Page 14 - Marlborough Living May June 2019
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even. People ask me questions about Britain such as ‘Why is it like this? What’s happened. Why is there a referendum?’
I end up having to think up answers and delve and really do some hard thinking to try and come up with plausible answers really! I think also what that’s done is made me examine the history of it a lot more, and actually go back and look at some of the context.
Certainly, from a personal level, there’s things that have happened to me that I have then explored in a historical way, and I find that quite a productive, rich comic vein. For example, you look at a gesture like giving the middle finger - where does it come from? And then of course it reveals this amazing history, that goes back to Ancient Greece and then it sparks off all kinds of other stories. This
is what I look for - those things that are seemingly mundane and part of our lives, but actually you start to unpick them and they reveal a lot more.
So many of our phrases are from
the most obscure sources, and we don’t ever question them because it’s just the vernacular. I used to be a
tour guide at the American Museum in Bath and you would learn so much about these phrases, such a ‘sleep tight’ - that comes from the fact that beds didn’t have springs so you would have to tighten the ropes before sleeping.
It’s funny you say that, my Grandmother worked at the American Museum. She was a tour guide as well!
I was also thinking about the nature of comedy, and I suppose it chimes
in with what you were saying in terms of that unifying thread that seems to connect everything, and that history repeats itself for the better or the worse. You’ve performed to such a different array of crowds, such as intimate gigs, stadiums and in front of royalty. Comedy as a medium seems to transcend class in a way that so few performance arts can, and it gets to the heart of people. That must be such a satisfying thing?
Yes, that is something that is particularly satisfying as a performer is being able to get your comedy to land anywhere,
or with anyone from any background. And that’s the challenge but also when you find that, that universal comedy that makes everyone laugh, well that’s almost what you’ve been looking for the whole time. As you say, the shows gone round a fair bit, and I’ve performed it to many different people, but my comedy over the years, well I’ve found myself in all sort
of odd situations! I’ve played at a metal festival, doing a gig to sixty-thousand Slipknot fans, and then the next minute, playing at The Albert Hall. I think it also says a little bit about our language as well, because I’ve performed all over the world, countries where English isn’t their first language, but lots and lots of people wanted to come and hear it in English. I think English is a very supple language, it’s a perfect language for comedy because there’s so much nuance to it, with different shades of meaning, that lends itself to comedy.
I suppose you tie that in with your musical element, so even if you can’t understand all the nuances of the language, you can find the comedy in the music?
Yeah it gets through to people in a way that maybe sometimes the spoken words don’t. Last year I performed in Shanghai for the first time and I was quite surprised that a lot of locals came along, a lot of young Chinese students, who wanted
to hear comedy in English. Obviously their comprehension is very good, way better than my Mandarin, but the music connects it too!
Do you have any more plans for anything ‘acting-wise’ on TV? I know fans of Black Books will be hoping that you might return to screens in that way.
Bill: I don’t think there will be any more Black Books but I am going to be doing a series with Idris Elba quite soon. We’ve recorded one series already, but next week we are going to start filming series two and three, so that should be fun!
Well good luck with the tour, and we look forward to catching up with you in Shepton Mallet!
“...English is a very supple language, it’s a perfect language for comedy because there’s so much nuance to it”

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