Bill Bailey interview
Bill Bailey’s fans are in limbo no longer; the comedian is back with perhaps his most brilliant stand-up show yet. Limboland is a coruscating evening which majors on the theme of why life never lives up to our expectations, with a very funny tale of a catastrophic family trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights. He also considers the true nature of happiness. Ahead of the tour, whose national run has just been extended by 39 dates, we ask Bailey about the new show.
Hi Bill. What can you tell us about Limboland?
It’s about not living up to our own expectations. We have a vaulted idea of what we imagined we’d achieve and then we realise the reality is somewhat different. The show explores the gap between the two.
How does your stand-up compare to your TV work?
I always get a surge of adrenaline before a show. It really gets the heart pumping in a way that a TV recording doesn’t. A TV recording can be stopped and you can go again until it’s funny. Producers say, ‘We’ll cut that bit out.’ You can’t do that with stand-up.
I always remember that after I was nominated for the Perrier Award in 1996, I was asked to do a show at a major theatre in London. It was the first time I’d done such a big show. Just before I went on stage, I remember thinking, ‘There is no going back. You can’t stop it now.’ It’s like stepping off a diving board. But it’s a tremendous thrill that I still get at every gig.
I love the fact that every gig is different because every audience is different. I get great energy off the audience. It’s like catching a wave when you’re surfing. You think, ‘I’m not going to fall off the board, and it’s going to be great!’
Why do you think you’ve got such a good rapport with your fans?
They really respond to the show. They say to me, ‘We didn’t feel the show was dumbing down in any way. It respected our intelligence as an audience.’ That’s very important to me. I never underestimate an audience. If you challenge them, they’ll respond.
Is it more important to make an audience laugh or make an audience think?
If you’re a half-decent comedian, you should be able to get laughs every time. But if at the same time you can slip in a bit of something else – a historical appraisal of how different musical modes reflect different cultures, say – as well as keeping it funny, then audiences react very favourably. The first priority is to make them laugh, but the second priority is to make them think.
Like in your new show when you talk about English-ness?
Absolutely. The idea of English-ness now has a stigma attached to it. I want to say, ‘No, I’m proud of my English-ness’. We have good qualities that get lost in the mix of nationalism.
Music also plays a huge role in your act – why is that?
I love playing different instruments. Acts where everything comes together can be transcendent. They are greater than the sum of their parts. Music can take things to a higher level.
Are you reaching a point in your career where you’ve done it all and you’re contemplating retirement?
I don’t think I’ll ever retire. As l long as I can still stand up and play instruments, I’ll carry on.