The Bailey’s Tale: Interview with Bill

Published on the 24th November 2009 by the University Observer

otwo meets Bill Bailey just as the comedian is leaving Theatre L (“the tiny woodlouse of dreams”) where he had received the L&H’s James Joyce Award, a LawSoc Honorary Life Membership, done some stand-up and a Q&A session for a “much smaller crowd than usual”.

IMG_8263Let’s cross our fingers that UC-double-D finds fame in one of Bailey’s routines, because one student certainly made an impact. “I’ve never been asked if I wore pyjamas or not,” says Bailey, recalling how his evening had gone. “Occasionally there are people who say, ‘Get in touch with me. Touch the beard, kiss the hair,’ something like that, but the pyjamas one… that’s a first. I was really impressed by that.”

How does it feel to be a James Joyce Award recipient? “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. I’ve never received any award or any kind of university bestowing-of-things before, and so the only ones I’ve done have been like award ceremonies for TV things, or the only other award that really made any impact on me was from the Composer’s Association. This here is the best award ceremony there is! […] You don’t have to sit there for hours and hours watching other people go, ‘I’d just like to thank…’ It’s brilliant! I’d like all award ceremonies to be like this.”

The first rule of comedy is ‘thou shalt know thy audience’, and Bailey hit the jackpot with his opening verse to the assembled crowd:


“You may have won this time, Henry,

you may have scored,

but you are a fraud,

and now you will never be a recipient

of the James Joyce Award.”

Uniquely, Bailey’s comedy is lacquered with tremendous musical ability. otwoasks which of the two arts Bailey prefers. “If I had to choose between music or comedy I couldn’t possibly do it, I’d sort of shatter, like kryptonite! It’s very difficult, I’ve never been able to choose. No, it will probably always be comedy; only because I love the spoken word, I love the nature of comedy, the way it’s a connection with an audience just through voice and through language. Music’s great because it does that on a visceral level which you’re not quite aware of… language is quicker and has more of an immediacy to it, so probably comedy then.”

His passion for English led to him studying it for a year in college, and in the same way led to his career path. “I love the work that Irish comedians like Dylan [Moran], Tommy Tiernan… people like that who use language, it’s a celebration of language, that’s what I love about it and anyone that does that.” Bailey reserves special praise for Daniel Kitson: “I love seeing him because he sort of takes the stand-up form a bit beyond stand up.”

Coming from a family of doctors and stonemasons, Bailey was forced to look outside the home for childhood inspiration. “When I was a kid I was watching comedians like Les Dawson on the TV; they were these guys who messed around with music and comedy so that was a big inspiration. And then punk bands, that was my era, I went to see the Stranglers and the Undertones, and I graduated to bands like Talking Heads. We had a piano at home so I just naturally wanted to play it too… make noise.”

Though the grey hair might deceive you, Bailey is only 45, and still half-troll half-rebel, composing the song “Asda, I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Bitch” after being asked to do an Asda ad campaign (ironically probably resulting in even greater publicity). Bailey also admits to smoking cannabis during his downtime. “Not as much as I did, because I suffer from asthma; I have to be a bit careful, because wheezing, stoned, is not something you want to do at all. Try to remember where you put your inhaler.”

And what of a possible return to Never Mind the Buzzcocks where Bailey was a much-loved team captain? “You know what, I did a hundred shows of Buzzcocks. A hundred shows! When you get to a hundred of anything – you eat a hundred carrots – you think, ‘That’s enough’. And also I did get a bit fed up… I’m a grown man [but] I’m humming the introduction to ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears to some gormless indie halfwit.”

With a sell-out gig at The O2 under his belt, Bailey is not stuck for other distractions. He loiters drinking wine, though, until his tour manager decides it’s time to depart, and not before answering the question of the evening.

“No, of course I don’t wear pyjamas to bed! Because I’m covered in hair, I’ve always been hairy – even as a child I was hairy… I’d be too hot, so no.”

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