How Bill turns personal obsessions into entertainment for everyone
The last time I interviewed Bill Bailey was in 2011 in connection with his show Dandelion Mind at Plymouth's Theatre Royal.
Since then he's taken the show around the world, created a new comedy classic, Qualmpeddler, performed one of the biggest comedy gigs in the world in front of 60,000 fans at Knebworth's Sonisphere Rock Festival, played a Droxil from the Planet Androzani Major in a Doctor Who Christmas Special and presented Baboons with Bill Bailey, following three troops of apes living in South Africa's Cape Town. Oh yes, and he completed a pet project – Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero – in which he retraced the steps of his unsung hero of the natural world, Alfred Russel Wallace.
Been busy since we last talked? I ask.
He laughs: "Dribs and drabs, a few bits and bobs, a little bit here and there..."
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Bill keeps busy because he is interested in and passionate about so many things – hence the title of his previous tour, Dandelion Mind. He is particularly proud of the Wallace documentary earlier this year.
"I'm very pleased it all came together and delighted with the way it has sparked an interest in Wallace and his work. I was invited to be part of the Wallace 100 centenary celebrations and it's lovely to be part of that.
"I am so pleased we got the portrait unveiled at the Natural History Museum and his grandson was there.
"It has been very much a labour of love and I was so pleased I managed to persuade the BBC to make the programme rather than them deciding to do it and wondering 'who can we get?'
"It was driven by me and my interests and I think that passion and interest come across rather than it being one of those jolly-ups which looks just like people being sent on a holiday."
Bill's personal passions come to the fore on stage with his magical, quirky, eclectic shows which could feature stand-up comedy, science, film, music (with instruments you've never heard of), audience participation and pain. I say that because – having witnessed him live – you may be in some discomfort after laughing so hard for so long.
For Qualmpeddler he promises us some religious dubstep, his folk bouzouki, horntallica, a re-appraisal of some of the world's greatest works of art and perhaps a dub version of Downton Abbey. He looks at the consequences of lies, the unending search for the Higgs and the hiding skills of dentists.
It is, in short, a typically complex Bailey mix... and prone to last-minute change.
"I do make decisions in advance about things that I find funny, and then I realised that audiences were prepared to go along with it. I am asking a bit more of the audience. That certainly means I have a bit more freedom to talk about what I want.
"What I love about comedy is that there is so much you can talk about, so many subjects you can take on.
"I do share some personal passions in this show. My comedy is not character driven. I'm not playing a version of me. It is me.
"I like writing jokes and getting people to laugh. Really laugh. A proper good laugh. It's a catharsis – getting the things you think about and putting them aside for a couple of hours. It's a great thing to do, to laugh."
What makes Bill laugh? "Oh the usual things – YouTube clips of kids that have fallen asleep in a bucket of water and they are snoring and blowing bubbles; boxing kangaroos...
"I really like Larry Sanders, The Simpsons and a lot of American stand-up – Bill Hicks, Rich Hall, William Durst.
"I like to tell anecdotes and jokes and longer routines about slightly more unusual subjects, it has a range of different elements to it.
"It's like the old travelling troubadours who turn up singing songs and telling stories.
"The title of the show is almost a nod to an earlier time – peddlers selling wares, singing and performing, is pretty much the essence of what we do."
Bill's passion and interests also extend to design and technology. Visit his website to check tour dates and you have to "drop" Bill into a moving tour bus just to proceed.
And take the Qualmpeddler tour poster – it was inspired by posters dating from Chinese Maoist propaganda past.
"I really agonise over these things," says Bill. "Every tiny decision. When I went to talk about the design on the DVD they looked at me as if I was mad. They said no-one had ever come into the office before, but I wanted to know about the cover and the menu and the extra features. Every part of it is important to me.
"And I choose every single track on the pre-show music, and the interval, and what I walk out to. I make lighting decisions. It is almost over-analysing, but I know exactly what I want to see. That's the great fun of it for me."
It might be fun for Bill, but a couple of hours of non-stop hilarity can hurt your sides if you're sitting in the audience. Couldn't he, you know, tone it down a bit and make it a bit less funny?
"Ok," he laughs. "I'll see what I can do.
Bill Bailey is at Plymouth Pavilions on September 24.