INTERVIEW: Bill Bailey | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Gillian Robertson Glassbox Productions Ltd

You only get 15 minutes with Bill Bailey, but that’s all you need… unless you nearly lose the first five minutes to an anecdote regarding visiting parents, a business meeting turned night out, and a curry order influenced by “wine thumbs”. He’s graced our stages and screens for decades – through the dot-com boom, the rise and fall (and rise again) of flip phones, and a fair few global crises – but still the veteran comic gets his kicks from his job. 

Comedy is a communal experience. Sharing is intrinsic to the human experience. We’re social animals, we like to be amongst others. All the social media sites have a button that says ‘Share’. It seems ironic – the modern way that we interact with tech is a solitary activity. Going to the gig – that’s proper sharing. The feeling, the energy in a room… that’s what I love, and I think that’s what we crave.”

As we’ve all become more reliant on our technology than ever, Bailey got thinking about its impact on society – is this all for better or worse? 

Humans, we’re maddeningly contradictory and unpredictable. We’re a bit clumsy and reckless, but that’s what makes us human. That can’t ever be replaced by any AI or algorithm – all they do is replicate. It can’t originate. That’s what I’m celebrating in this show. It’s about human creativity that goes back thousands of years. The things that I’m doing – singing songs, telling stories – are what we’ve been doing since we could speak. People sitting around a campfire recounting stories that become fables that become rituals that eventually become religion. Religion was a way of unifying people and in a way that’s what comedy is. It has the ritual element of it that I really like, that feels like an ancient human activity that I’ve just happened to be a modern exponent of.”

I’ve taught myself Turkish, so I’m gonna sing some Coldplay songs on an ancient Turkish lute and sing it in Turkish for no other reason than I can

Bill Bailey doesn’t rely on an AI to make his ludicrous comedy/music blends that really shouldn’t make sense but do, he goes to the source of all of humanity’s creativity: the people themselves. 

On tour in Australia, I worked with opera singers in every city that I went to. I’ve just made a documentary in Australia where I sang with a bunch of shantymen, the Albany Shantymen. I loved their harmony, almost call and response singing. So I’m writing a sea shanty to put into the show to celebrate quite traditional forms of singing. But you know, in a comic context.” 

Bill Bailey’s inspirations are fundamentally embedded in the human experience, and created in that wonderful noggin of his. And for Bailey, there really isn’t anything more wonderful than the human brain and its creations. 

You’re always surprised by people – they are unpredictable. I’ve learned over the years that you’re never quite able to pin someone down. You never quite know what people are about, and they often surprise you in a brilliant way. I’m optimistic about humanity generally… I’ve taught myself Turkish, so I’m gonna sing some Coldplay songs on an ancient Turkish lute and sing it in Turkish for no other reason than I can.” 

With the right command prompts, an AI programme may well be able to spit out the Hokey-Cokey as performed by Kraftwerk, but it isn’t creating. We can continue to leave that to Bill Bailey.

Bill Bailey performs at Utilita Arena, Newcastle on Saturday 17th February.

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