Bible guitar with a divine resonance

When you watch a stand-up comedy show starring British funnyman Bill Bailey (right), prepare to not just laugh your head off but learn a thing or two about musical instruments as well.

For his upcoming show - Bill Bailey's Limboland - here on Nov 17, he will be playing the theremin and bible guitar among other more common instruments.

Never heard of either? Bailey demystified the instruments during a telephone interview.

"A theremin is an electronic instrument that you play by air without any physical contact. It emits an ethereal human-like sound when played and is really an extraordinary instrument," says the 49-year-old.

"The bible guitar is a guitar made out of a bible. It was specially made for me and, yes, it has a certain divine resonance," he adds cheekily.

A common thread in all of his shows is the use of music.

Before entering the comedy circuit in Britain, he was a musician who easily picked up the piano, guitar and drums.

"I noticed there were hardly any stand-up shows with music around so it was a way for me to stand out and be different," says Bailey, who lives in West London with his wife and 10-year-old son.

Over the years, he has picked up several musical instruments and music styles and he incorporates them all into his gigs.

"I like to mix different music styles. Recently, I played the theme song of Downton Abbey in a Jamaican reggae style. I also did a version of Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball in the style of Kraftwerk," he says.

Similarly, the topics he covers during his shows are a mix of everything from politics to philosophy and trends.

"There's a tremendous amount of freedom with stand-up comedy. It's one of the last bastions of free speech, in fact.

"With stand-up, it is just me, my thoughts, my ideas and connecting with the audience. It incorporates the spoken word, which I love, and I don't think I will see a time when I won't be doing it."

1) Why the title Limboland for your show?

It's about the gap between expectation and reality... how we think things are going to be and how they actually turn out.

During my shows, I will tell a lot of stories and personal anecdotes about my own life and travels and how things have gone wrong.

2) Singapore is the only South-east Asian stop on your tour. Why just here?

Oh, I love Singapore and I haven't gone there in a long, long time. The last time I performed there was in the early 1990s.

I have a desire to go back. I love the food and can't wait to return and be in food heaven, sampling laksa, satay and crabs. I love the lot. I'm salivating at the thought right now.

3) The stand-up scene worldwide has evolved over the years, with comedians pushing boundaries even further than before. What do you make of it?

Now, there are many comedians who desire to shock and offend people. I mean they are brilliant and good at what they do, but that is something I don't like. It's not my thing to make fun of the weak and vulnerable.

4) The world recently lost the great comedian Robin Williams. You have worked with him before. What was the experience like?

It was one of the most memorable experiences in my career.

There was no doubt that he was an amazing talent. He was a very quick improviser as well as a very generous and modest man. I have met many very funny people, but in terms of pure stand-up comedy, he was one of the best. It is a terrible tragedy that he is no longer with us.

5) In 2012, you worked on the documentary Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero about Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist many had never heard of before. What was it about him that fascinated you so much?

I share an affinity with the man. I didn't really pay attention in school when I was young. I was too distracted by girls, being in a band or just getting drunk. Wallace left school when he was 14 and really had to educate himself throughout his life, which I feel I have to do now. I actually study at any opportunity now.

Also, Wallace was a modest man. He wasn't interested in fame for its own sake. He was more interested in pursuing science and trying to educate the people on how amazing the world is.

I suppose those are the characteristics that resonate with me. He was a brilliant and extraordinary man.

6) You have done so many forms of performance, from acting in films to presenting a documentary. What's next?

I would love to make more documentaries.

Following in the footsteps of Wallace in Indonesia was one of the greatest experiences of my life and documenting it was an excellent bonus. I might do another documentary on Wallace, his life was just so remarkable.

I would also love to write and direct a film, do a musical... there are still many things on my list I have yet to get through.

7) Will you retire from stand-up comedy?

I don't see a time when I won't be doing stand-up comedy. If I can still physically stand up, then I will keep doing it - that's my criterion.

8) How would you like to be remembered?

With a smile.

Book it
Where: University Cultural Centre Hall, National University of Singapore
When: Nov 17, 8pm
Admission: $88, $108, $128 and $148 (call 6348-5555 or go to
Info: Call 6348-5555 or go to

This article was first published on Nov 3, 2014.
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