates the gap between the reality of life and what we imagine it should be.

That theme, was born in the early process of writing the show where you are thinking about what material that might go in the show and a story that seemed to me to be a good story to tell was one of a disastrous trip to see the northern lights.  I took my family up and somebody fell off a dog sledge and we got lost in the woods, it was a disaster.  

It was resolutely not what we expected it to be, I thought we’d all be standing under the northern lights, a marvellous trans-formative experience and I thought, actually you know what this is quite an interesting area to explore comedically, this idea of how you imagine something is going to be and the reality of where it ends up.  So I then applied that thought process to a lot of other aspects of my own life and then to the wider context of where we are in the world generally, in our country, the arrangements with Europe and the union and the general level of unease about tourism… not terrorism… oh and tourism!  It became an interesting theme and hence the name, Limboland.  

What fed into that also was reaching a half century and maybe pausing for reflection so a lot of things ended up being derived from this initial thought – I think it is something we have all imagined or indulged in some ways… what if, if I’d done this or if my life had gone that way… all of these things are quite rich for comedy.

I can’t imagine anyone sets out to be a comedian, did you ever aspire to, dare I say, to have a proper job?

I imagined I’d be involved in music in some way.  I studied music to quite a high level in school academically, I went on to get letters at the London College of Music and I was sort of quite qualified and thought that perhaps this is something I will do in some form.  And that was something definitely I had considered but what took me down a different direction was that I love the spoken word as well as music.  On of my first experiences of doing comedy was a combination of the two, I was playing songs with a guitar but also doing a routine.  And that is something I have continued to love my whole life, saying words out loud in front of an audience.  There is a different dynamic that happens from words on a page and that fascinates me.  Serendipitously I have ended up with a job where I combined both of these things. 

Changing tack slightly.  Stephen Fry recently quit Twitter because of reactions to a commet he made at the BAFTAs.  You are no stranger to social media, do you thing it is resulting in a dumbing down of comedy or of people expressing opinions?

I think it was unfortunate what happened there and I don’t think for a minute that Stephen will stay away, I’m sure he will be back at some point.  It was just a reaction against a reaction.  

Social media is a mouth piece for people who are easily offended and everyone is entitled to an opinion but I thing social media has a way of over heating that to the point that it drowns out the more moderate voices, I think that is the problem with it.  It doesn’t favor moderation in a way that other forms of communication do, it is very much instantaneous – yes, no, likes, thumbs up, thumbs down – by its nature, the 140 characters, there is not much nuance that can be derived from it!

When you stand up in an auditorium of one or two thousand people, or indeed 60 plus as you did at Knebworth are you aware that someone somewhere in that crowd is likely to be offended?

You can’t really think like that, obviously that may happen but you can’t set out onto the stage with that in mind I don’t think.  I think you have to stay true to your comedy instincts and trust in those instincts that you have acquired over many years of doing comedy.  

Somebody somewhere will be offended by something, I’ll give you an example: I was doing a show in Dublin, I did this routine, a daft routine about the vastness of Australia and I said every-time I go I am struck by this, every-time I see a bit more, it is huge.  There are huge swades of it where there is no one at all, it is just wilderness. Then I made this joke about the fact that – you know, they make these films about people who still think that the war is on, Japanese soldiers or people out in the tropics where nobody has told them that the war has ended.  I said that Germany could have set up a Reich there and nobody would have known apart from maybe a local policeman.  And somebody said this is outrageous, my father he fought in the way, we wouldn’t have let the Nazis in… and you are left thinking oh my God, its a joke, its a concept, it didn’t happen!  

But you never know, from that point you cannot possibly predict or second guess what people are going to be offended by – you’d never write anything.

As a photographer I’m always looking for the shot – the right light, the angle.  Do you ever switch off from observing the quirky side of life?

It is hard. When that is your business or passion it is very difficult not to process things comedicly.  You read a headline or hear something and you think – oh, that would be fun or there is an angle there, so you are always on.  I am always writing, every day I think up an idea and make a note of it by sticking a note in my phone or such.  

But there are things I love to do where I can’t do those things.  In the last few years I’ve got into stand up paddle boarding which is a very calm meditative thing where I go on the river or a lake and you just focus on staying upright for one thing and not falling in.  

There is a physical act to it and I’ve noticed over the years that something physical is a very good way of switching off.  And cycling, I love to go biking something that involves a degree of physical exertion that distracts you from trying to think of jokes.  And I find that those physical acts, pumping more oxygen to the brain or something, I don’t know, but it helps the creative process.

You are a strong supporter of International Animal Rescue, what drew you to that particular cause?

I think that they are a very proactive, hands on, practical sort of organisation that deals with problems on the ground and recognises that a lot of animal problems are human problems.  I think this is why they are so effective, there are problems of animal cruelty around the world and conservation, human encroachment into animal habitat which leads to the destruction of habitat  and therefor the animal becomes threatened, theses are all human problems.  Rather than wringing your hands and wondering what to do, you have to be practical and look at the solutions on the ground and that’s why I’ve supported them over the years.

One last question then – Kirk or Picard?

Oh Kirk, always, always!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at GrapevineLIVE, we look forward to your forthcoming shows in Peterborough, Cambridge and Ipswich.

[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]You can catch Limboland at:

Peterborough Arena on Sat 4th June

Cambridge Corn Exchange on 15th & 16th June

Ipswich Regent on 17th & 18th June 2016.