Comedy’s archetypal jack of all trades BILL BAILEY is a musician, wordsmith, actor and all-round nice guy who’s set on world domination. Provided he can take his pets along. Words: Maureen Ellis

ill Bailey is up to his eyeballs in boxes. (‘urrently staying with friends. we speak one week before he is due to move into his new house and. not only did the affable West Country comedian have to cancel his dates at the Edinburgh Festival earlier in the year because of the turmoil. his animals are none too happy with the arrangements. And that's a big deal what other comedians‘ pets take pride of place on their websites? ‘The animals don‘t know what‘s going on.’ he says. They‘re all freaked out. The cat disappeared. the dog won‘t leave me alone: everytirne I go anywhere shcjtrst follows me. “Where you going‘.’ You’re going in the car. I‘ll come with yotr. obviously. into the car. Where you going now?" I'm surrounded.‘ Pictures of Bailey‘s 42-year—old tortoise Dolly still appear on his website. but she died a few months ago. A

shame. but if she was she still around. the shock of

flying would probably finish the old girl off yes. when Bailey tries to crack America later in the year. with a run off-Broadway and a two-month tour of the States. the animals are going too. ‘You can laugh. but you can get passports for animals. It's a different matter trying to get them in the booth.‘ he says.

But before he jets off to convert the Yanks with his mildly surreal and brilliantly anarchic musical comedy. Bailey has just one date left to play in lidinburgh. At the L’sher Hall. no less. ‘Yeah. it's a bit fancy. I was thinking I should have a string quartet to accompany some of the jokes..

But Bailey‘s jokes need no accompaniment other than his trusted keyboard. A classically trained musician. the amiable Bath-born funnyrnan got into comedy because of a clash between his conventional training and a love of punk rock. As more jokes crept into his set. the keyboard took a back seat. Of course it will be back with a vengeance for his Iidinburgli show. which he describes as having more depth than the average comedy offering. ‘It has a proper beginning. middle and end; it‘s a rntrch more of a rounded piece of work.‘

That's not to say his Perrier-nominated show of ()6 or his British (‘omcdy Award in 9‘) were bestowed on less ‘rounded‘ performances. It‘s merely a sign of a natural comedian maturing well with age. As with any

‘I am the Schmertz - a mummified figure kicked and beaten to absorb all the hatred of the other protagonists.’

Hair of the slog: Bill Bailey gives his pet cockatoo a run for its money

stand-up. public recognition leads to television and film. and Bailey is no different. Aside from questionable roles in Saving Grace and BBC's Head on Comedy. Bailey has chosen well: comedy doesn‘t get much better than Black Books. The sitcom‘s mastermind. Dylan Moran. cast him as a nutter with a 4ft chocolate mouse in the pilot. and. after auditions. the character of Manny was Bill‘s.

Playing the fool makes up a large part of Manny's character. He is the slapstick clown to Moran‘s wine— ernbittered Bernard. and. although moments of genius in Manny‘s character sometimes surface. playing Manny is not without its drawbacks. ‘I seem to get hurt the most.‘ he says. ‘I get prodded. scorched. poked. set tire to and generally kicked about. I liken it to German expressionist theatre where I am the embodiment of all evil. I am the Schmertz -- a mummified figure kicked and beaten to absorb all the hatred and ill-feeling of the other protagonists. I think I might be reading too much into it.‘

Quite although some reality does permeate the farce. In one jaw-aching episode. Manny hoodwinks a blind piano teacher into thinking co-star Fran (Tamsin Greig) is a gifted student -- by playing the piano from the inside. ‘That was quite scary becatrse l was actually in the piano playing it from underneath and I got a bit clatrstrophobic. It would be a terrible way to go.‘ But quite ironic‘.’ ‘lt would be. The instrument that I‘ve chosen to play now becomes my nemesis. God. that would be terrible. but quite poignant.’ Indeed. the perfect ending.

Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 28 Sep

Joking aside

Where the laughter matter:

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IVREPARAr OHS .-t)‘t NLfiXi year‘s Glasgow-l lire; national Comedy Festival .4: well underway —- alreau'v ( vnfirmed are Joli my ‘z’egas, ‘ry Sadowite, EL. 5yl'rlt3 . 'éd Frank Carson. and If anyone Was in any Ucu ‘. that the festival’s place in Scotlano min. wits: . look at the logo. if l, a laugh.