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BILL BAILEY | INTERVIEW

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words: JENNIFER ALLAN

Behind the bumbling surrealism, Bill Bailey explains a very conscious desire to use comedy to challenge the anti-intellectualism he believes pervades contemporary culture. His new tour encompasses various elements of Bailey’s hopes, ambitions and general attitude to comedy and music, as well as exploring topical and challenging subject matter.

We begin on the topic of music, a subject seemingly integral to the Bill Bailey stand-up experience. “I have just been touring in America and Canada and a lot of the time I’d actually perform pretty much the entire first half without any music. It was quite liberating in a way, and I don’t discount doing that here. There’s so much stand-up around that music tends to make it slightly different with a different dynamic.

“Music, used sparingly, can break up a stand-up show and give it light and shade. When my shows have been reviewed, people immediately talk about the music, which will probably be a minute and a half of the whole show, and that’s the bit that people latch onto because it affects people on a more visceral level.”

For Bailey, music and comedy can be used as tools of communication. He comments openly in Dandelion Mind (Gently Modified) on the insipidity of contemporary pop music and lyrics. “I think you have to look at the subjects which have an impact on people. I think that’s the essence of a great pop song; something which somehow manages to encapsulate an emotion, a feeling, a reaction, but something which resonates with millions of other people who have felt the same things. I think that in some ways that’s the role of stand-up. Comedy will find the gaps in popular culture; comedy is a way of holding up the absurdities of our daily lives, and allowing people to laugh at them. You’re kind of like a lightening rod to a lot of emotion, and a great pop song can do that.”

The idea of real life influencing comedy works both ways. Bailey discusses stand-up as a platform that allows people to explore thought provoking topics in a stimulating environment: “Primarily you want people to laugh. The next stage is making them laugh and then think. It’s not always successful, but it’s something that I aspire to do. If I go and see a show, I like to go away with a laugh and a bit of an oooh…

“I talk about the rise of creationism and the anti-intellectualism of that school of thought… I suppose the lack of recurring intellectual engagement in public life – people want to debate something at a higher level. The internet is just awash with peoples’ thoughts and it gives vent to peoples’ ideas and opinions. Stand-up shows are a way of capturing that and almost distilling it, channelling it.”

The experience of performing in new territory is something that interests and excites Bailey: “One of the reasons I like going to America is because it sharpens you up as a stand-up. I’m not so well-known  there as I am here, so I have something to prove. For me that’s the thrill of stand-up. I talk about science, the Hadron Collider, evolution, creationism, intelligent design. Literature is in there, music, the cult of celebrity, the trivialisation of culture – the nature of modern Britain. It almost sounds like some sort of university course. I mean it is meant to be funny, there are jokes as well!”

On broaching topics that could be considered controversial in certain areas of the States, Bailey is measured in his response. “It’s not about religion per say, because I am still fascinated by religion. I’m not an atheist, I’m just fascinated by anyone who could deny something like evolution. Creationism is about the denial of scientific evidence… it’s not about saying ‘there is no God’. The show is about doubt, and it’s about finding out that I have doubts about things. I have doubts about what I believe.”

Following a thoroughly fascinating conversation with one of my comedy heroes, the Dandelion Mind (Gently Modified) tour promises to be both an entertaining and intellectual evening of comedy.

Bill Bailey performs at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Thurs 10 Nov. Tickets: £29.50. Info: 029 2022 4488 / www.ticketmaster.co.uk

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