A mo­ment of re­flec­tion

Bill Bai­ley doesn’t see it as a mid-life cri­sis, more a time to think. Michael Don­ald­son finds him in re­flec­tive mood ahead of his lat­est NZ tour. ‘There’s been a con­scious ef­fort to make Larks in Tran­sit about trav­el­ling around – not just the phys­i­cal tr

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This Bill Bai­ley in­ter­view starts awk­wardly. I’ve done my re­search and found we share a com­mon birthday, ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia.

Me, Bill Bai­ley, Ap­ple guy Steve Jobs, Aussie tennis brat Lley­ton He­witt, ma­jor golf cham­pion Zach John­son, Ge­orge Har­ri­son (who thought he was born on Fe­bru­ary 25 un­til he found out his birth cer­tifi­cate was wrong and he was wel­comed into our golden cir­cle).

But when I try to break the ice with the fa­mous co­me­dian by stat­ing we were both ser­e­naded with happy birth­days on Fe­bru­ary 24 each year, Bai­ley replies: ‘‘Yeah, I had some bad luck by get­ting a birthday in Jan­uary be­cause . . . ’’ Wait! What? Wikipedia is wrong? Or is he prank­ing me? Or worse, has Bai­ley for­got­ten his own birthday?

Too flum­moxed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties I clum­sily dodge the sub­ject and change di­rec­tion like some­one fall­ing off a bike by ask­ing how long it’s been since he last vis­ited New Zealand, even though I know per­fectly well what the an­swer is. Bai­ley barely misses a beat as my ques­tions lurch like a dinghy on a stormy day in Cook Strait, art­fully car­ry­ing me and the con­ver­sa­tion to a bet­ter place.

If he felt my angst, he hid it well

Bill Bai­ley

. . . and any­way he’d prob­a­bly sym­pa­thise. Af­ter all he’s been in this sit­u­a­tion him­self: the first time he met the leg­endary for­mer Bea­tles front man Paul McCart­ney.

‘‘I’ve been telling the Paul McCart­ney story in a few shows now,’’ he say, ‘‘be­cause it chimes with the au­di­ence. There are peo­ple in the au­di­ence who’ve waited to speak to my­self or other comics and in the mo­ment they get a bit tongue-tied. So it’s my way of say­ing ‘this hap­pens to ev­ery­one’. I’m stand­ing there with Paul McCart­ney and I’m gib­ber­ing like an id­iot, talk­ing all sorts of rub­bish and the whole en­counter was a long pe­riod in which I was clenched with shame.’’

Larks in Tran­sit is the rather ap­pro­pri­ate name for Bai­ley’s new show. Lark has dou­ble mean­ing for the multi-tal­ented Bai­ley.

Both his par­ents were avid bird­watch­ers and mem­bers of the Royal So­ci­ety for Bird Pro­tec­tion, and a few years back he hosted Bill Bai­ley’s Bird­watch­ing Bo­nanza, a celebrity bird­watch­ing quiz show.

And the lark is one of the most ex­trav­a­gant song­birds on the planet – a de­scrip­tion that could eas­ily be ap­plied to the mu­si­cally multi-tal­ented Bai­ley.

‘‘Some­times you hit upon a name like that . . . it’s the sort of show that sums up ev­ery­thing about me. There’s a bit of a love of the nat­u­ral world, a love of the out­doors, the ac­cep­tance of the ab­sur­dity of life, how com­edy has taken me to some odd places . . . but it’s also a re­minder to have fun along the way be­cause it’s also larks in the Dick­en­sian sense of the word, as in ‘what larks, Pip . . . what fun that was, what shenani­gans we had.’’

Larks in Tran­sit grew out of Bai­ley’s pre­vi­ous show Lim­boland, which he’s wind­ing up in the UK. He changed the name be­cause he re­alised Lim­boland, with­out him notic­ing, had ‘‘mor­phed into a new show’’.

‘‘All shows change over time, and over time you re­alise that it’s

Bird­watch­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, ad­ven­ture, music – Bill Bai­ley is a multi-tal­ented co­me­dian.

Bill Bai­ley in Black Books with Dy­lan Mo­ran and Tam­sin Greig.

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