With ‘En Route to Normal’, Bill Bailey attempts to make sense of today’s dystopia

With ‘En Route to Normal’, Bill Bailey attempts to make sense of today’s dystopia

Words by Rebecca Miller

We chat to Bill Bailey before he returns to Australia later this year with his new comedy show En Route to Normal.

Interviewing Bill Bailey began like many COVID-19 interactions, socially distanced and via a webcam through Zoom, and yet his personality shone brightly, like sunset through a window.

Bailey’s latest comedy show, En Route to Normal provides unique insight into the world through humour and music. The show was ironically named prior to the pandemic, and like Orwell’s 1984, seems to predict what’s coming.

“The political situation we found ourselves in pre COVID just gives you an idea of where my head was at before we even got to the pandemic,” says Bailey.

“I felt there has been a gradual rise in populism, nationalism, which I always think is a worrying trend because it only leads to division, usually, and I saw a lot of that, primarily in America with the divisive leadership of Trump, but also there was echoes of that in Europe as well with the rise of authoritarian regimes.”

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Bailey feels we’re in the most divided time he can remember, socially, culturally and politically, and that’s what prompted the title of his show.

“Now I’m starting to think, what is normal? I don’t think I can remember it. Perhaps there isn’t a state that is normal, perhaps it’s some kind of vague nostalgia for some other time,” Bailey says.

Bailey spoke of ‘the sounds of lockdown’ and that many of them have made it into his new comedy show following renewed awareness of nature.

“With the absence of flights, cars and people, you were able to hear a lot more of what’s going on. I’d go out in the middle of the night and listen to the wind in the trees, to blackbirds and the sounds of outdoors you normally don’t hear,” Bailey says.

“Then, that got me thinking, this is like a pre-industrial time, this is almost like what people would have heard 100 years ago, 200 years ago, and I wondered if musicians were inspired by that, and then of course you find out they were.”

It wasn’t just nature inspiring the music in Bailey’s show, but the sounds of modern technology too.

“I was listening to the sound of tech, due to communicating a lot via video call, and a lot of the music I was writing, the ideas I was putting down were a combination of modern tech, like ringtones, video calling tones, all of that stuff, the sounds that became part of our daily lives combined with almost ancient sounds that we hadn’t heard for almost 200 years,” Bailey says.

Bailey did a lot of Skype calls throughout lockdown and sampled the Skype ringtone, putting his own spin on it for his show, turning it into a ‘90s club banger’ by adding keyboards and beats to it.

“I played it at this outdoor gig and people were dancing to Skype ringtones. That’s the kind of world we’re in right now, that’s the new normal,” laughs Bailey.

It’s not just Bailey’s audience dancing during lockdown, he did a fair bit of it himself on British TV series Strictly Come Dancing and despite having no dance experience and being completely out of his comfort zone, he won.

“That was so surreal, it’s like a fever dream, did that happen? Coming from a comedy aspect we were able to dance to lots of different music, Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Rappers Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang. We completely threw out the normal rules and did it in a different way,” Bailey continues.

Strictly Come Dancing is not the only TV appearance Bailey has made during the pandemic. He’s also presenting on comedy quiz show Patriot Brains, where Australian and New Zealand comedians battle it out, flaunting who knows more about their own country. His voice has also been snapped up in the upcoming film adaptation of Australian children’s book, Dragonkeeper.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Bailey also published his latest book, Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness at a time when many people have struggled with their mental health. Rituals, routines and connections with nature and people are many ways Bailey feels bring happiness.

“Writing it [the book] in a time of the pandemic, seemed like a perverse time to be writing about happiness, but ironically or understandably because of it, lots of the things that provide happiness were brought about by our situation, we made connections with neighbours, and did daft things like mini golf, that brings me great pleasure,” says Bailey.

“It’s not all about spiritual things, it’s just things you can do with the family. My dad loves mini golf, I don’t know why. He’s obsessed with it. The idea of walking around a golf course for seven hours, I think no, no I can’t be bothered with that, but half an hour trying to hit a ball through a windmill, yeah I’m into that,” laughs Bailey.

Whether it’s Bailey’s humour, musical talents or insightful stories that draw audiences in, one thing’s for sure, they won’t be disappointed with his new show and the creative way material has come about in an unprecedented time.

Bill Bailey comes to The Palais Theatre for three back-to-back shows on Monday November 15, Tuesday November 16 and Wednesday November 17. Grab tickets here.