Muddy Meets Bill Bailey
The cerebral veteran comedian is marking 20 years of stand-up, so how better to celebrate than enduring an onslaught of Muddy’s stupid questions?
He’s “the brainiest comic of his generation” according to the Daily Telegraph so surely Bill Bailey – he of the funny songs, political patter and flowing locks – will enjoy a highly intellectual rout with Muddy Stilettos, right? Accordingly, our august interview covers such cerebral topics as taking one’s own cereal to hotels and how to work the crowd at funerals. Want more, more, more? The 54-year-old TV panel show regular, musician, comic actor and stand-up has already appeared at Warwick Arts Centre this year and will be performing his show, Larks In Transit, on Sat June 2 at Arena Birmingham. Shall we?
What’s the deal with this show?
It’s about where comedy has got me to over the last 20 years – it’s roughly autobiographical. There’s stand-up, storytelling, observation, songs and I always get the audience involved so there’s a bit of banter. The show’s very well-travelled as I just did an Asian tour around Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Shanghai – and now it’s coming to Aylesbury!
When you’re on the road for so long do you get bored of your own jokes?
My stand-up shows are never fixed. The routines and jokes evolve so it stays fresh. If you’re touring night after night, you want it to be interesting. If I get bored of something I drop it and do something else and I’m always on the look out for new things to talk about, new songs, new instruments to play.
How do you stay match fit?
It sounds a bit boring and not very rock’n’roll but I make sure I have enough sleep. It’s difficult enough to concentrate for two and a half hours anyway so if you’re tired, you’re struggling. I look after myself a lot better than I did in my twenties. The social aspect was such a big part of doing comedy back then. You’d do a gig with a bunch of people, all go out, drink lots of lager, have a laugh and bond. Those friendships have lasted many years so I don’t have too many regrets.
You must spend a lot of time in hotels – any rituals when you check in?
Firstly, I need to make sure I have a desk to work at. Then I figure out how to get online – I bring my dongle in case the wi-fi is sketchy. Then I locate the kettle – that’s important.
Usually the kettle is nowhere near a plug so I have to find one. And most hotels don’t have skimmed milk so I take my own. I take my own sugar-free cereal to hotels too because it’s difficult to get hold of. I carry it around in a special bag.
Do you take it down to the breakfast buffet, Alan Partridge style?
Like, in its own flight case?! No, I wouldn’t do that. It’d be, like, [snide voice] “Oh, there he is, him off the telly.”
When did you realize you were funny?
When I was a kid I used to mimic the piano works of Victor Borge and Les Dawson. One day I was at the funeral of an elderly aunt and everyone was sitting around, drinking tea and looking glum. I did Les Dawson’s routine where he used to play the Tchaikovsky piano concerto and deliberately got it wrong. My dad exploded with laughter and spat all his tea out. And I thought, wow, the power of that. So, yeah, funerals – I’m hilarious at funerals.
Who was your favourite guest on Never Mind The Buzzcocks?
Martha Reeves was so funny. She was exactly as you’d hope a legendary popstar would be. She was very indiscreet and didn’t care. Everyone said, Oh, she’s a bit of a diva, but she was nothing like that. Me and her ended up pretending to be a skiffle band – me playing a jug and her on an imaginary string bass.
Do you ever hanker after being a serious musician?
It’s a bit of a grind being an orchestral player actually. They’re not the most joyful people on the planet. They’re like, [bored] “Yeah, what are we doing?” When you rehearse with them, particularly violinists, you’ll stop rehearsing and immediately the violin goes down and up comes a magazine, a cup of coffee, the phone. I just think, God, I’m glad I’m not having to be constantly on because then it becomes a grind. Music shouldn’t be like that.
Who’s making you laugh right now?
Bo Burnham is a young American guy who uses music in his shows imaginatively and creatively. It’s not just an adjunct – the music itself is a joke. And Aparna Nancherla is quirky and interesting. When you see a whole raft of stand-up it’s all these blokes who swear a lot, and it becomes tedious. But Aparna is very gentle and talks about her own anxieties. She’ll do things like picking apart text exchanges she’s had with people.
Muddy readers are countryside dwellers – you love a good country walk, don’t you?
Very much so. There’s something about walking that allows your thoughts to settle. Your eyes rest on the horizon and it gives you chance to think. I’m not very religious but the countryside and the outdoors is like a religion to me.
Larks In Transit, Sat June 2, Arena Birmingham