In a Taxi with. Bill Bailey; the 'Part Troll' Comedian on His Penchant for Puns and Aversion to a Certain Supermarket

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

In a Taxi with. Bill Bailey; the 'Part Troll' Comedian on His Penchant for Puns and Aversion to a Certain Supermarket


Byline: Interview BENJI WILSON

B etween the Charlotte Street Hotel and his home in West London, my cab-ride conversation with comedian Bill Bailey includes the following topics: the abstruse American author Thomas Pynchon; the impossibility of anonymity at rock festivals; why adults find underpants funny, but kids don't; and funny punny shop names, such as a butcher called 'Halal, Is It Meat You're Looking For?' 'Never a dull moment with him,' says cabbie Phil from Edgware as he takes me home afterwards, and he's right. With his multi-instrumental songs (like a Kraftwerk spoof called 'Das Hokey Cokey'), his wordy wibbledry, and his unashamed intellectualism (no other comic tells jokes about Kant's Categorical Imperative), Bill Bailey can find the funny in just about anything.

We pick him up looking much like the 'Part Troll' that was his tour title a few years ago: retired roadie's hair, don't-care belly under a black T-shirt. He's just finished a three-hour session judging the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, which recognises humorous children's fiction. Bailey, 45, is the ideal judge: he loves books, he has a five-year-old boy of his own, Dax (with wife Kris, his manager), and he knows what's funny.

'I should point out,' he says, 'that the Roald Dahl Funny Prize is not a "funny prize" - like giving someone a pat on the back and a half-eaten avocado. It's the prize for the funniest book. It helps to be a dad. My son is five, so he was quite a good arbiter.' You can imagine that having a dad with the pick 'n' mix mind of Bill Bailey is a real boon when it comes to story time. But Bill says that he gets a lot out of story time, too.

'Yeah, we make up stories, but I encourage him to make them up. Partly because it gets me off the hook, but also because kids naturally,' he pauses, 'think laterally - sorry, that wasn't meant to sound like a haiku - and as a comic you're striving for that. Talking to him the whole time kind of tunes me up - it's constant lateral thinking.' Lateral thinking has, after 20 years, made Bill one of the few comedians in the country who can sell out arenas. Born near Bath to a medical family, this precocious talent taught himself guitar and piano, excelled at school, and realised he had a comedic gift at seven when his dad laughed at his Les Dawson impression at the piano.

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