Michael Fowler Centre
29 September 2012
On Saturday night Former Flatmate Al and I checked out Bill Bailey's comedy gig in town, taking the rare opportunity to enjoy the performance of a top-flight UK comedian. It's a long way to come to the far side of the world, so we're grateful when they make the effort. And Bailey has been here several times before - a repeat offender, if you will.
Bailey's comedy gigs are a deft mix of philosophical rambling and sharp-witted musical parody, and Qualmpeddler, his current show, is no exception. Perhaps some of his material seems a little less inventive after the glorious performances captured on his early DVDs, but it's still a pleasure to occupy an auditorium with Bailey as he mashes up sombre devotional hymns with pounding techno rhythms, thrashes away on an electric Turkish balalaika and issues forth a dancehall dubstep remix of the Downton Abbey theme music, replete with nonsensical soundbites from the dafter members of the cast.
Bailey's been a comedian for a couple of decades now and he must know British audiences backwards. He also exhibits a refreshing trait of avoiding putdowns or snide remarks about foolish hecklers; he can deal with them in a trice of course, but he doesn't make them the butt of the joke. It's a pleasingly self-deprecating mix of rambling narrative, particularly when Bailey delves into the topics that he's most interested in at the moment. In Part Troll there was an ambitious philosophical bent, and in Qualmpeddler Bailey devotes a little stage time to his relatively new ecological pursuits - he's made UK nature doco Wild Thing I Love You for Channel 4 and is currently editing a BBC documentary he made on Indonesian baboons.
I couldn't help wonder if this travelling version of Qualmpeddler is different to that performed in the UK. Crowd participation took up a fair amount of time that could have been filled with more interesting material. After all, no-one in the audience was going to guess the name of his Turkish musical instrument (it was really obscure), so labouring the point that it wasn't a mandolin wasn't exactly comedy gold. (But when he finally played the thing: brilliant). Perhaps he was being polite when, to illustrate an anecdote about dim UK reality TV sleb Chantelle Houghton, he asked the audience for the New Zealand equivalent and it took forever to reach the consensus that the Ridges were probably equally 'famous' for no good reason. Perhaps it's harder to communicate with New Zealand audiences because we don't open our mouths when we speak, or at the very least when we attempt to make ourselves heard over a crowd of several thousand other comedy gig-goers.
My favourite part of the gig was in the encores where he returned to the philosophical concepts, spruced things up with some cleverly-made Terry Gilliam-esque animations of famous Victorian artworks (Turner, Constable) and ranted about the modern fondness for acronyms. I particularly enjoyed his handy mnemonic to assist with the terrifically hard task of boxing the compass ('Never Eat Soggy Weetbix'), which he took to the logical extremes for dedicated mariners:
- Soggy Eat
- Soggy Soggy Eat
- Soggy Soggy Weetbix
- Soggy Weetbix
- Weetbix Soggy Weetbix
Then it was time for his musical piece de resistance, which included not only the little ditty in the clip below, but also classics of the modern oeuvre like The Final Countdown by Europe. Because it's important to stay grounded in the classics, isn't it?
Interview: Bill Bailey on Radio NZ, 27 September 2012
Review: Bill Bailey in Hammersmith, 3 July 2008
Comedy: Black Books - Bernard discovers he can play piano (hilarious!)