A Bill Bailey show remains one of the most unique and hilarious experiences in live comedy. His latest show, En Route to Normal gives fans exactly what they want while being typically unpredictable and effortlessly surprising.
If you are unfamiliar with Bailey. He is best known for his work on the early 200’s sitcom Black Books where he played the put-upon bookstore assistant Manny Bianco opposite curmudgeonly Dylan Moran.
In the years since the near-perfect show ended, Bailey has been a regular on television screens with roles in Skins and as a panellist on QI. He has a memorable cameo in the cult hit, Hot Fuzz and was the winner of Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Bailey is a classically trained musician, a master of multiple instruments, a brilliant physical comedian and an engaging storyteller. He is capable of both a long Billy Connolly style tale about the Polynesian Tree Snail, or a series of vexed one-liners about Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
He can do almost anything in a live setting, and in his latest show, En Route To Normal, he packs everything into two hours of comedy magic.
From the topical to the absurd
En Route to Normal’s second Melbourne show at the Palais Theatre started with Bailey unleashing his thoughts on the current state of British politics. He does not hold back. The show's first five minutes are a barrage of exasperated and hilarious insults about Truss and Johnson. Describing one as a “rancid bin bag of DNA” and the other as “404 error, personality not found.”
Australian politicians do not escape. He does not mention former prime minister Scott Morrison by name. Only referring to him as the guy who appointed himself “Lord of the seven realms, the galaxy and the surrounding area.”
The show moves quickly from topic to topic. Bailey could be described as a musical comedian, and the stage is strewn with both recognizable and obscure instruments.
But he is unlike most other musical comics. Although the show contains numerous songs, Bailey often uses music to set up a joke or deliver a punchline to a routine. His exploration of what instruments are suitable for a day spa is an early example of most of his talents condensed into one gag.
A seemingly throwaway line about what makes a Coldplay song evolves into an audience singalong that is at once catchy and funny.
This is what makes a Bill Bailey show special. There is no telling where it is headed at any point, but it still all feels cohesive amid the chaos.
Musical comedy with a difference
When Bailey does use extended musical numbers, they are of the highest quality. They are almost Pythonesque in their absurdity and execution. In his, Melbourne shows he enlists the help of opera singer Piera Dennerstein to help deliver his musical about Henry XIII’s famed lack of good looks [I was content to see your face]. Not wanting to waste the talents of a soprano, she sings Carmen’s Habanera while Bailey projects nonsense lyrics onto a screen.
Interesting, this was not part of the Geelong leg of the tour. Even in the context of a Bill Bailey show, this was unexpected.
Bailey’s favourite instrument appears to be the guitar. A second half highlight is him showing what his ideal life would be like. A house filled with amplifiers so he could narrate his daily life with Heavy Metal strumming.
En Route to Normal is a crowd-pleasing comedy show. Bailey has obviously missed being on stage in the last two years and relishes his return.
This is an all-time great comedian who remains on top of his game. Although he is clearly indulging his niche passions, the audience is always along for the ride.
A near-perfect night of stand-up comedy.
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