Real name:Mark Bailey
Date Of Birth: 13/01/1964
Born and raised in the West Country, Bill Bailey showed an early passion for music, forming the school band Behind Closed Doors. It was also at school that he acquired the nickname Bill, thanks to a geography teacher who was a fan of the song Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey?
He seemed destined for a career in music; being the only pupil at his school to study the subject at A-level, before attending the London College of Music. In his early years, he performed with an 'enthusiastic if unsuccessful', four-piece band called The Famous Five. But he says he always felt the urge to slip jokes into the set.
Bailey also had a passion for theatre, and he spent much of the Eighties touring with a Welsh experimental theatre company, which he combined with a job as a lounge pianist and a keyboard player in a jazz trio. But one night Bailey saw comic poet John Hegley, who inspired him to combine music and comedy.
In 1986 he formed a double act, the Rubber Bishops, with Toby Longworth, who was replaced in 1988 by Martin Stubbs. Around this time he was also performing with London topical comedy team Newsrevue.
Once the double act dissolved, he formed the pub band Beergut 100, and started performing stand-up solo. In 1994, he performed at the Edinburgh Fringe with Sean Lock with the show Rock, about an ageing rockstar and his roadie
The following he returned with his debut solo show, and in 1996 earned a Perrier nomination for his show Cosmic Jam. The show was later recorded for TV, but it took until 2005 for it to be released on DVD.
His Perrier success landed him several TV appearances, including a captaincy on the ill-fated Channel 4 sci-fi panel game Space Cadets. But three years after his Perrier success, Bailey was writing and starring in his own BBC Two show Is It Bill Baile?y, featuring musical parodies, surreal sketches, and stand-up.
He continued to tour and won the Best Live Stand-Up award at the 1999 British Comedy Awards. In 2001, he toured with Bewilderness and in 2003, he took to the road with Part Troll, following its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2007 he made the move to arenas, with the live show Tinselworm.
In 2000, he took the role as long-suffering Manny Bianco in Dylan Moran's sitcom Black Books, which cemented his burgeoning TV fame.
Now he is probably most famous as a team captain on comedy pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, taking over from Sean Hughes in 2002. Bailey has also appeared regularly on QI, Spaced, and as a guest on the likes of Room 101 and TV Heaven, Telly Hell.
Bailey has also been a straight actor. During the 2003 Edinburgh Festival he starred in a production of Twelve Angry Men, alongiside other comedians and two years later appeared opposite Alan Davies in an Edinburgh Fringe producton of The Odd Couple. He voiced the sperm whale in 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie In 2007, Bailey appreared in a West End revival of Harold Pinter sketches, Pinter's People, which he helped bring to the stage.
He is also a wildlife campagner and presented Wild Thing I Love You which began on Channel 4 on October 15, 2006.
He became a father in 2003, and named his son Dax after the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 character.
Bill Bailey Videos
Bill Bailey: Qualmpeddler
Bill Bailey has a subtle prop in his new Qualmpeddler tour – an unlit pipe.
It completes his duffer image perfectly. After he’s set out an item of cod philosophy, he holds the device sagely to his mouth. Yet the image is not quite of the thoughtful man you might assume Bailey wants, but more like a child puffing proudly but ineffectually on his father’s totem, in the misplaced belief it makes him look all grown up.
And that is the perfect symbol for his comedy: aiming high, but enacted childishly, with joy, intelligence and silliness in equal measure.
For Bailey is a comedian who manages to both over-think and under-think any situation. A smart man who’s bound by reason, yet uses it to explore bizarre topics from a unique angle. It’s daft, but rooted in reality – and with a heart, too.
Owls and badgers are the clichés of lazy comic surrealism, and they both get a mention here; but in Bailey’s hands the first, especially, forms a central pillar of his show, as he describes how he freed one from being dish of the day in a restaurant in China. When the story is resumed in one of the many well-deserved encores, it gives a surprisingly poignant note to the night.
The elaborate stage set evokes his nature-loving side, too, as he performs in front of a jungle of foliage, his musical instruments hidden in the shrubbery. He is the first rockery and roll comedian. Above him, a screen projects a few short films, which segue neatly from his stand-up and rarely feel gratuitous.
It may be because this week’s Hammersmith Apollo gigs have been recorded for DVD, but Qualmpeddler is denser and more focussed than some of Bailey’s previous offerings. The focus is not in the subjects or his comedy style, as he dances around both, but in ensuring you’re never far from another eloquent joke.
There is surprisingly pointed politics as he lances party leaders with the perfect eye of the best satirical cartoonist, equipped with a beautifully lyrical turn of phrase. There’s a sarcastic commentary on the vacuity of celebrity (step forward Chantelle Houghton). And – of course – there are the musical mash-ups, which are particularly prominent after the interval: the theme from Downton Abbey on a reggae tip, or the Match of the Day theme played in a different key or tempo to evoke emotions far from the excited triumphalism of the original. By the time he plays a country number on a guitar fashioned from a Bible, the logic seems perfectly reasonable.
But Bailey doesn’t just remix music, he puts large chunks of life and pop culture into his mental blender to produce a rich smoothie of comedy. Laws of physics, LOLing, cut-price shark dives, the Alberti bass musical accompaniment, will.i.am, cognitive dissonance, his uncertain place among the well-turned-out West London middle classes – the set list is certainly eclectic. And his audience are as bookish as him... you don’t get many heckles of: ‘It’s hyphenated!’ in the rowdier clubs.
A few topics have been recycled from previous shows, but Qualmpeddler is Bailey on form, combining the smart and playful, whimsical and political into a widely appealing package. I’ve certainly no qualms in recommending it.
Bill Bailey Dates
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Deer, badgers and ottersBill Bailey Live: Dandelion Mind Channel 4's Comedy Gala Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra Bill Bailey: Tinselworm
Live at WembleyBest Of Just For Laughs: 25th Anniversary Edition
Compilation CD from the Montreal comedy festivalCosmic Jam / Bewilderness
DVD of two live performancesBill Bailey: The Ultimate Collection Ever
Bill Bailey: The Ultimate Collection EverBill Bailey: Part Troll
2004 live showBill Bailey: Part Troll
Live recordingUltimate Collection Ever
Bill Bailey CD
Twelve Angry Men The Odd Couple Bill Bailey: Steampunk Bill Bailey: Tinselworm [Fringe 2008] A Seriously Funny Attempt To Get The SFO in The Dock
Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra
Latitude 2008 Pinter's People Bill Bailey: Bewilderness
Bill Bailey: Dandelion Mind
Bill Bailey: Qualmpeddler
Bill Bailey: Tinselworm