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Grill Bill

Grill Bill

5:00AM Saturday June 21, 2008
By Russell Baillie
Bill Bailey is grateful  Flight of the Conchords have made musical comedy popular. He brings us his brand of it with his show 'Tinselworm' touring the main centres, starting at the end of August. Photo / Supplied by Elephant Publicity
English stand-up Bill Bailey is returning to New Zealand with his musically inspired, hilariously rambling brand of comedy. But first he has to answer some of Russell Baillie's questions
Before you phone Bill Bailey up for an interview, he needs to see your questions. Why? So he can "prepare" we're told. Oh. But this is a man who when on stage - when he's not doing brilliant comedy songs which can make Flight of the Conchords look like, well, NZ's fourth most popular folk-comedy duo - gives the appearance of making surreal stuff up as he goes along. We'd rather he do some of that in our 20-minute chat, frankly.
But we dutifully send off 10 or so inquiries (yes Wikipedia may have been involved) and once he's on the line from London, he's happy not to stick to the script.
So here's Bailey - a friend of British woodland creatures, avid Star Trek fan, and someone whose fans keep creating petitions to get him roles in things - on various subjects dear to his heart, and other parts ...

On the name of his show Tinselworm
The tinselworm, yes. Well, it's a kind of a cheap low rent worm. A gaudy worm. Not like a silkworm. Silkworms are kind of classy and a little bit exclusive. Tinselworms are more your cheap and cheerful worm - a street level worm. It's like the flipside, the underbelly of tinseltown and mainly the idea of sticking up for the underdog, that's the thing.

On why his real name is Mark but it got changed to Bill because of a certain song
That's exactly what happened. My old geography teacher at school started calling me Bill Bailey for no apparent reason and when I asked him about it he started singing this song [Won't You Come Bill Bailey]. And it's like a jazz standard.

Yeah, strangers do come up and start singing it - that amongst other things. I usually say "you know. I've never thought of it like that. I never thought of that song ..."
On how come a academically gifted rugby-playing, cricket-playing public schoolboy who won a classical music scholarship ended up ... well, like him
I suppose I just drifted from the line of academia. I was headed down that road and I got the bug at school, that is what it was. Me and two friends had put on a show at the end of term in a school revue and got a real buzz out of it. Then I did a school play and so I was always doing that and I always played in bands when I was at school. I really enjoyed all of that. I enjoyed performance - it was a very liberating thing to do. So comedy was a natural logical progression from that.
According to my careers adviser it was either going to be the diplomatic service or a museum curator. If you divide the two it comes out "comedian." Like a computer programme - if you put all the data in it spits out "comic".
On his affection for Britain's woodland animals which led him to front the show Wild Thing - I Love You


I was approached at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago by a company who wanted to make a wildlife programme which was just a bit different from the normal. It had kind of an engineering practical element to it which appealed to me.

We have a tradition of David Attenborough presenting these very lavishly photographed wildlife documentaries about the most stunning parts of the world, the most beautiful animals and the most exotic creatures.
I kind of feel that British wildlife gets slightly neglected. It's not as exotic. We don't have huge great big things like leopards or amazing gazelles. It's all small brown things that are quite dull and get run over.
And that was it - why not build a bridge for an otter? Let's see if we can help them out.
We built a log tunnel for a doormouse. For badgers we actually built a whole set - we relocated them to a new purpose-built badger set which was great fun.
It was "here's some wildlife. Isn't it lovely? But it's in a bit of strife. Let's see what we can do to help out" rather than "look at the lovely snow leopard, isn't it lovely? You don't even need to leave the room or even your armchair to enjoy it."
On his guest role in edgy youth drama Skins as Walter, a man who dances with his dog and is the Dad of gay character Maxxie
Oh yes. Being someone's dad, that's a reality check. But I'm a dad now so it wasn't too weird. It was great fun and I've got a whole new audience - school kids shouting and pointing "it's Maxxie's Dad" - so that's quite a novelty.
I really enjoyed the first series. I thought it was quite funny and sharply written. It's quite a good depiction of what teen hedonism is actually like.
So when they said you are going to be playing Maxxie's dad and you are going to dance with a dog I thought "I can't turn this down". Where do you get asked to dance with a dog? That's just the top of my list of TV moments.

On Flight of the Conchords and why musical comedy isn't what it use to be - it's better
If someone has enhanced the enjoyment of musical comedy and turned more people on to it, all the better. It was always kind of denigrated. Every review I used to get was "musical comedy is normally bloody awful and an excuse to run to the bar ... but actually he's all right". And that was kind of the tone of it - despite the fact that your preconceptions are "this is going to be awful", it's actually all right.

What I hope I had a small part in was the actual music itself is the funny bit. If you are pastiche-ing something to a level of accuracy, there's an affectionate tribute element in the music, then it becomes something more than just having the music as an add-on. It becomes integral to the comedy.

On his current musical weapon of choice
I am bringing my bazouki with me this time which I have sadly neglected in the past. If you are going to be picky about it, it's not your actual pure bazouki, it's got four strings - four sets of two, double strung with violin tuning. But this is actually a Turkish saz tuning which is three sets of two and tuned to perfect fifths so it's a hybrid. It's a bazouki-saz. It's something I had especially made. You can't just pick them up. You can't just walk into a store and shout "I want a bazouki-saz".

On whether he's going for a Klingon role in the new Star Trek film
Er, do you know I've been quite busy. I haven't had a chance to prepare. I've been a bit rusty on the Klingon. I used to have this phrase I could say in Klingon because I've got a Klingon phrasebook which is a fantastic thing and there's a guy in Wales - single guy who lives with his parents, funnily enough - and he's contructed the entire Klingon phrasebook. And it's an extraordinary thing. The only phrase I learned was `ak dok mok ok ah" but it was conversational Klingon. It wasn't like "revenge is a dish best served cold" or "prepare the blasters" it was "is this seat taken?".

On those fans of his and their petitions to get him roles in things like The Hobbit
Yeah, there has been a petition. I am actually slightly nervous about this whole petition thing. I am getting a bit worried about it. I've had a few petitions. I had a petition to get me into The Lord of the Rings and there was a petition to get me on Eurovision - A Song for Europe and now there is this petition to get me into The Hobbit.

I am starting to think it's actually working against me, it's kind of counterproductive. Producers are going to go "not this guy with the petitions, Christ not this petition guy again". My name turns up and there's a big pile of signatures next to it. I don't think it's helping. I think it's just pissing people off.

On the joys of having your life and career on Wikipedia
The book of lies. It's sort of half and half. It's vaguely right. My birthday is completely wrong which is very sweet because it's a very good gauge of how well people know you. Your friends phone you up on your Wikipedia birthday. I've decided to keep my real birthday a secret because it's on a lot of my PIN numbers.

LOWDOWN
Who: Bill Bailey, funny bloke who's a dab hand with many musical instruments and rock genres
What: His new live show Tinselworm
Where you've seen him: Black Books, Jonathan Creek and various movie supporting roles. He also guest-stars in the new second series of Skins starting on C4 on Monday June 30
Appearing: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland, Sunday August 31, Monday September 1; Christchurch Town Hall, Wednesday Sept 3; St James Wellington Thursday Sept 4, Friday Sept 5

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