Trust your instincts: Bill Bailey on preparing for tour
The British comedian is about to begin a six month tour of his latest show, and finds taking risks is all part of the game
Like everyone else who works on their own, I need deadlines. I find it very hard to motivate myself and get the adrenaline going otherwise. It'd be like someone asking, 'Do you want to write some jokes?' Yeah, when? 'Well, it's up to you, mate.' When do I have to perform the show? 'Whenever you want.' So I can just sit around and watch three seasons of Narcos back to back? 'Yep, on you go.'
My next deadline is January 2018, when the new show starts. Larks In Transit, a collection of stories from my travels, will be the longest tour I've ever done. The UK leg alone is six months and I'll probably be performing in the Baltic countries and beyond towards the end of next year. There's an extraordinary appetite for British comedy in Europe.
My comedy has been called 'effortlessly funny', but that's the trick of it. In fact, each tour is incrementally harder to write; people want it to be as good if not better than the last one. When you do a long tour, you get to know the show really, really well and you certainly don't want to be hating it after the first month or two.
There's an intense period of preparation during which I do endless research, write reams of documents and find ways of making stories relatable. I'll then do a series of small gigs to try the material out. When you tell a story on stage for the first time it becomes very real – it's no longer just words on a page. I have to force myself to vocalise my work in front of an audience, which is, to be honest, the hard part.
As a rule I don't repeat jokes from one tour to another. You have to let go, move on and find new things to talk about. The show is generally meticulously planned, but sometimes I will improvise. For example, I was recording a DVD at Wembley Arena and I suddenly thought, 'I've got this idea, I'm going to try it.' I was on a roll, the audience was really up for it, I had a good story coming around the corner. Why not? What's the worst that can happen? Risk-taking is exhilarating. It's like surfing or leaning over a precipice or putting your hand in a flame. It might not work out, but it's thrilling to try.
You have to trust your instincts. The first gig of the tour will be a bit clunky, but by the second I will have shed the extraneous stuff and I'll be working on the nub of what I want to say. By the third show it will be more subtle and I will, hopefully, be happy to be putting the new material out there.
I might need deadlines, but equally I get twitchy if I haven't done a show for a while. I'm probably at my happiest when travelling and telling jokes.
BILL BAILEY is touring Larks In Transit from 29 January to 16 June, 2018. Full details and tickets available via billbailey.co.uk. Image © Andy Hollingworth Archive