'Words are more supple, they are quicker to respond to things'

Comedian Bill Bailey on Jeremy Corbyn, ageing, and coming from Keynsham

Bill Bailey.

Bill Bailey.

Bill Bailey breezes into the Black Box Theatre later this month with his new show, Limboland, which has been getting rave reviews and is sure to be a real treat for audiences here. Ahead of his Galway visit the affable and popular comic, a familiar screen presence from numerous hit TV shows, took some time to chew the fat about youth, comedy, politics, music, and middle age.

Bailey grew up in Keynsham, not far from Bristol, a town I had only previously heard of because The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band titled a song and album after it. Was Bailey a fan? “Definitely,” he avers. “One of my fondest memories is when the Bonzos did a reunion tour a few years ago and asked me to join them onstage and perform ‘Keynsham’ with them. One of Keynsham’s few great claims is a chap called Horace Batchelor who devised a system to play the football pools, but obviously he wasn’t that successful - he was still living in Keynsham, he wasn’t in Miami, put it that way! But that’s it, Horace Batchelor, the Bonzos song and possibly me, who have achieved some sort of notoriety in our fields.”

Although a classically trained musician, Bailey was always drawn to comedy. “As a kid I remember listening to a lot of comedy records that my cousin had, he had these Monty Python LPs and we’d sit and listen to them with rapt attention,” he recalls. “It was the use of language, the absurdity and anarchy of it that I loved. It was like a doorway into another way of looking at things. I remember once thinking I might pursue music more assiduously but I also love words, that’s the thing. That’s why I probably would still have pursued comedy as a career, but having music involved in it is great as it means I get the best of both worlds. If I’d just done music there would be something missing. Words are more supple in a way, they are quicker to respond to things. If you are in a show for example, if something happens during the day you can talk about it that night and get a response. With music it’s more abstract and takes a bit longer.”

As a long-time supporter of the Labour Party what are his thoughts on the remarkable election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader? “It’s extraordinary isn’t it?” he marvels. “It’s like a quiet revolution has happened, the Labour Party is gaining tens of thousands of new members. Venues were being packed, 2,000 people were turning out to hear this rather diffident bloke who looks like a woodwork teacher talk in a quiet and persuasive way. All these old Labour grandees were issuing grave warnings that the party was going to collapse and yet it now has the most amount of popularity it has seen in my lifetime.

"It’s a generational change. I’ve got a photograph of teenagers craning to look in through a window to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak. Corbyn talks like an ordinary person, he says what he thinks, it’s not filtered by some Westminster PR machine. There is something very honest about him. There are things he says that I don’t agree with, but he speaks from the heart. He is offering something that none of the others leadership candidates offered, nothing that you’d get from the Tory party, and in one word, that is hope and that’s a very powerful draw. It’s almost like a film script - he wasn’t even going to be on the ballot, then a few politicians out of sympathy decided ‘Oh we’ll let Jeremy in to make up the numbers’ and suddenly he just swept them all aside and they don’t know what’s hit them. Whether he’ll be leader of the party come 2020, who knows? I just think it is a good thing for politics to have young people engaging in it for the first time and people coming back to the Labour Party. I am fascinated to see how it will turn out, it is exciting times.”

Bailey is a relaxed, amiable, interviewee, his remarks regularly punctuated by chuckles as he muses on life’s quirks and oddities. Quite a few of these crop up in Limboland.

“The title came about because I realised a lot of the routines in the show have similar themes and that doesn’t happen that often with me to be honest, the shows often come together quite haphazardly,” he notes. “Limboland started like that but it then all started to coalesce around this theme of the gap between expectation and reality, how you think something is going to turn out and how it actually has. I thought it was quite fertile ground for comedy.

"A few stories I tell in the show fit that theme such as a holiday which was supposed to be a glorious experience under the stars with my family watching the Northern Lights and it turned into this nightmare white-knuckle dog-sledding ride from hell. Stuff like that and personal little things that have gone wrong, also relationships. I go back a long way into my childhood and youth and talk about when you meet someone and think this going to be 'the one' and if that relationship had worked out, perhaps your life would have been very different. So it explores all those ‘What if’ scenarios.

"There is a lot of music in the show as usual, explorations of what happiness is and that leads to musical sections about how, with the minor and the major key, major key is usually used for happy music and I’m drawn to the minor key and why is that, then how the musical scales came about. I’ve also rewritten ‘Happy Birthday’ which I think is a bit of a dull song so I’ve made it more interesting.”

Now that he has attained middle-age does Bailey still find himself having these ‘limboesque’ experiences? “I think so yes,” he admits. “I got to my 50th birthday this year and I was not quite prepared for how it was going to affect me. It’s a good time to pause actually, for a bit, and look back. It’s like you’re walking up a mountain, I don’t like trying to stop all the time, I like to get to a certain point where you think you’ve earned a look and a cup of tea - and then keep going.”

Limboland is at The Black Box on Tuesday September 29 and Wednesday 30 at 8pm. Tickets are €30 through 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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