■ The comedian and actor, 55, on drive-ins, lost didgeridoos and why he ended up doing the last gig in Germany
You’ll be performing live at The Drive-In Club in late July. Is this your first time performing to a row of cars?
To a row of cars, yeah. It does sound strange, doesn’t it? Standing forlornly in a wet car park telling jokes. People can flash their lights or flick their windscreen wipers in appreciation, maybe. Who knows? This is all new. Talking to lots of people, anecdotally, this is the defining feature of lockdown: to try to think of doing things in a different way.
Do you think this could start a trend in live comedy post-lockdown?
It is exciting. I’m just thrilled to be able to do a live gig. It’s a completely new idea to me. The idea of performing live to an audience, sure, that’s my natural sort of habitat, but how this will work I don’t quite know. I understand the idea is that you have a few hundred cars that each get a painted bay they stay in so they’re distanced from the other cars, and then people can get out and watch the show outside. If the weather isn’t great then you listen to the audio of the show in the car.
How much of your year has been disrupted by the virus?
I was in the middle of a tour in Europe when it happened and I was doing a show in Hamburg. At the time we saw it as some form of abstract, distant problem in some faraway place in China we hadn’t heard of, then suddenly it became very real and very immediate. That gig I did in Hamburg turned out to be the last live event in Germany! There was a strange intensity to the show that I hadn’t encountered in a long time, this real manic desire to wring every last drop out of this gig, as there was no knowing when the next one was going to happen. Soon after that Germany was in lockdown and luckily we decided to just bail on the tour — it was like getting the last flight out of Vietnam. We got the last chopper out of Hamburg!
We know you’re a big nature buff — have you enjoyed seeing wildlife make more of an emergence in the capital?
Very much so. The amount of birdsong we’ve heard is extraordinary. For a while there was no traffic and where I am in west London it felt like I was in a tiny, remote village in the middle of nowhere, it was incredible. I noticed lots of birds and butterflies in the garden. Obviously it’s been a cataclysmic disaster in terms of how the pandemic has been handled but there have been parts of it we can enjoy.
Are you the only person in the UK who doesn’t need to rush straight to a hairdressers?
That’s right! This is one of the great joys of having this hairdo. No one seems to have noticed because I look like this whenever. Pre-lockdown or post-lockdown, it doesn’t make any difference. Funnily enough, I saw my dad and he’s usually very well-kempt and dapper, and now he has this great long hair. He’s looking at me and going, ‘It’s nearly as long as yours!’ He looks like a hippie lecturer.
You were tweeting along with a Black Books marathon during lockdown. That show holds up so well…
I was very surprised at how well it has lasted. There’s not much about it that date stamps it, the show is really about the characters and the absurdity. What really surprised me was the calibre of all the guest stars. That was quite a revelation and also that we all looked so young and full of life.
Any chance of cajoling Dylan Moran and Tamsin Greig into a reunion?
You always have to move on and do different things but it was a great time and a brilliant experience. So much has changed. Teddington Studios, which is where all the interior shots were filmed, has been turned into riverside apartments. I was down there yesterday, cycling past, and I had this little moment of memory of sitting looking at the river in between recordings. Plus, trying to persuade Dylan Moran to do anything is quite hard and Tamsin Greig is busy being a famous and incredibly talented actress so I imagine it would be tough. I always say to them we should do it as a musical or something! Or a live show. Maybe that would be fun. We can but dream.
You’re famed for turning things into instruments. Have you learned to play anything new over lockdown?
No, I haven’t. But I have rediscovered a bunch of instruments, which had been hitherto stored away in my home. Because one of the things we all had a bit of time for was a bit of a clear-out so all manner of things were unearthed. So I found my didgeridoo and I’ve been playing around with that.
Will the didgeridoo be winding its way to the Brent Cross Drive-In with you?
That might be the thing I start with. I’ll definitely bring it along. I don’t even know how this will work but, yeah, the didgeridoo will come along.
■ Bill Bailey plays The Drive-In Club (which opens Fri) from July 28. See thedrivein.club