He strides on to the musical accompaniment of no less than The Clash’s “London Calling” and, for the intro minutes, he falls almost completely flat. “Comedy,” Bill Bailey asserts, “that’s why you’re here, so let’s crack on!” Pacing the stage with his eyes cast down then straight out to the audience like a seasoned lecturer, with his 20 years’ experience, he’s clearly confident of winning over this West End crowd. And so he ultimately does.
Under the guise of personal life experiences, the jokes start hitting the jackpot with Bailey’s trademark witty commentary. He harps on about a variety of everyday truths, from the BBC’s silly listing of 50 things to do “before you DIE!”, to examples of US airport immigration paranoia (“Sir, have you ever crossed the road using an old woman as a human shield?”), to a critique of today’s British pop music (“there’s more evil in our charts than in an Al Quaeda suggestion box”).
The disappointment of the show’s beginning is long forgotten, but far from basking in the growing and frequent applause, Bailey barks at the audience to “save it for the weak finish”.
He flies through subjects - sometimes a little too quickly with potentially rich riffs such as the ones concerning stills of Saddam Hussein on trial and the beauty of marijuana – and then comes the music. This varies from hilarious little ditties about Americans spending more on pornography than the total of sub-Sahara African debt, to the conceptually smart but somewhat tiresome tracks like “Drummin’ Bush”, a drum ‘n’ bass track mixed with the ‘wisdom of Bush’, or the one replacing the National Anthem with “Zippity Do Dah!” as performed by Portishead. Bailey’s music is best when it’s one man and his guitar.
There’s some gentle audience interaction throughout, too, and Bailey’s tolerant “heckle waiting” to keep things in line when too many voices shout at once. Though not always laugh-out-loud - and no way near as off-the-cuff as Ross Noble proved to be earlier this autumn with his Noodlemeister at the Apollo - when it comes to dealing with random audience situations, it’s enjoyable enough to tide you over until the next belly laugh.
And rest assured, with Bailey’s brand of comedy spliced with the subtlety of a refined actor, there’s always another one of those just around the corner. In an evening of comic hits and misses, the hits are huge and evenly spread out enough to easily forget the misses.
- Tes Noah Asfaw (reviewed at the West End’s Apollo Theatre)