Bill Bailey: ‘I couldn’t do music without comedy, unless I was like Sting with a lute’

Club Scene with Sam Cherry

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Bill Bailey doesn’t do grumpy. For the loveable bearded comedian, there’s no time to be cynical when there are so many weird and wonderful things out there to explore.

Says Bill: ‘If you see me on Grumpy Old Men (the TV show), you can shoot me.’

Bill Bailey. Picture: Andy Hollingworth

Bill Bailey. Picture: Andy Hollingworth

Of course, I ask how he would like to be shot. ‘Using a gun filled with praline chocolate bullets.’

After a family holiday of body-boarding, scuba diving and mountain biking, Bill is back and raring to go for the UK leg of his latest tour after his shows in New Zealand and Australia were a success.

Says Bill: ‘I have just been away on solid furlough between the legs of the tour, away with family. A bit of R&R.

‘It’s always good to do something different for a bit that requires you not to think about much.

‘I’m constantly doing shows and they are all-consuming. They take over your life.’

‘I am not one for sitting on a beach. I have to be doing something. I tend to think about the shows a lot, how to change material and reform it.

‘All I end up doing is processing information all of the time. I would read a story and try to think of an angle for my material. In a way it’s a kind of madness’

He has named his new tour Qualmpeddler. Explaining the word’s origin in his usual comical rambling way, he says: ‘Qualmpeddler is a word I made up. I like making up words. What I like about this word, is that it is a new word and when people try to find out what it means online, it will take you back to me.

‘So there’s a practical application to it as well. Qualm is a lovely old-fashioned word that means concern or worry.

‘A peddler is a medieval word which means to air those concerns and worries and I think it’s a good euphemism for stand-up comedy.’

And you can expect a bit of science, philosophy and history being thrown into his new show.

The more obscure and absurd the idea, the more Bill relishes the challenge of turning it on its head in a comical and quite often musical way.

Bill will be bringing his Qualmpeddler antics to the King’s Theatre in Southsea.

‘I think with the King’s Theatre in particular it’s very conducive to stand-up and live performances because there are enough people to get a reaction and everyone can hear that banter between me and the audience.

‘That gets lost in the bigger venues. The show becomes more of a spectacle rather than a cabaret style, which I like.

‘It doesn’t slow down the momentum of the show if everyone can hear the interactions. There’s always an atmosphere to them, something in the walls of a place.’

It’s no great secret that Bill likes his music,incorporating this passion into his shows.

Says Bill: ‘I love words and where they take you. It allows the imagination to go off.

‘I love going to watch music and I love playing music. It affects people on a different level, a primeval level. I don’t think I could do one without the other. Maybe if I was like Sting where I could just come out with a lute and everyone will think I’m marvellous.

‘But this is what I do and I will be doing this until I am physically incapable. If I am allowed to be in films or acting, even become a renowned cheese-maker, there would be a time and a place.’

Bill admits he likes to keep his comedy natural and very much a reflection of his everyday life. He also says he wouldn’t be able to have a persona for on stage because he’s ‘not complicated enough’.

Says Bill: ‘I choose very strange subjects that have to be entertaining and funny. I allow myself a bit more poignancy.

‘There’s a bit from the show about rescuing an owl from a restaurant in China, which has a poignant end to it. I always strive for a little bit extra. If I get enough laughs, I can allow myself that.’

A British Comedy Award winner, Bill has enjoyed success on the live stage for many years. In 2001 he took his show Bewilderness to New York for an eight-week run at the Westbeth Theatre.

In 2004 he performed his show Part Troll at more than 50 venues around the UK, culminating in an extended run at London’s Wyndhams Theatre.

In 2007 he embarked on a sold-out UK arena tour with his audio-visual, comedic extravaganza, Tinselworm which ended with a 10-week run of the show at The Gielgud Theatre.

The summer of 2009 saw Bill tour the UK once again with his live show, Bill Bailey Live. Later that same year, following his performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall and the resulting critically-acclaimed BBC2 television broadcast, Bill enjoyed a very successful UK tour of his musical comedy extravaganza, Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra.

Bill is showing no signs of slowing down.

He is currently developing ideas for film and television with his own production company, Glassbox Productions.

With grumpiness out of the question, the comedian says it’s all about focusing on life’s absurdities.

Says Bill: ‘You have to acknowledge that you grow up and change. In my early 20s I might have been talking about girlfriends, getting off your face, TV. I was young, simple and a little bit daft.

‘Now I am 25 years older things have changed, my obligations have changed, but you still need to obtain the absurdity of life.

‘You try to stay engaged with yourself, don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t become cynical and sceptical, and still retain a freshness and openness of mind.’

Bill on...

...his favourite music

‘My favourite band is Mastadon. It’s all out full-on rock prog metal. I love PJ Harvey’s voice and Elvis Costello’s lyrics and writing. I like listening to music for different things.’

...comedy’s evolution

‘I love the fact there’s a whole range of comedy now. You have character comedy, such as Eddie Izzard. He took it to unusual realms. Yes, you can do what you want.’

...his influences

‘I remember Ben Elton’s Motormouth tour and it was properly brilliant. People rocking in the aisles, it was almost a class on how to do stand up. He had the audience in the palm of his hands. It was like a benchmark.’

For tickets to see Bill Bailey at the Kings Theatre in Southsea on Monday or Tuesday, call (023) 9282 8282 or visit