"I love the outdoors so New Zealand's perfect for me," Bill Bailey tells me down the line from Ireland.

"When I'm not doing gigs, or in between gigs, there's always somewhere to go. A bit of bush to be walked in, a beautiful beach, some mountain to climb. There's always something.

"There's no shortage of New Zealanders willing to point you in the right direction as well," he adds with a small chuckle. "If there's a cave to go down, or something to be abseiled into or a hole to be got into..."

I had no idea he was such an action man.


"Oh yeah," he replies enthusiastically. "That's me. If you're on tour and stay in your hotel room, you go stir crazy. You have to get out and about. You have to make it a point. And I do. Last time I was in New Zealand I went horse riding on the beach. Then I went climbing. It was amazing. We went quad biking in New Plymouth. Brilliant.

"While I'm going around New Zealand if anybody wants to send me a tip - a couple of tips - like, 'yeah, there's a good mountain bike trail up the road, Bill,' that'd be great. I'd love that."

He's on Twitter, of course, but the best way to get hold of him would be to simply turn up to one of his shows. The tour begins in Christchurch tonight, moving to Invercargill, Dunedin, and Wellington before culminating in Auckland next Wednesday.

"When I was thinking about coming to New Zealand again this year it suddenly struck me it was exactly 20 years since I came out to New Zealand for the first time, so this was an opportunity to mark the occasion," he explains. "More and more in my life I like to recognise these anniversaries and milestones."

He sounds in a reflective mood.

"I think that's true. It started last year when I got to the half-century. I thought that was a good point to stop and have a look," he agrees. "I think of it as climbing a hill. You don't want to look back too early. If you haven't got very far up you just think, 'well, there's not much of a view'.

"I always keep my head down and keep going until I'm at a decent height. Then you afford yourself the luxury of a little bit of a review. And I guess that's what this is. I got to 50 last year and it affected me in a way that I didn't think it would. I guess somehow consciously or unconsciously I started to write more reflective stuff and stuff about family and my childhood. And some of that has worked its way into the show as well."

The show is Larks in Transit, and, despite his well-known love of ornithology, has nothing to do with birds.


"It's more in the Dickensian context of the word, 'what larks!'," he explains. "Meaning 'what shenanigans, what fun', the sort of scrapes you get up on to the way."

He says this show and its reflective nature just sort of snuck up on him, morphing out of his previous show.

"Material has a shelf life or a sell-by date," he says, describing his creative process, "Something more interesting or that I enjoy performing more will come into the show and push out another bit. What happens is eventually you find that the whole show has been nudged out and a new one has taken its place. That's what happened with this show."

Comedian Bill Bailey. Supplied for TimeOut.
Comedian Bill Bailey. Supplied for TimeOut.

As a comedian, Bailey's never shied away from heavy topics and revels in pointing out the absurdities he sees in politics and religion. But perhaps his greatest skill is in getting people who may be fundamentally opposed to what he's saying to see the joke and laugh along.

"You have to get an audience to trust your judgement. That's very important," he says when I ask how he manages to pull this trick off.

"You have to play out a line and reel it in. There's a method to it. Comedy is very mercurial. It can find its way around all kinds of subjects that you might not imagine would be approachable. But you have to do it with care. You have to get the balance right. Get the feel right."

His deeper material seems to be searching for some universal truth, something that connects people. His touring life, his performing and the personable and approachable style of his celebrity must put him in contact with thousands upon thousands of people each year. Has he discovered it?

"Well, I'm working on it," he laughs. "I think if you can find some universal funny then you're half way to finding some universal truth. Comedy shows how people tick, what gets under their skin and what they think about it. So you can get close to it."

He thinks for a bit then says, "but if there's one thing it's taught me over the years it's that everyone - no matter where they are, what kind of religion, what kind of country they're from, what background, what sexuality - everyone likes a laugh.

"This is a uniquely human trait. There's no evolutionary advantage for 'aving a laugh. Maybe that's humanity."

WHO: Bill Bailey
WHAT: Perfoming his new comedy show Larks on Tour
WHEN: From today all around the country.