Bill Bailey:
my philosophy
of funny

The comedian discusses perspective gained on the road as he gears up for a new tour

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For many years my philosophy has very much been head down, keep going, don’t think about it too much. Just get out, do the shows, keep writing, keep the flow going. I think that’s probably one of my philosophies – don’t think about it too much. Don’t get hung up on the past and what other people are doing, just get out there, be funny and do some stuff. After my last tour Limboland, I’d played the most northerly gig on the planet, which was in an arts centre in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, just near the North Pole in Norway. It was very remote. Not long after that I was performing in Invercargill on the South island of New Zealand, which is the most southerly gig on the planet so I thought, for goodness sake, maybe this is the time to take stock a little bit.

When it comes to travelling with comedy, I think what I’ve found is that there are universal funnies. Comedy can actually find its way beyond people’s preconceptions. Comedy is very mercurial like that. It’s a way of finding out how people tick. I think when you’re making people laugh, their guards are down and you can get all sorts of things across. You can talk about all kinds of subjects when people are having fun and laughing. I think that perhaps is the one thing I’ve learned from travelling: that there are certain kinds of subjects that you just have to trust your instincts with – but I think those instincts are honed, improved and perhaps sharpened by travelling around the world and and finding out what people find funny. Certainly if you’re like me – I have a career as a touring comedian all around the world – those are the subjects that you need to talk about.

If you try to be too controlling when you’re travelling then you’re just going to get frustrated

With travel itself, I think what you find out certainly is just to go with it. Like so much in your life, you just have to go with the flow. There’s no point trying to plan too much. You can plan up to a point but there’s a time where you just have to accept things and go with it. I try and travel fairly light and I always try and keep an open mind about it and stay positive because the thing is, if you try to be too controlling when you’re travelling then you’re just going to get frustrated. I read these Trip Advisor re’views and you see people saying things like “I got to the hotel and there was no plug and the trouser press only had two settings” and I’m like “Oh God!’

I think what travel does is it gives you a great perspective, particularly on this country. That’s one of the great advantages and one of the greatest benefits of travel outside the British Isles – appreciating the country that you live in much more. I think that’s what I do. If anything, it’s taught me that you can go to countries where there’s no rule of law, where there’s endemic corruption, where there’s a terrible lack of infrastructure and poverty and a disparity between the rich and the poor and just terrible government mismanagement, war and God knows what else and you come back to Britain and see people moaning about this and that. It makes you go: “Hold on, hold on.” It gives you perspective.

Read our feature interview with Bill Bailey in Big Issue North, 19 February. His new tour Larks in Transit arrives at York Barbican, 31 Jan-1 Feb and is touring until the summer, taking in Stoke, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Blackburn and Preston. For full dates visit billbailey.co.uk/live

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