Comedy on the live circuit is big business right now. With the credit crunch, the MPs' expenses story dragging on and now Gordon Brown-gate, audiences need something to make them feel good. Bill Bailey is performing in Manchester for two weeks, with many of the dates sold out. After chuckling through his first night, I can see why.
Bill has garnered a huge folowing for his live work, as he delivers the loyal audience, exactly what they want. With random references to The Klingons, LS Lowry himself and the moral panics of The Daily Mail, much of his material leaves you nodding in agreement. But as well as the rehearsed material, comes his ability to go off on an Eddie Izzard style tangent and still find his way back to his original thread.
At times though, he does tend to morph into Eddie so much with his murmuring pauses, that it borders on impersonation, without saying so. Yet, there is so much originality on display here, that these slight irritations are easily forgotten.
Being an ex-panel member of Never Mind The Buzzcocks means that Bill has a real connection with music; the good, the bad and the downright ugly. This is where he excels, in both his spoofs of awful songs and their creators. His targets are obvious but more than deserving of his Grumpy Old Man material; James Blunt gets a hammering for his 'if it rhymes, sing it' style lyrics, as does Lionel Ritchie for the ridculous "Say You, Say Me." When he lampoons Lily Allen though, it does seem like a 'dad' joke because she has a much younger following.
Bailey's strengths are like Victoria Wood's, in that he can do observational comedy and invite you into his world, without causing offence. His take on the forthcoming opening ceremony of the Olympics - 'British style' - complete with animatronic Yorkshire Puddings and dancers dressed as mushy peas is priceless and inspired.
Bill has a gentle manner and the look (in his words) of a "conspiracy theorist" and it is hard not to completely surrender to the zany gent's relentless and very funny material. And for musos, you are in seventh heaven with lines like: "Nickelback make Slayer look like Sylvia Plath!"
An evening in the company of Bill Bailey is just the tonic for anyone longing to hear an eccentric joker telling intelligent, original and innofensive gags.