No qualms about being funny

British comic Bill Bailey is a man of many talents.
British comic Bill Bailey is a man of many talents.

In a video showing British comedian Bill Bailey headlining the Sonisphere festival last year, there's a moment when  the sun appears to shine out of his backside.

Bailey's aware of that particular meeting between the sun and himself  and, a year on, still sounds dead chuffed to have been invited to perform.

At the festival in Britain, Bailey arrived on stage via a secret door in the amps, in a cape and a ''terrifying Slipknot mask'' of himself, before performing one of the biggest comedy gigs in the world in front of 65,000 metal fans and on the same bill as Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax.

''There was a moment backstage when I was struggling to get my cape back on and I couldn't talk through my mask, and then smoke starting pouring through. I didn't want to keep the Slipknot fans waiting - I might have been thrown into the mosh pit and never seen again.''

Before the gig, Bailey filmed a message to Metallica which saw him performing his own version of Enter Sandman using his horn set, referred to affectionately as Horntallica, an assortment of about 25 horns on a stand.

''I suppose they thought I was taking the piss - that's what you Kiwis say, isn't it? But I wasn't.''

Bailey has acted in numerous films, including Saving Grace, Hot Fuzz and Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, the television series Black Books, Jonathan Creek, Hustle and Skins, and has appeared as himself in celebrity gameshows QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He also popped up in last year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, playing Droxil, a harvest ranger from the planet Androzani Major - or, as Bailey describes him, ''a futuristic forest worker''.

He performs in Wellington tonight and tomorrow  - the second night was added after the first sold out - with his new multimedia comedy show, Qualmpeddler. Bailey says he's always liked the word ''qualms'', with its positive and negative connotations. It's a word his grandmother used often.

''She had qualms about everything ...  'I've got qualms about these pancakes', she'd say.

''Qualms are worries, concerns, general anxieties about the world and things in it. A qualmpeddler is someone who is hawking these worries as wares.

''It is quite a versatile word. In some situations, it is a moral judgment - 'He had no qualms about lying'. It's one of those words which is quite pious.''

Talking with Bailey, a self-described ''scruffy bastard'', is more like talking with a friend than a world-renowned comic. He's charmingly funny, but seemingly straightforward questions branch off into unexpected tangents in his comedic hands. A conversation about the fact he has perfect pitch, for example, ends with an invention.
''Yes, having perfect pitch is very useful. But these days, someone will have an app for it; soon, there will be an app for everything.'' An app for conversations with the in-laws or random people who start conversations on the bus would be perfect, we agree.

''There should be some way of scanning their brain to get a readout or something so it can suggest topics of conversation. I might go away and invent that now, thanks.'' 

Although Bailey sounds dejected that his attempt to have ''some sort of hobbity role'' in Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit failed, he's not a man to be kept down for long.

''I wouldn't have needed any makeup to be a hobbit, but that's Peter's loss, I guess,''  he deadpans, before breaking into song.

He has an idea for The Hobbit - The Musical. ''Dancing goblins and dwarfs would run on in that way they do in musicals, a bit of jazz hands, and then they'd sing, 'Dwarfs, dwarfs, can you hear them? Can you hear them? Smorf, smorf, smorf, smorf'.''

Qualmpeddler is loosely inspired by a visit to China and surreal conversations with strangers. A lot of ideas run through the show, Bailey says, including his own end-of-the-world-is-nigh ''qualms'' and those  he has about the state of the world.

''China ... there's a dichotomy there that fascinates me. There's a beautiful, rich culture and an empire that is spreading across the world that makes some people quite wary.''

The show has a strong film element, which he says will be used almost as a ''punchline'' in places. ''I've packed a lot into this show,'' he says.

In New Zealand he'll have his horn set, bouzouki, electric guitar and a new ''secret'' instrument to unleash on us. ''I could tell you what it is, but then I'd have to have you killed and that's always messy.''


Bill Bailey presents Qualmpeddler at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre tonight and tomorrow.

The Dominion Post