Thursday, November 23

Interview: Bill Bailey

- September 10, 2013

Electric Bill!

Actor, writer, musician, comedian – Bill Bailey has many strings to his bow, and they are all impeccably tuned. Victoria Nangle finds out more about his forthcoming Qualmpeddler tour, Doctor Who prospects, & gongs

Hello. My first question is – will there be a gong in the new show?
“A gong. Ohh. Do you know what? I wish I could say there was. But then I’m not ruling out the possibility there won’t be. Only because there’s no point having a little gong. I mean what’s the point in that? You might as well hold a hub cap up and hit it with a slipper. You need a proper gong. And I actually, in one of my shows, I asked for the largest gong they had in Britain at the time. In mainland UK.”

Was that the one you approached at speed?
“That’s the one I approached on a segway, yes.”

That was awesome…
“Yeah – Gong jousting. It’s never been done before or since. It was perfectly serviceable, but the largest one was owned at that time by Roger Taylor of Queen. And I couldn’t get my hands on it.

So, this was the second biggest gong in Britain. And also, I have to just be very pedantic about this, it’s technically not a gong. A gong is a rather crude affair which is banged rather loudly at dinner times in sort of old period films. This is technically an orchestral Tan Tan.”

What is you definition of a ‘Qualmpeddler’?
“Qualmpeddler – well, it’s very simple. It’s a euphemism for stand-up comedy. You know, because that’s very much what we do. We peddle qualms. We get out there, we hawk anxieties, we’re worrymongers. And we like to air the general sense of unease in the nation in comedy form. And hopefully boil down these various qualms into serviceable nuggets of whimsy.

There is a reason I always find something very pleasing about the word ‘peddler’; I found out, in my research – since my research into the word ‘qualmpeddler’ of course – that peddlers, not only would they sell their wares, they’d go round selling spoons or tea towels or nice cups or something, and then what they’d do is, they’d sing a song! So that does actually have some kind of historical lineage back to the pedlars of old. So that is basically what qualmpeddlers used to do. They used to go around the country singing slightly bawdy songs for money. And that’s not a million miles away from what comedy is really. I kind of like that.

And I like the word ‘qualm’ as well. ‘Qualm’ is a lovely word. You say; ‘I’ve got no qualms about that’, or ‘I’ve got qualms about that’. Those two are not mutually opposing. You know, having qualms about something is something you’re slightly worried about. My grandmother used to say, ‘Ooh, I’ve got qualms about these scones!’ But then she also had qualms about nuclear war. So it’s quite a wide spectrum of worry.”

Could you gives us any kind of idea as to what would be contained within your qualms?
“Well, obviously there’s quite a lot of things that have made it into the show. I suppose there’s a slight worry about the creeping kind of surveillance state that we’re in, the lack of privacy, this illusion that we’re in this free environment but actually every key stroke of the keyboard is being monitored, everything that we do, this conversation is being recorded… the extent to which an anonymous server in Ohio and people with headphones on are going: ‘What?! What is a qualm?! What?! Get me the FBI!’ So that, and I’ve had slight run-ins here and there.

And you get the impression that this lovely freedom where we can all do what we like is a carefully, kind of orchestrated show. So there’s a bit of that, a bit of paranoia. And then a bit of genuine qualms about the state of the government, what we’re going to do about the fact we’re in a state of no valid leadership, what we’re going to do about power, what we’re going to do about space travel, what we’re going to do about the future, how are we going to keep the lights on? [adding an air of theatrical hysteria] There’s loads of things! Don’t get me started on things to worry about! I could go outside now and fall down a sink hole that’s been caused by illegal fracking. I mean, who knows what’s going to happen?”

That’s close to home – we’re in East Sussex…
“No, that’s it. You’ll be disappearing. Your whole existence will tilt to the left a little bit.”

“Basically, the effect is of a tramp running away in a swamp”

Do you have a writing process?
“A writing process? Yes. I try and write. And then I give up [chuckles]. And then I have a cup of tea and a bourbon, a chocolate bourbon, and then it seems to work. So you need some process to kick it off. It’s either sugar-related or… it’s some sort of other activity which involves exercise – which is obviously hateful. That tends to work. I think there’s something about the blood. There’s some physiological event that kicks the brain into action. Run, or do something kind of pointless, like one of those hateful pointless activities in the gym. You know, those stupid machines that you either hold your hands on and then pull backwards and forwards and then you let go, and it mimics… basically the effect is of a tramp running away in a swamp.

If you can really conquer the swampmeister, as I call it, then somehow, the blood – I don’t know if it’s the blood around your brain, or your self-loathing at being in that situation. One of the two does something to the brain, and you end up writing whimsy.”

Would you consider being Doctor Who?
“Well, now that’s a tricky question. Would I consider it? Yes, of course. But whether, I don’t know. It’s one of these things where people get this petition together or something. Someone says, we need to get a petition. That’s not the way to approach people. You can’t approach casting people with a big sheet of signatories. [dalek-like] ‘Cast him or die!’ You can’t have that. You’ve got to go through the proper channels. [chuckles.]”

I asked some of our readers (via Twitter) what kind of questions to ask you and there was one that got an awful lot of attention: If you either had to smell like a goat for the rest of your life, or be followed around by a goat for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

“Oh, well I have to say followed by a goat, because I’m actually quite fastidious about personal hygiene and I wouldn’t like to smell like a goat.

The problem is, you see, there’s a very simple logic to that question. What you’re saying is: would you like to be followed by a goat and be clean or would you like to stink like a goat and the stink will attract goats? So, would you like to be dirty and attract a whole load of goats, or in a reasonable state of cleanliness and followed by a goat? So obviously, that one.”

Bill Bailey – Qualmpeddler,
Brighton Centre, Thursday 24 October 2013,
8pm, £25, 0844 847 1515,

Photo credits: ©Andy Hollingworth

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