Bill Bailey returns with new show Larks in Transit

Best known for his often otherworldly humour, being a wildlife-obsessed ex-team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and as hapless shop assistant Manny in Black Books, Bill Bailey is back on stage for his latest UK-wide tour Larks in Transit

Feature by Ciaran Stormont and Polly Glynn | 14 May 2019
  • Bill Bailey Larks in Transit

It’d be a rare thing to be a fan of British stand-up and not know who, or to some extent, what a Bill Bailey is. A wandering, pondering minstrel who lands you slap-bang in the middle of his stream of consciousness, keeping you afloat in his elaborate fantasies. His surreally endearing sets have a sense of childlike wonder as he ruminates on all the things you think couldn’t be thunk, but you’d be wrong for assuming that everybody would be familiar with Bailey’s shtick; a shtick that’s been perfected over 20 years of performance.

Too often he’s asked, “So this comedy thing you’re doing, what can an audience expect from the show?” And too often he wants to rebut, “Have you ever been to a comedy gig? You must have a ballpark expectation? You buy a ticket, go along, laugh, ‘oh he’s funny ain’t he’, then you go away. That’s it.” There’s the expectation of jokes, but never a transcendence of entertainment form: “You don’t expect there to be dance. Well there’s a little bit of dancing. Not highly drilled contemporary ballet – maybe some low level shimmying.”

Despite Bailey’s proclivity for the peculiar, the title of his new show, Larks in Transit, has a fairly straightforward origin: “I spent a lot of time driving around in Transit vans, and having larks in the Dickensian sense of the word.” Suggested alternative titles ‘Sparrows in Wheelbarrows’ or ‘Magpies on the Move’ simply wouldn’t fly.

And as for spinning a yarn into a full-bodied show, the smallest incident can spark something much more complete. “It usually starts with one story. Something goes wrong – the custom official confiscates some booze – and it spirals from there. A show starts to cluster around that one moment.” Then it unfurls further: “There’s a lot of references in my shows. I like to make allusions, it gives a framework to work off,” presumably for both Bailey and his audiences.

A brain buzzing with ideas and the endless banality of press junkets must be difficult to escape from. Luckily, Bailey is well-versed in clearing the mind. “At the end of the day when my brain’s turned to mush, I go out on the bike and listen to Kraftwerk. The rhythms and beats match the pedals, it all makes sense when you’re cycling.” His love for the pioneering German band has frequently made it into his stand-up too, performing parody Das Hokey Cokey with fellow comedians Martin Trenaman, John Moloney and Kevin Eldon on his Part Troll tour, as well as another outing appearing on 2007’s Tinselworm.

Bailey reckons his method of relaxation might signal our downfall though. Cycling seems great “up until you see some pillock cycle through a red light, completely disregarding the fragile structures of society.” Soon it’ll cause pandemonium in the most menial of ways: “next minute folk will be nicking porridge out of each other's trolley under the illusion it’s not a crime and cats will be eating in restaurants.”

Bill Bailey’s Larks In Transit is at Dundee Caird Hall (29 May), Glasgow Hydro (30 May), Edinburgh Playhouse (31 May) and Aberdeen AECC (1 Jun)

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