Bill Bailey is in good spirits. He’s holidaying in Devon (south England), and over the phone he talks of his newfound love for stand-up paddle boarding, “The weather’s great and long may it continue!”
He mocks my complaints of Melbourne’s winter. “When you say wintery, it’s not really, is it? It’s the equivalent of the British summer, what you call ‘wintery’.” Laughing at my protests, he continues, “No, no. Minus 20 degrees, that’s winter.”
Though he’s active in other areas, Bill Bailey (born Mark Bailey) is best recognised as a comic and actor. His work, which includes playing Manny in Black Books, being a team captain on the UK TV panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks and his musical stand-up, has been widely celebrated. Now he’s bringing his latest show Limboland to Australia.
So, pleasantries aside, we get to discussing the show.
Broadsheet: So, what is Limboland?
Bill Bailey: It’s about the gap between expectation and reality and the area in between. [Which is] really where the interesting bits of life happen.
[For example] I never thought of it [becoming a comic] as a career option at all. It was just something I did because I love music, I love spoken word and I love comedy … I could have ended up doing something else.
It’s very much about almost just allowing yourself to be taken along by something and I think that that’s part of the idea of the show. It’s that you don’t necessarily know how things are going to pan out and sometimes it’s good to just allow events to take you along – and you end up in the state of weightlessness.
BS: What was it like starting out as a comic?
BB: When you first start, you’re completely raw. It’s nerve racking but also very exciting.
At that stage you have no idea how it’s going to go or what the reaction’s going to be. Very often, things you thought would work the audience doesn’t get, and then things you had no idea you would say seem to go well. It’s confusing. It’s not an exact science at all and still to this day I don’t quite know how it works.
And that’s part of the great thrill about it and what keeps me interested.
BS: You’re known for having a penchant for politics, what’s your view on comedians coming out politically?
BB: I think that naturally, as a comic, you respond to the events of the day.
It’s a way of making that show unique. It’s showing people that this is not a play, you’re not just reciting lines, but you’re a comic and reacting to the world around you.
I think it’s very likely [that Australian politics will feature in the upcoming tour]. Every time I come to Australia it seems there’s some political upheaval.
A few years ago, I arrived just as Kevin Rudd was being ousted. He was prime minister when I left Britain and when I arrived in Melbourne, he was gone.
BS: Is it difficult to make politics funny while reflecting the gravity of the issues?
BB: It’s a challenge. I mean every show is a comedy show. That’s my first and end point. It’s about entertainment, pure and simple, and it should be funny but if along the way you can make a point then so much the better.
One of the key elements of comedy is satire. That’s how lots of comedy began – satirising government officials, puncturing pomposity, arrogance or bad governance.
It’s a way of society holding these people to account … [and] accountability is one of the great demands a public should have of their leaders. Satire done in the right way can be a part of that.
BS: So, on this tour, we can expect the philosophy of limbo, a satirical look at Australian politics and … wait, what about music?
BB: Yes, there’s quite a lot of music.
I do a version of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus in the style of Kraftwerk, a Rammstein cover of ABBA’s Waterloo [and] I’ve rewritten Happy Birthday because I feel Happy Birthday was due a bit of an overhaul. It’s a bit of a dull tune and … the thing that annoyed me about it is that it’s still under copyright so if you play it or sing it someone gets a bit of money somewhere, which is an appalling state of affairs. I’ve written a new … downbeat one.
Bill Bailey will perform Limboland at Hamer Hall on October 5, 6 and 7. For more information and tickets head to billbailey.co.uk.
Sydney: Opera House October 16, State Theatre October 17 and 18.