UK comedian and performer Bill Bailey is back in NZ for the seventh time after getting special approval from immigration officials.
Bailey is three days into his managed isolation but told Jesse Mulligan he feels lucky to be here after a bleak 12 months in the UK.
“It’s been devastating really, not just for comedy, but for the whole of the live arts, all the summer festivals were all cancelled, events have all been either cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
“So yes, it’s been pretty grim. I was in fact due to come to New Zealand last September/October to tour but of course that didn’t happen and so this is the delayed tour that should have happened then.”
He will be touring his show En Route to Normal in March throughout the country after a long period where he’s barely performed.
“I’ve done two gigs in a year, both of those were outdoors, one was in a racecourse up in Newcastle and another was down in London on a blustery, grey and slightly drizzly day in late September.”
The audience, he says, came prepared with blankets and thermos flasks.
“Not like you would for a comedy gig, they looked like they were hiking across the Pennines.”
This marks Bailey’s 25th year of performing in New Zealand, he says.
“It’s a very welcome milestone for me and it’s a place I’ve loved performing in over all of those 25 years.
“The fact it’s a beautiful country, that another fantastic bonus about touring here.
“And just also just the fact that you’ve handled the pandemic so well compared to our terrible, disastrous attempts, what will be strange for me is seeing people out and about.
“That’s what’s so strange, being in a place where people are near to each other and not wearing masks, the fact the show is going ahead at all … I can scarcely believe it.”
One bonus of having a relatively empty diary is bailey was able to compete in the UK’s hugely popular Strictly Come Dancing.
“I’ve been asked to do this show for years now and I’ve never been able to do it because I’m always touring at that time of year, that block of time. It’s a huge commitment in normal times, it’s 16 weeks. So, I could never afford anything like that normally but in the pandemic.
“I was supposed to be in New Zealand and Australia and that cancelled, so suddenly I found myself, Oh I’m strangely available so I thought now is as good a time as any to do it.”
Bailey discovered he had a latent talent for dance, he says, although age was a slight disadvantage.
“I was three times older than some of these contestants …. Youth has a great advantage, you’re a lot more bendy, you’re a lot more lithe and supple and you can contort yourself into all sorts of shapes for me it was hard.”
Evidently it didn’t hold him back as he won the competition. His routine for Rappers Delight going viral.
“That was a particular highlight for me, that was a great experience. I got personal video messages form the entire Sugar Hill Gang.”
He started writing En Route to Normal before the pandemic took hold, he says.
“A lot of it is about my own experience in lockdown and this strange blurring of the days and time and odd dreams and connections and a strange time for a while where everything just shut down, the world just stopped.
“It’s a real strange paradox, on the one hand there’s this sense of dread, this terrible virus raging outside and this terrible loss of life.
“And on the other side, paradoxically, I spent some days thinking I’m enjoying this, it seems odd, it seems perverse but, we were having a moment of taking stock.”
Being in a country which is relatively free makes mundane activities seem exotic, he says.
“I would love to go to a restaurant, it seems almost ridiculously exotic. You’re in a restaurant and you don’t have to wear a mask, and you order food and they bring it and they take your plate away! That’s amazing.
“And I may well go up and just randomly hug strangers - that’s the other thing as well I’m not entirely sure how I might behave. So watch out for that.”
Bill Bailey is performing from Sat 13 March through to Saturday 3 April.