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Bill Bailey: Live

Jokes so funny, he's telling them twice. Rachel Winterbottom gets deja vu at Bill Bailey's show at the Palace Theatre

Written by . Published on June 26th 2009.

Bill Bailey: Live

What is it about a well known comedian’s audience that makes them think they’re his best friends? Is it because as soon as a comedian becomes quotable, people feel like they have the right to add to their confabulations with their own moronic contributions, each one the verbal equivalent of a badly timed fart?

Much like orange juice and toothpaste, music and comedy shouldn’t really go together.

There are few things more cringe-worthy than some idiot on the back row trying and failing to be funnier than the person who is being paid to make people laugh. Especially when that person is Bill Bailey who is, let’s face it, an old hat at this comedy lark by now.

The Bill Bailey: Live tour uses a lot of material from Bailey's arena tour, Tinselworm, but condenses it to be more in keeping with the measly 2,000-capacity of most of this year's venues. This was a brave move on Bailey’s part because a large number of his audience will have the DVD memorised by now.

Most people will at least recognise Bailey through his long stint on music quiz, Never Mind The Buzzcocks or the truly excellent and surreal comedy series, Black Books. Describing his appearance a ‘medieval roadie’, he readily acknowledges that people take issue with his stubbornly long hair and impish face. It’s unfair to pigeonhole him as a ‘weirdy beardy' though. Because fortunately, unlike with Susan Boyle, audiences accept that comedians come in all shapes and sizes and are not floored when someone with facial hair makes them laugh.

Fittingly, the stage was set up like the living room of a refined yet eccentric musician, complete with rug, pot plant and reclining chair with Bailey’s usual array of bizarre instruments, like the movement sensitive theremin, standing around him like old friends.

Much like orange juice and toothpaste, music and comedy shouldn’t really go together. It normally wouldn’t matter how valiantly a comedian plucked away on their ukulele, their audience would still be less amused than if they’d been using their instrument like an egg slicer to slowly squash a kitten on a stage.

Bailey’s unique brand of toe-tapping, whimsical comedy, however, bypasses all the usual rules. Instead, Bailey and his instruments play like a double act: the two halves to his act complement each other so well that one really couldn’t exist without the other. Not many comedians could fit a socio-political commentary into a song about a Starbucks’ panini.

Despite my earlier whinge, Bailey does actively encourage audience participation and for the most part, these moments produce genuine comedic gems. This is because Bailey can take a concept and run wild with it. Sometimes literally. He gambols all over the stage in his enthusiasm to explore each new tangent like a kid discovering rainbows for the first time.

Like most comedians who have been on the circuit a while, he knows his audience. He treats them to a rehash of his pet hates, mocking Tesco, politics and, of course, Chris de Burgh. It’s enough to make you envy the first timers. You know it’s gut-wrenchingly funny; it’s just that you’ve heard it all before, and so has the berk behind you who is finishing Bailey’s sentences as if he’s the one coming up with the punchlines.

In a way, Bailey shows himself up. There is no denying that he is exceedingly, perhaps even disgustingly, talented. But his choice to use old material and add tantalising titbits of fresh observations and asides only serves to let you know how good it could have been if you hadn’t seen it, memorised it and got the T-shirt already.

Bailey appears completely relaxed and self assured with his set. He knows his lines, he knows that we know his lines, but he administers them in such a way it feels completely new, even if you do experience an odd sense of deja vu throughout.

It’s Bailey’s style to appear spontaneous and random, so it’s all part of the joke when he puts on a painfully funny short film in the encore that joyfully references key parts of the show. Maybe he is too comfortable, but he appears to be having way too much fun to let go of his old material just yet. And besides, the guy in the back row is still loving it.

Bill Bailey is touring nationally until 29 August. www.billbailey.co.uk

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shinealightJune 26th 2009.

Me & Mr Shinealight saw Bill at the Lowry on June 12th (same show as the Palace.)We can only assume he was having an off night - the comedy seemed lazy. There were racial stereotypes, a rubbish song about Dali, it just all felt a bit lacklustre.The guy behind us clapped maniacally and thought almost everything Bill did was 'genius'. The lady next to us would have laughed if he'd done a sh!t on the stage.We couldn't be bothered going back after the interval.

alJune 26th 2009.

Asking a comedian to constantly come up with new material is like asking a playwright to write a new play for each night of the run. What you don't appreciate is the hard work that goes into making that material in the first place. I saw him, and thought he was brilliant. And it wasn't the first time I'd seen him. I just don't expect miracles.

Botty_riderJune 26th 2009.

Spot on review Rachael. I'm not a Bill Bayley follower and have only passingly observed his work on NMTB and even I could finish his lines at The Palace gig (although, Mrs Shinealight, I would not have foreseen any live stage defication).At least there would have been leg room at the Lowry

DigJune 26th 2009.

Bill Baileys Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra is a unique work of genius. To combine classical music with comedy and make it look so seemless and natural is a work of art.

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