Bill Bailey plans to ease back on his comedy career to concentrate on music.
Interviewed on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs today, the comedian admitted he was always restless for the next challenge – and said he now wanted to ‘revisit the music side of my career; [to] just to go back and play my music.
‘I’ve missed playing to a certain level for so long,’ he said. ‘In comedy I just play little bits and pieces. It’s part of the act – it’s integral to the act, but I haven’t been that serious about it. I want to go back to the piano and push myself a bit and improve it and learn more.’
He also told interviewer Kirsty Young that he first realised he had a gift for comedy as a child, when he entertained mourners at an aunt’s funeral by repeating a Les Dawson routine he’d seen on TV.
‘He played the opening of the 1812 Overture and he’d get it wrong. He’d play the first few chords and then he’d go, “Oh, I can’t think of any more.” Then I think he swore or something, “That’s all I can do, I’m knackered” And I said this when I was a kid.
‘My dad he was drinking a cup of tea, looking very serious sashe was talking to someone. He spat all the tea out and sprayed this tea all over this woman. And then my mum dropped her cup, which smashed, and someone else knocked over some cheese and pineapple. And there was this chaos.’
Bill Bailey, whose real name is Mark, acquired his stage name at school when a geography teacher nicknamed him Bill, after the old song (Won't You Come Home) Bill Bailey – and it stuck.
He said that once he was bitten by the performance bug, he lost interest in his studies – even though previously he had been a high-achieving pupil. ‘I had a band called Behind Closed Doors at school, playing all original stuff, plus a couple of Bowie covers. The thrill of performance – once I had that, school lost its appeal.’
Similarly he quit his music and drama course at London University after just 36 hours. ‘I thought, “I can’t be bothered with this,” he said.
The records Bailey chose to take to the Desert Island included Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, Mozart’s Coronation Concerto, which was his first public recital, and a sample of Javanese gamelan music – an instrument like a giant bamboo xylophone. His luxury item was a pack of card, because ‘the possibilities are endless’.
Bailey also spoke about his comedy, saying he never wanted to be ‘overtly political’.
‘If I go along to a show, I don’t want to be preached at, I want to be entertained,’ he said, but adding: ‘I like to go along to a show and hear something I’ve never heard before and for it to ring a bell in my head and think “What was that? That was interesting” and go out and find more about it for myself. That’s what I try to do.’
But he said he always remember the advice given to him by fellow stand-up Bob Mills that the secret of comedy was simply: ‘Keep saying funny things.’
‘You can get distracted about trying to educate or be intellectual,’ Bailey said. ‘If it’s funny, it’s fine.’
And he said having a four-year-old son, Dax, helped him with his comedy because it made him less self-absorbed. ‘It’s great having him around,’ he said. ‘It’s less about you. You’ve done a gig and then he’s he focus, it takes the pressure off a bit.’