UK TV review: Bill Bailey: Limboland
James R | On 17, Mar 2021
For many people across the UK today, the name Bill Bailey will conjure up images of Strictly Come Dancing, but the comedian has been entertaining audiences with his musical oddities and surreal asides. If you’ve never sampled his strange delights, they don’t come stranger or more delightful than his superb Limboland.
Recorded in 2018 at the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s the kind of pre-lockdown, post-Brexit referendum show that is at once topical and not at all – Bailey opens with a tirade about political parties and the frustrations of being on the left side of the political spectrum and not having anyone worth voting for. But you don’t see a Bill Bailey show for political commentary and he swiftly uses that opening gambit as a gateway to his real subject: the concept of happiness and how modern society places pressures and expectations of happiness upon us.
If that sounds like heavy going, Bailey proves his hilariously dark point by playing a minor key version of Happy Birthday – and it’s that kind of trivial, transient pleasure that forms the basis of Bailey’s cheerful philosophy, which hinges on enjoying the small, silly moments in life. Bailey’s musical stylings have rarely been sillier and he’s on flawless form as he comes up with a cover of the iPhone ringtone that rivals his BBC News remix from years ago.
He stitches together these flourishes with a witty patter that has only gotten more acutely tuned as he gets older; he now wears his cultural references with a lightness and irreverence that’s as self-ridiculing as it is knowingly arty. It’s telling that his set is more stand-up than music, and testament to his underrated skills as a storyteller that this is no bad thing; his observational comedy rivals Eddie Izzard when it comes to latching on to specific minutiae and elevating them to absurd heights, such as the way English people use the phrase “not too bad” to describe how they are. An anecdote involving a meeting with Paul McCartney, meanwhile, will have you in stitches – and squirming about the living room so much you might as well be on Strictly Come Dancing too.
Bill Bailey: Limboland is available on BBC iPlayer until 5th January 2021