Bill Bailey: On My Culture Radar
The funnyman on immersive one-man show The Encounter and odd Swedish film Border
Current favourite book
I sometimes read on my phone because that’s good for flights, so I have a few on the go. I’m listening to Calypso as an audiobook, a collection of stories by David Sedaris. He’s a brilliant raconteur and wonderful to listen to. And I just read Heather Morris’s Tattooist of Auschwitz, which was quite harrowing. I also like to have a hefty book to carry around, so I’m reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which is about the history of India really. It’s absolutely brilliant.
The Ethicurean is a restaurant near to where my father lives in Bristol. They have a set menu of locally sourced stuff, and it’s brilliantly put together. They use lots of old herbs and leaves that seem to have fallen out of use, like lovage, borage and alexander. It’s one of those restaurants where they only serve their set menu, but otherwise it’s pretty casual, like it has wooden tables in a conservatory overlooking the Somerset hills. I didn’t think my 87-year-old Dad would like it, but it’s now his favourite place.
There’s a comedian in America called Aparna Nancherla. I saw her as part of The Standups, a series of comedians on Netflix, and she stood out as being unique and interesting, totally different from the swathe of comics that are around at the moment. She has an almost fragile stage presence. She played on her own vulnerabilities with the very studied, detailed observational comedy that I really like – for example, uses graphs to deconstruct the oddities of text conversations, like trying to figure out what something like a gap means. It’s very much now.
I saw The Encounter in the Schaubühne in Berlin, which was performed by Simon McBurney. It was the most extraordinary one-man show I’ve ever seen. It’s based on a true story of a photojournalist that was dropped in the Brazilian rainforest in the 1960s, and he wanted to get first contact with Mayoruna people for the National Geographic. He was in the military before, so he wasn’t just a dilettante amateur. As soon as the plane drops him off, he sees the tribe and he follows them, but he doesn’t know how to get back. Simon plays all the characters, and he has this omnidirectional microphone that’s the size of a football. All the speech goes through and around the headphones that each audience member is wearing, and creates an incredibly immersive effect of everything happening around you: far away or near, behind you, in front of you. It was absolutely brilliant.
Dial M for Mueller with Carole Cadwalladr is vital. This is what investigative journalism should be, and what’s lacking in the news generally. It’s a tale of what’s happening in our world right now, and it helps explain Brexit and Trump by looking behind the scenes at the forces that have been unleashed, like dark money, connections of influence, the power of social media – things that are around us all the time. Carol’s journalism and her ability to find the connections is fascinating, but also scary.
There’s a Swedish fantasy film called Border that’s the most extraordinary film. I love this sort of film, the strange, unique, unsettling, dark, strange type. It’s about a customs officer, Tina, who has the ability to sniff out guilt: she can smell shame on people. There’s a hilarious opening scene where they’re at the border and she’s sniffing people like “yeah him”, and they get pulled out and find the contraband. She’s heavy-set and strange-looking, and it turns out she’s actually a troll (laughs). I don’t want to give too much away but I guarantee you’ve not seen anything like it. It’s right up my street.
Bill Bailey plays the SSE Arena, Belfast (June 13th) and 3Arena, Dublin (14th)