Interview: Bill Bailey

Joshua Hackett chats to the ever-hilarious Bill Bailey about his new stripped-down show Limboland, his love of bizarre musical technology and keeping Britain green.

Having performed at Wembley a few years back, what challenges are there in making new shows?

It’s hard to find a new challenge. I’ve performed in situations I never dreamed I would. I’ve been on stage with an orchestra at the Albert Hall. I’ve been to Sonisphere and performed in front of thousands of metalheads. I focus on refinement and more interesting subjects nowadays. That’s what Limboland is – a bit more honest, a bit more personal and reflective.

I decided not to go down the visual route with this show. Many of my past shows have been visual spectacles, but I made a conscious decision not to do that here. On the first night I was really nervous, but there’s no one in the audience thinking, “Oh, I wish he’d had a big screen behind him.” If it’s a funny show, you don’t need it.

What will people enjoy most about the new show?

There’s some funny personal stories, which are maybe a bit more revealing than in my other shows. Lots of music, as per, and some good mashups chucked into the mix. I like a mashup, me – Miley Cyrus with Kraftwerk, Kurt Weill with Happy Birthday. There are some big fixed set pieces, but lots of time in-between where I can just go off the rails – and I quite like that.

Tinselworm, Qualmpeddler and now Limboland – what’s the Bill Bailey show name formula?

I like to make up a new word. Comedy is quite mercurial – you never know where it’s going to go, so you’re making a rod for your own back by making everything fit under a title. I thought Tinselworm would be great because it’s like a cheap worm, rather than a silkworm, which is like the ultimate. If you look a few notches down the league table of worms you get a tinselworm – the shiny, gaudy version that wants to be a silkworm.


You’re known for bringing obscure instruments on stage. Will there be any new ones in this show?

I’ve got a new theremin! They’re devilishly hard things to play, and some nights it sounds like a seal trapped under a wardrobe. I’ve found a theremini – a smaller, modern digital version. By some kind of bizarre technological sorcery, instead of a smooth glissando of notes, you get a proper scale with neat little steps. It’s a very complex piece of kit, but it makes all the difference live.

You’re a well-known conservationist. Where does that interest come from?

I grew up in quite a rural part of England, and mum and dad were into the outdoors, so I was exposed to it from an early age. Britain is only a small country, and I find myself thinking how much more of it we can concrete over. We really need to keep the wild green spaces, because once they’re gone, that’s it, they aren’t coming back. Conservation is in the public consciousness now, while it was just a sort of crackpot idea a few years ago. That’s a very good thing.

What other projects do you have in the works?

I’m hoping to do a successor to my nature show Jungle Hero, hopefully in the New Year. I’m also writing a comedy sketch show for the BBC, and I’m also toying with the idea of doing a paddleboarding documentary. There are quite a few things on the horizon…

Bill Bailey brings his Limboland to Sheffield City Hall on October 16-17. Tickets from £25.

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