Review: Bill Bailey – Earl of Whimsy, Arts Centre Melbourne

Thuy On

Bailey’s latest one-man stand up routine is a good sample of all that is excellent about him.
Review: Bill Bailey – Earl of Whimsy, Arts Centre Melbourne

Bill Bailey, Earl of Whimsy at Hamer Hall.

Bill Bailey as a comedic force has been endearing the world for a while now, and his hapless, gormless character in the TV series Black Books, Manny, further put on a gloss on his star power. Bailey’s latest one-man stand-up routine is a good sample of all that is excellent about him.

Those familiar with his frequent appearances on the general knowledge show Q&I (hosted by the inimitable Stephen Fry) will be aware of the extent of Bailey’s range and in this two hour show (including a twenty minute interval) Bailey roams widely, veering off in tangents in his seemingly haphazard (but really, tightly controlled) peripatetic manner. Without any support person as back-up, Bailey was in solo command the entire time as he took us through topics as diverse as British, Australian and American politics (look out for his impression of Donald Trump’s hair); reality shows, Indonesian phrasebooks, Nutella riots in France, Shakespearean knock-knock jokes derivation; social media scourges and rude hand signals in the Arab world. His verbose and witty word play, full of oddly put-together metaphors and puns, is delightful (and for anyone who enjoys limericks, he even manages to pair Yahtzee and Nazi together). There is a particularly hilarious ‘poem’ about long-term relationships whose deadpanned delivery is as funny as its content.

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Bailey’s musicality should also be noted: this man is a classically trained musician and he plays a number of instruments on stage. Several guitars yes, but also an assortment of strange-looking noise makers, including a three-prong Chinese flute and a keyboard with pre-programmed bird song and squawks. His versatility is impressive. He not only tells jokes, improvises and banters with the audience but sings (well), puts on different accents (also well) and is a consummate performer. 

Highlights included him trying to coax a bemused audience into singing a German version of 'You are my Sunshine' (it failed abysmally), and a death metal tribute as well as the finale, sending us all off to 'A Highway to Hell'. He is indeed the Earl of Whimsy as this show is called, but really this honorific feels insubstantial and sells him short; he is in fact, King of his domain and long, long may he continue to reign.

5 stars ★★★★★

Bill Bailey, Earl of Whimsy 

2-5 November 2018
Hamer Hall, Arts centre Melbourne 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Thuy On is a freelance literary journalist and critic and the books editor of The Big Issue.