Bill Bailey has a lot on his mind ahead of his latest national tour, which arrives in Aberdeen this week. The clue to this is in the tour’s title: Thoughtifier.
“The name of the show is very much what I think the job of a comic is,” says the comedian, virtuoso musician, actor and Strictly Come Dancing-winning national treasure. “You take thoughts and you amplify them. That’s the thought process behind the title. It’s a combo word, a hybrid of ‘thoughts’ and ‘amplifier’.
“That’s the basis of what a lot of comedy is, taking the everyday and amplifying it, crafting it into comedy and laughing at the absurdity of life. Then the show expands into more areas, specifically those of human endeavour, achievement, creativity and ingenuity.”
What can people expect from Bill Bailey’s show?
All of these elements have come together around thoughts of the future, and what it might mean for his own industry. “The arts seem to be slightly under threat at the moment, now we’re looking at AI,” says Bailey. “It seems like the time to investigate, so for comedic purposes I’ve created a lot of Billbots – Bill Bailey chatbots, powered by AI, which crop up at certain points in the show.”
In this way, he literally comes face to face with the AI alternative to Bill Bailey. “I do it to show the limitations of AI, and also how you can make fun of it,” he says. “It’s only as good as what we prompt it to be.
You can never really replicate human originality and creativity, you can only replicate what’s been done before. So as long as AI is created by humans, then we’re in charge of it – but at some point in the future AI will start teaching itself AI, then we’re really in trouble.”
Bailey has been playing arenas for nearly twenty years, so his generation of comics represent an evolution of the form in their own way. “Comedy started in the back rooms of pubs as cabaret,” he says. “In an intimate room you want to see everyone and listen to what they’re saying, but what I’m doing is much more of a show.
Can Bill Bailey play the bagpipes?
“It’s a spectacle. There are lots of set pieces of music in it – opera, rock, folk, gospel, metal and all points in between – plus there are films and animation and graphics.
“I still want to hear the audience, though. I want to hear them get their voices on board, and the more the merrier. There’s a bit in the show where I get the audience to imagine the very first music our Neolithic ancestors made, humming and creating a harmony for the first time, and being blown away by it. When you get a large number of voices coming together it’s like an instrument, it’s very powerful.”
There are no shortage of other instruments in the show, including a Jean-Michel Jarre-style laser harp. “You put your hand through the laser and it makes a sound,” says Bailey. “I love the fact it’s an ancient instrument imagined in a modern way. The theme of the joke is the modernity of tech against very old instruments, like I’m also playing the recorder and the mandolin and the guitar and ancient Turkish lutes.”
He also recently taught himself bagpipes, inspired by an episode of Have I Got News For You where he was encouraged to. “Again, it’s an old instrument and it’s incredibly powerful, it strikes a chord with people,” he says. “It gets an amazing reaction from the crowd, it’s quite stirring. It reminds us what we’re capable of.”
When is Thoughtifier coming to Aberdeen?
Despite his concerns about technology, Bailey doesn’t believe his own job is under threat any time soon. “There are definitely reasons for concern, certainly in the film and TV industries, because images can be manipulated and voices can be easily replicated,” he says. “I think the time when ChatGPT writes a script and an AI creates the images for a film is nearer than we think.
“You know what, though? I don’t think you can replicate the live experience. There’s nothing that comes close to that, it occupies a unique place in human society, going back to the ceremonies and rituals of our ancestors which bound us together. That’s what the live arts does.
“If there’s a theme at the core of this show, it’s that as humans, we need interdependency. When we work well as a species is when we’re working together, and together we can create all kinds of things. Humans are amazing, and you see that in this live context.”