FEW comedic minds are as sharp as that of Englishman Bill Bailey, and he’s bringing it our way once again in a bid to help us contemplate the true nature of happiness.
His new show, Limboland, is sure to continue his habit of selling out major venues all over the country, with a 16-date tour on the cards for October.
“[The show] basically uses a term which is more to do with comedy found in the Catholic liturgy; this concept of limbo or a state of transition,” he says. “But it’s not strictly that, it’s Limboland, so it’s a place of the unknown or expected. I guess it came about because I saw a sign on a door coming out of an airport in Copenhagen saying ‘welcome to Denmark – the happiest country in the world’, and I was like ‘what, really?’ I became intrigued by what is happiness, what constitutes the happiness quotient in our lives and what really gives us happiness. It’s very often not the things you find in surveys, which are all about feeling secure, the bins being collected and the country being in a secure state. It’s more ephemeral; it’s more sort of transient. I guess that’s the starting point of the show; trying to explore that area between what we expect and what is real, what we think our lives are going to be like and what they are actually are like. It’s quite an interesting area to explore because it lead me to all kinds of memories from my childhood and growing up; key moments where you think it could have gone this way or that way. It’s quite a personal show and a kind of reflective look at what makes us happy and what’s the true nature of happiness.”
The 50 year-old Bailey is best known to Australian audiences for his stand up shows and his appearances on television, including QI and ABC’s award-winning hit, Black Books, in which he played the increasingly deranged Manny Bianco opposite fellow comic, Dylan Moran. But can he provide the secret to true happiness with Limboland?
“Sometimes it’s just having a decent cup of tea and watching the sun rise or something, you know what I mean?” he says. “There are odd moments when things just come together and you think ‘this is it’. When religions talk about moments of rapture, they’re not really about visions and all the rest of it, they’re just about the day-to-day or if you have a moment of clarity about something. But it’s also about feeling a state of change; almost like a transitional phase in your life when you reflect and think ‘I’ve done this, this and this, I’ve got a family, house and a nice life’. That’s really what the show is about; it’s a slight sense of mortality or uncertainty about the future, perhaps. It might be borne out of the things that we used to think were untouchable; the monoliths of our society like banks, politicians, royalty, the media, newspapers and all these things that are supposed to be completely unimpeachable, above the law and pristine. All these institutions have been gradually and systematically revealed to be utterly rotten to the core, so there’s nothing for us to cling to. We’re a bit on our own and we have to look out for ourselves a bit more.”
No Bill Bailey show is complete without a healthy portion of his ample musical ability, with Limboland set to feature a fabulously downbeat version of ‘Happy Birthday’, among other compositions.
“I was just reading a fascinating book about the history of protest songs,” he says. “So I thought it’d be good to revive that notion, and there’s an element of that in the show. The travelling I’ve done quite recently has all been through Europe, and it seemed odd that I neglected touring Europe for so many years. I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand many times, I’ve travelled to Asia and performed pretty much all over the world. So I did this big tour in Europe earlier this year, and it was fascinating to realise that there’s so much diversity and difference in language and culture, all quite jumbled together in quite a small area. I did this intense hit of Europe and went to about 15 countries in a month and it proved to be a rich source of [musical] material.”
Having spoken of his love for Australian border control and customs in the past, Bailey is looking forward to the trip this time around.
“I’ve always had fun getting into Australia,” he says. “Very often, over the years, I’ve travelled to Australia via South-East Asia. Having been in parts of Indonesia where the border patrols aren’t that strict, and then arriving in Australia, you realise it’s got proper border controls with sniffer dogs and God knows what. I’ve been picked out of a line-up by dogs before now, and it’s always embarrassing. The dogs have just stood there, barking and barking. Once, I think we were at a party and somebody had a spliff or something, and some of the smoke tends to just cling to you. I didn’t have anything on me and there was no wrongdoing involved, it was just the dog doing his job, so I had to ‘fess up and say what had happened. The thing was, I just didn’t want the dog to get in trouble, you know?”
A run of 16 shows begins in Perth on October 1st, before finishing nearly a month later in Newcastle, with shows in Brisbane on October 12th and 13th.
“I like to come and run in the show, and it’s good to spend a bit of time in a country and really bed it in,” Bailey says. “Often, when I come to places like Australia, there’ll be incidents in politics that will end up in the show as well, so as the show tours around, I pick up stories and things that will get thrown into the show and it becomes very much an Oz-centric show. That’s the way I like it; I like to have material that comes in and is specific to an area, and is gone before I leave.”
Besides his accomplishments as a comedian, actor, writer and musician, Bailey is a self-confessed super-fan of wildlife; a passion he hopes to indulge Down Under.
“I’m hoping to be filming [a wildlife show] at the end of this tour,” he says. “We’re just sort of negotiating at the moment about the feasibility of it. If I’m able, then I’m going to try to fit it in. I’ve been travelling to Australia for nearly 20 years now and have a fascination with the wildlife, so I think I want to have that outsider’s perspective of some of the more colourful aspects of the wildlife, get into detail and maybe expose a few myths about them. I’ve snorkelled around sharks, stingrays and octopuses and hung around snakes and all sorts of things in Borneo, so I’m not too phased by these kinds of things. I’m fascinated by them, so I guess I do sometimes forget that these things can nip you or whatever. Okay, maybe more than a nip; a nibble.”
BILL BAILEY APPEARS AT QPAC ON OCT 12 & 13.