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Creator / Bill Bailey

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"A lot of people say there's a fine line between genius and insanity. I don't think there's a fine line, I actually think there's a yawning gulf. You see some poor bugger scuffling up the road with balloons tied to his ears, he's not going home to invent a rocket, is he?"

Mark Robert "Bill" Bailey (born 13 January 1964) is a popular British stand-up comedian and musician. He is known for his role on Black Books and appearances on QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks (where he was a team captain for quite some time, replacing Sean Hughes), Have I Got News for You and Spaced. He has also had small parts in movies such as Hot Fuzz; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) movie adaptation (as a falling sperm whale); Run Fat Boy Run, and a few others. They had a more serious role in Hustle as informant "Cyclops" to the con artists in that show. He also can be seen appearing as a trick dog obsessed father in Series 2 of Skins, and as some kind of paramilitary lumberjack in a single episode of Doctor Who.

Bailey is an incredibly talented musician and a very funny comedian who launches into non-sequiturs a lot, and he resembles an overgrown, hairy Klingon troll, but is lovable nonetheless.

In 2020 he took part in, and ultimately won, that year's series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Not to be confused with Ben Bailey. Or Axl Rose (who was called Bill Bailey in childhood). Or Bill Daily. Or Bill Bailey/Tumblebrutus. Or the man referred to in the song, "(Won't You Come Home) Bill Bailey" (and yes, he did dance to it in Strictly Come Dancing when he was on it).

Tropes associated with Bill Bailey:

  • 90% of Your Brain: Early in his stand-up career, Bill used to tell a joke encouraging the audience to use their untapped brain potential, otherwise Mother Nature would step in and use evolution to erode it away.
  • Alliterative Name
  • Affectionate Parody: "Unisex Chip Shop" is a pitch-perfect parody and "tribute to the other BB", Billy Bragg, that Bragg calls his son's favourite Billy Bragg song. They've even played it together busking and at Glastonbury.
  • Arch-Enemy: Chris de Burgh. In the Part Troll show Bailey provides photographic proof that de Burgh is actually Osama bin Laden without the beard.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: His "Scale of Evil" included Hitler, Stalin and Chris de Burgh.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Parodied with his "Kraftwerk" Hokey Cokey.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: He explains the lacklustre conclusion of the Countdown theme music as the result of the performer being distracted by a bee.
  • Audience Participation:
  • Audience Participation Song:
    • In "Midnight at Parliament Square", he gets the audience to provide the noises of various animals and homeless people.
    • He also has the audience join in for a few chorus' of the "Hey! ASDA!" Song, along with some film-bites of random members of the public doing the same.
    • While talking about The Killers' "All The Things That I've Done", he encourages anyone who goes to see the band and is prompted to sing "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" to instead respond with the equally logical "I've got ham but I'm not a hamster".
      Bill: "Are they singing 'ham/hamster'?... WHY THAT BILL BAILEY!" Because that's how Brandon Flowers talks - like a 1950s villain.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Yes, he's heard all of the "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" jokes. On one episode of QI, the song was the noise his buzzer made when he pressed it. He began to get frustrated by it near the middle of the episode and started to push Alan Davies' button instead of his own to ring in.
    • English footballers are starting to become something of a Berserk Button for him, judging by his rants about them in Tinselworm and Dandelion Mind. In the former, he contemptuously refers to them as "borderline rapists whose job it is to shepherd a bit of leather into an outdoor cupboard." And in the latter...
      A bunch of useless, turf-kicking, knuckle-dragging, monobrowed... millionaire... ILLITERATES!!!
  • Bilingual Bonus: His "French siren" song is sung entirely in French, though it is still possible to get some of the jokes, it is much funnier if you speak French fluently.
  • Birthday Hater: Played for Laughs. In his "Happy Birthday in Minor Key" routine, Bill wonders why "Happy Birthday" is so happy when birthdays mean getting closer to death. He performs his own birthday song, which is much darker and more cynical in tone.
  • Blatant Lies: Lampshaded when he discusses the composition methods of Dmitri Valenkov, who he describes as "largely fictitious".
  • Cargo Cult:
    • The crowd at the Dublin O2 began worshipping Bill's Oud. "Ooooooouuuuuuuuuuddd."
    • In a BBC interview about the Doctor Who 2011 Christmas special, Bill mentions his Twitter followers' Wild Mass Guessing about what role he's going to play. Somebody guessed he'll be playing an Ood.
  • Chase-Scene Obstacle Course: In his "Starsky And Hutch" segment, the duo are looking to make a getaway while pursued by the mob.
    "How about that alley?"
    "No, there's no boxes down that one. No, go down that one."
    [They go down another alley, no boxes. What are they going to do?]
    "Right, stop the car, get some boxes out of the boot, set them up, drive around the block..."
  • Catchphrase: Whenever a show is going off the rails — especially when he's confused by attempts at audience participation or hecklers — Bill will claim that "we're crossing the International Punch Line."
  • Chekhov's Skill: During his show Qualmpeddler, Bill mentions that as a young actor, he tried listing a number of bizarre skills to see if the industry papers would publish them in his profile. These included "able to dress as a beefeater playing the tuba", "good around poultry", "can perform on top of a step ladder", and "capable of imitating a Japanese accent". Later in the show, he shows a clip of him appearing in a bizarre Japanese advert where he dresses as a beefeater, passes a chicken around and plays a tuba up a step ladder.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Note the penchant for non-sequiturs.
  • Cool Old Guy: Increasingly. Bill makes a very intentional effort to keep his material current and sincerely appeal to younger fans without seeming patronising. When not jamming to oddly awesome musical medleys or lambasting the mediocrity of the UK, he lampoons the silliness of internet culture.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: As part of his Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra, Bill quotes a passage from The Sprightly Companion which describes the sound of an oboe as 'not much inferior to the trumpet'.note 
  • Decon-Recon Switch: A large part of his musical comedy is taking music, breaking it down into its constituent parts, and then reassembling them into something very different. One excellent example is in Remarkable Guide to Orchestra, where he breaks the Doctor Who theme into its basic chords and uses them to create a jazz tune.
  • Descent into Darkness Song:
  • French Accordion: His routine on sirens includes a piece of jaunty accordion-like music which he claims is the sound a French ambulance makes if you listen to its siren carefully.
  • Genre Shift: "The Leg of Time" is prog-rock, but also has a Cockney bit.
  • Heavy Mithril: Prog rock tribute-cum-parody "The Leg of Time" strays into this territory. His metal album included an updated version of The Leg of Time, making it unambiguously this trope.
  • Hippie Name: in one of his stand-up shows, he jokes about hippies with names like "Incantation Spirit of the Wind" and "Astral Fridge-Magnet".
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: At one point on the Part Troll DVD, Bill asks members of the audience to name some famous vegetarians, and one audience member suggests Hitler. This leads to Bill musing that vegetarianism isn't always a good thing and can, in extreme cases, lead to genocide.
  • Holy Pipe Organ: Played for Laughs. In "Bill Bailey's Masterpiece," Bill plays tunes that he imagines could be doorbell sounds. At one point, he plays a baroque-sounding organ tune, and claims it's the Pope's doorbell.
  • In the Style of: Bailey does this at least once a show, often combining it with Lyrical Dissonance.
  • Japandering: Discussed and spoofed in one routine about going to Tokyo, seeing a Beatles tribute band and doing a cup-ramen ad with him in a Beefeater outfit calming down an irate schoolteacher with a chicken and tuba-wailing.
  • Joggers Find Death: Bill doesn't trust joggers, as they're always the ones that find the bodies.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: Defied in Bill's inner monologue, in which he responds to himself, "Don't say 'knock knock', just knock!" before going off at a tangent.
    • On the Larks In Transit tour, he recalls how his wife bungled a knock knock joke from a Christmas cracker by starting with "Who's there?" to which he replied "Knock knock?"
  • Loser Deity: Bill imagines Vishnu the Maintainer from Hindu Mythology to be the divine equivalent of an eternally stressed, put-upon janitor who is forever cleaning up the messes left by Shiva and the other gods.
  • Medley:
    • The Cockney Rock Medley; a selection of 1980's hits being played in the style of a cockney working men's club pianist.
    • In one routine, Bill recounts being stopped at airport security and questioned about his kazoo, upon which he demonstrated a tune, which he begins playing for the audience. The security personnel confiscated the kazoo after said tune turned into a medley of 80s hits.
  • Minsky Pickup: Bill calls it the "Basic Cockney intro" and claims that it's present in Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • Unlike the relaxing themes of US news channels, the BBC news theme "sounds like some kind of apocalyptic rave."
    • His description of the Argos catalogue.note 
      "The LAMINATED BOOK OF DREAMS!" "Why is it laminated?" "TO CATCH THE TEARS OF JOY!" "So many beautiful things, I cannot possess them all!"
  • Nazi Gold: Became the subject of a routine after a charity gig sponsored by a Swiss Bank explicitly asked him not to make any jokes about Nazi Gold. Never tell a comedian not to make jokes about something.
  • Nude Nature Dance: On the Larks In Transit tour, he recounted how, while in Indonesia, he was so taken with the unspoiled tranquility of his surroundings that he stripped naked and stood in a forest pool to "convene with nature". He was interrupted by a tourist shouting "Jesus Christ, it's Bill Bailey!"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • In real life, Bill is a naturally gifted musician and highly intelligent. However, in his shows, he often portrays himself as awkward, disheveled, bumbling and somewhat dense, right before launching into a highly detailed parable about classical music and existential philosophy.
    • He can cross the lines from Absent-Minded Professor to Ditzy Genius at times, though. There are a few tangents that come from nowhere and go somewhere, but not somewhere within the orbital perimeter of Jupiter. They just take flight and keep on going...
  • Once per Episode:
    • It's become a staple that the endings of his concert recordings will include Kevin Eldon joining him on stage to perform songs in the style of Kraftwerk.
    • A seemingly random line from the show often ends up becoming the premise of a short film that is shown to the audience after he leaves the stage.
  • Prisoner's Last Meal: Played for Laughs. He sometimes jokes that his death row meal of choice would be a stale baguette and a pineapple. Rather than eat them, he'd craft them into a crude medieval mace to give himself a chance at fighting off the prison guards.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: One of his jokes is about the actors who star in adverts for compensation lawyers:
    "Hello, I tripped over a dust-mite at work and badly ruptured my spleen, but thanks to Claims Direct, I got £5000, look happy. Oh, hang on, £5000…" (pulls a fake smile)
  • Reality-Breaking Paradox: One of Bill's attempts at telling a joke ends with one of the characters in the joke violating Gibbs' Paradox and causing the universe to melt.
  • Regional Riff: Parodied. In his "Happy Birthday in Minor Key" routine, he claims that, because the harmonic minor scale has those two notes that are reminiscient of Arabian music, it's impossible to play the scale without wanting to turn it into Arabian-esque music.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The foundation of the Chaucer Pubbe Gagge.
    "Three fellows wenten into a pubbe
    And gleefullie their hands did rubbe
    In expectacioun of revelrie,
    For 'twas the hour known as 'happie'."
  • Subliminal Seduction: The backmasking variant is parodied: one of his gags is to 'rewind' a portion of his act and throw in nonsense messages like "donkeys are aliens, donkeys are aliens."
  • Surreal Humor: He’s very much a purveyor of surrealistic humor. A lot of his material wanders into Metaphorgotten territory, subsequently gets lost, and then decides to build a shack out of fern leaves in order to ponder the existential interpretation of the leprechaun.
  • Theme Tune: A lot of TV theme tunes are discussed and/or rendered in a different style. In addition to those mentioned elsewhere on the page, we have:
    • EastEnders, which he likens to "a wheelbarrow full of cold porridge being pushed up a plank and dumped into a skip" and gives the theme tune the lyrics "Everyone is going to die". Also played on sitar (well, on guitar with sitar-flavoured effects on the amp) in Part Troll.
    • Doctor Who in Belgian jazz style.
      Exterminez-vous! Exterminez-vous encore!
    • Panorama, played backwards by an orchestra.
    • The BBC snooker theme, which apparently gets cut short because the unplayed portion cuts into Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
    • The Magic Roundabout with the hidden demonic section after four hours of the normal theme-tune.
    • The "Match of the Day" theme tune has been subjected to tone adjustments, rendering it 1) with the Alberti bass, 2) the "lounge version", 3) the "Eastern European cartoon theme", 4) a North Korea-inspired march, and 5) a "Jewish folk song" in Qualmpeddler.
  • Theremin: Part of his standard keyboard setup, used in many of his musical routines. On the Part Troll DVD's Video Diary extra, Bill meets a fan who has built a theremin from a kit and installed it inside a garden gnome.
  • With Lyrics:
    • He has done this for a number of instrumental TV theme tunes, perhaps most notably Mastermind: "You're ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEE...DAH-DAH!"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "The Leg of Time" has a few of these, such as "Ride a white pig to the edge of Lapland" and "Madrigal chanting is no crime/when you're suckled by a blind Alsatian". As does the "Dandelion Mind" song.


Hidden Cockney Motifs

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