Comedians are 'inquisitive, curious creatures' says Bill Bailey ahead of Irish dates
Comedy legend Bill Bailey will wrap up his latest live tour in Ireland next month. He spoke to David Roy about taking Larks in Transit around the world
BILL Bailey is currently approaching the end of his longest ever stand-up tour. Larks in Transit began in Australia back in 2016 and the much-loved Bath-born comedian has been on the road around the world pretty much ever since.
Of course, he's somehow also found the time to film for Idris Elba's TV comedy drama In The Long Run, curate a Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition at Hull's Maritime Museum during its tenure as City of Culture 2017 and to walk 100 miles across Britain to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer in honour of his late mum.
The ever-busy Bailey (54) also managed to nip down under again at the end of last year with a completely new tour, Earl of Whimsy, but since then he's been back on home soil with what looks to be the final run of British and Irish dates for Larks in Transit – a show which, at this point, has already visited pretty much everywhere to the point of deja vu.
"I'm definitely travelling to places now where I think, 'hey... hang on'," admits the London-based animal-loving comedian, who – as the name of the tour suggests – combines his passions for travel and nature in an anecdote-packed set, with the odd musical number thrown in for good measure.
"I'm so familiar with parts of Britain now that it's – I dunno, I guess it's a good thing, really. Because you have a great perspective on the whole nation. I mean, I really have travelled from Shetland to Penzance, from Margate down in the south east in the UKIP heartland all the way up to Oban in the north west of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides.
"I've also been all round Europe and done the most northerly gig on the planet, which is in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, and then I've played the most southerly gig on the planet, in Invercargill on the South Island of New Zealand – so it really has been all over the place.
"One of the great things about [touring the world as a comedian] is that I think you get a great insight into places, perhaps more so than you would as a tourist."
Indeed, Larks in Transit finds the globe-trotting funnyman musing on the wild variety of people, places and creatures he has encountered during a career which has now spanned more than 25 years.
Having first come to prominence in the mid-1990s as a Time Out and Perrier Award-winning stand-up, Bailey's bulging CV also includes a long-term stint on hit TV panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, a starring role in C4 sitcom Black Books and presenting documentaries like Bill Bailey's Birdwatching Bonanza and Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero – not to mention his headline slot at the Sonisphere Festival in 2011.
"Really, the show is about where comedy has taken me," he explains. "For example, I talk a bit about first impressions: the arrival in a place, the customs, the immediate impressions that you get. Those things kind of feed into me talking about identity and how people are in different countries.
"I talk a bit about the encounters that you have with people and how people treat you differently if you're in the public eye and they 'know' you – how they can be a bit weird with you.
"It's also about the kind of shows I've done and the opportunities that comedy has afforded me to make films, TV shows and documentaries around the world, from trying to film the Bird of Paradise in the eastern part of Indonesia to filming otters in the north of England and Pine Martens in Northern Ireland."
The latter assignment was for Bill's 2006 ecologically themed Wild Thing: I Love You documentary series, in which he investigated claims that this protected species was at risk of electrocution by nibbling at power cables in the wilds of Co Fermanagh.
However, things did not quite go according to plan.
"We never saw any," he chuckles. "They were very elusive."
Undoubtedly, part of the reason Bailey enjoys picking over the highlights of his career in the current show is that he never dreamed he would ever achieve such success back in the early days.
"I was just happy to be doing something I loved doing and travelling around the country with my guitar," he tells me. "Me and a mate [Toby Longworth] had a double-act [The Rubber Bishops] and we really thought we'd cracked it, you know what I mean? We didn't have to go to an office, we didn't have a regular job.
"OK, the job we did have was a bit all over the shop and we didn't really know what we were doing or where we were going. We were just enjoying it. It felt like we'd somehow beaten the system, but I never thought that it would lead to a long career."
Of course, with longevity comes enhanced perspective. As Bailey explains, the tools he employs to craft his endearingly daft comedy are actually valuable transferable skills which have made him employable beyond stand-up.
He says: "Comedians are by their nature quite sort of inquisitive, curious creatures, with interests in lots of other things, not just in comedy. And I think that's why we're now being used in TV for all sorts of things – docos, panel shows, sketch shows and sitcoms. We're quite adaptable like that.
"I guess that's it, you have to be adaptable, you have to constantly change and you have to keep working – that's the key to it, to not dwell too much or look backwards, just always look forwards to the next thing."
On the subject of moving forward, Bailey's pair of imminent Irish dates will mark the end of his mammoth Larks in Transit tour – and it seems he can't wait.
"I always have fun performing in Ireland," he enthuses. "The audiences are always great and really responsive, really up for it. I've always had great times there.
"It's sad in a way though, because I love doing the show. That's why I've taken it to so many places. But there has to be point where you say 'right, that's enough' and put a stop to it. We'll probably film it and then move on to the next project.
"I kind of like getting to that point – and you have to have them, not just in comedy but in life generally, the 'full stop' that means you can move on to the next phase."
Catching wind of the 'guru speak' he's slipped into, Bailey chuckles and adapts a California hippy drawl: "It's good for the soul, man."
:: Bill Bailey, Larks in Transit, June 13, SSE Arena, Belfast / Friday June 14, 3Arena, Dublin. Tickets via Ticketmaster outlets.