As one of the funniest men in England, Bill Bailey is everywhere. Whether it’s on TV shows like Black Books, films like Hot Fuzz, or plain old stand-up, he's been a staple in the UK comedy world for two decades. This Wednesday, Bailey brings Dandelion Mind, his acclaimed one-man show, to the NYU Skirball Center for three nights of brilliant music and laughs. Imagine a British Louis CK, but with music. . We caught up with Bill to talk about the US/UK comedy crossover, the seed of Dandelion Mind, and his fascination with doubt.
You’ve been working in comedy for so long now. How have you changed as a performer? You change as a person, you get older, and you get more angry about certain things, and less bothered by other things. Your priorities are reflected in the comedy, and certainly I’ve noticed that over the years. It’s a process of refining it. You zoom in on the things that really make you cross and focus on those. Also, I love music. That’s always been a part of my life, so I tend to be more adventurous about where the music comes from.
Do you find a difference between your UK fan base and your fan base here? I performed in New York ten years ago, so this is kind of a 10-year anniversary. My plan was always to tour in America, then suddenly things took off in a big way for me back home. But I found being in New York, creatively, is a very productive place to write and perform. Also, the fact that people don’t know my stuff is a good spur to reevaluate what you do, because people sit in the audience and have no expectations, so it’s almost like I’m starting from scratch, which, in a way is quite invigorating.
So walk me through Dandelion Mind. I was touring in Australia with a fever, and I had this dream where I saw the back of my head exploding into a mass of dandelions. So that became the show title. There’s lots of different themes in show, but most take root in these seeds of ideas--doubting whether your convictions were the same as they were when you were 20. Do I look at the world in a different way now? Do you doubt other people’s beliefs, and yours? The very sort of essence of authority, the pillars of society, the politicians and bankers, all seem to be corrupt and riddled with the same human frailties and faults.
Do you change your material to make it more topical? I suppose so, but there are also many of my own interests. The idea of doubt fascinated me to the point where I researched the whole history of doubt. Then I researched the story of Doubting Thomas, and I found that it spawned this whole industry of art. So in the show, I talk the audience through about a dozen of the most famous Doubting Thomas paintings, and it sort of turns into an art lecture, which is the most unlikely turn of events. I like to find the comedy in the unexpected.
How is this show different than what you’ve done in the past?
It has more of an overarching theme, a structure to it and also it’s more of a going back to the roots of stand up. Before I came up with the show, I toured around Scotland in the Highlands for many weeks in tiny little venues, little community centers and little funny sports halls because I wanted to get the essence of what stand up is about and getting the ideas over and engaging an audience. It was a bit of a journey for myself as well, trying to rediscover the thrill of trying out ideas and engaging with an audience.
It seems like the US loves to remake UK shows and films, do you think we’ll ever be ready for good comedy panel shows? Sometimes it just doesn’t translate. I think the shows have to be generated in the sort of host country in a way. It’s rare for them to sort of cross over. I think the American Office works great. I don’t know about panel shows. Have you seen QI?
Yeah, that’s the one that I love. It only works because it’s Stephen Fry, really. You’d have to find someone like that--freakishly intelligent.