Entertainment & Arts

Bill Bailey on British comedy's 'boom time'

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Media captionBill Bailey serenades Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in Dandelion Mind

The country is freezing, house prices are falling and England lost out on its bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

This is, according to Bill Bailey, a "boom time" for comics.

"Everyone needs a laugh now and then but, yeah, now more than ever," the 46-year-old West Country comedian says.

"It's a boom time for comics when things are going wrong."

Nick Clegg, the Pope, Simon Cowell and James Blunt are just a few people Bailey targets in his latest stand-up show, Dandelion Mind.

Beginning with the theme of doubt, Bailey hits the ground running with his sense of deep unease at the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

"Comics are almost obliged to engage in it as a subject because this is what our lives are like - we're all affected by it.

"Politics sometimes gets avoided in comedy because it seems to be bogged down in the endless tit-for-tat politics which people are sick of.

"But comedy has an obligation to be a lightning rod for people's sense of anger and uncertainty."

With that in mind, what are his thoughts on students marching in protest at the proposed rise in tuition fees?

Bailey, who once performed for the Workers' Revolutionary Party, applauds them for taking a stand.

"It's an entirely justifiable sense of outrage and anger and the students are right to voice that protest," he says.

Image caption Bailey's last tour saw him perform with a full orchestra

"I thought it was very heartening [and] quite inspiring to see kids of that age having that amount of savvy.

"Being on the streets shows a great engagement in politics that scotches that whole lie that young people aren't politically engaged," he continues.

"Grumpy old men say, 'Oh, young people, they're not engaged with politics.' Of course they are - they're just not inspired by you."

Bailey - a regular guest on comedy quiz shows like QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks - is also known for flights of whimsy involving small woodland creatures.

Yet sandwiched between his more eccentric observations are some sharper takes on contemporary life.

At one point in Dandelion Mind, Bailey pokes fun at US president Barack Obama's appropriation of the type of language that sounds philosophically pleasing but in reality says little.

"Why am I applauding? Well, white liberal guilt mainly," he jokes.

"I never forget that you're supposed to entertain people for a couple of hours, give them a laugh and let them forget the troubles of the week," Bailey reflects.

"But if you slip a few serious points in along the way without it becoming too preachy or sounding like a lecture, then why not?"

Image caption Bailey's show is at the Wyndhams theatre in London until January

Bailey's previous tour saw him perform at huge venues like the O2 in London, with a full orchestra in tow - an experience he calls "rewarding, but hard work."

The new show takes place in smaller venues, which Bailey compares favourably with the comedy clubs he appeared in early in his career.

Despite smaller regional venues facing swingeing cuts, the 46-year-old believes it is a golden time - particularly for young comics.

"There are more outlets for doing comedy than ever before, there are any amount of TV channels looking for new comics," he says.

"There are plenty of places to play and the opportunity to get a profile is greater than ever before."

"There are probably more comics around than ever so competition is up.

"Certainly in the last few years and with the role that the internet has had to play, comedy is huge."

Dandelion Mind plays at the Wyndhams Theatre in London until 8 January. It is also out on DVD and Blu-ray.

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