'I know Norway through crack and murderers'
The Local's Oliver Gee catches up with UK comedian Bill Bailey ahead of his three Norway shows. He dissects winter sports, crime fiction, and Norwegians' puzzling sensitivity to his jokes about Wales.
Bill Bailey, best known for his roles in British comedy shows QI, Black Books, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, is set to hit Norway. In fact, with shows in Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger, he'll have more Norwegian appearances than in any other country on his Qualmpeddler European tour.
And Bailey is no stranger to Norway.
"I went to Norway many years ago and performed in Stavanger and had a fantastic time," he tells The Local.
"There was one slight quirk though. I was talking about being in Wales, the country Wales, and there were a few uncomfortable glances in the audience. They thought I was having a go at them about their whaling," he says with a laugh.
But language mix-ups weren't the only thing that raised an eyebrow in the southern Norway town. He recalls visiting a festival with an unusual premise - the celebration of oil.
"It really knocked me sideways. In Britain, oil is such a dirty thing. You know, people who drive in big cars get castigated. We went to Iraq for a war about oil. But you go to Norway and people are just dancing in the street celebrating this glorious natural resource that's made them all live for much longer and have a big lovely life. That's the one thing that really was shocking and hilarious at the same time."
The Brit's show, if it's anything like the recent gig in Stockholm, promises an array of music (Bailey is classically trained), a smattering of politics, and a bucketful of belly laughs. And perhaps most importantly for the home crowd, a lot of Norway.
In fact, that's the impressive thing with Bailey. Compared to other big names who have hit Scandinavia recently, including Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais, Bailey's show isn't scripted to the last detail, and he's not shy to share his local knowledge.
Indeed, when it comes to Norway the 50-year-old has a fair slice of experience to draw on. He even took his family dogsledding in Tromsø to see the Northern Lights and says Norwegians' "outdoorsiness" appeals to him.
"I love the fact the Norwegians come up with all sorts of other things like 'Oh yeah, we'll ski uphill just to make it more difficult'. You ski upill then you've gotta shoot something, a moose or something, then you've gotta ski backwards with the moose on your head and then you've gotta snowboard to work, you know what I mean? I love the dediction to the outdoors," he chuckles.
And talking to him on the phone from his London office, there's a sense his Norway knowlegde isn't just skin deep as he jokes about everything from Norwegian welfare to their "wangling" of an oil deal with Denmark.
In fact, he says, he's not surprised people think Norwegians are "lucky bastards" for "cracking it".
"If you have a gigantic oil fund that will keep country going for hundreds of years then you don't really have to bother doing much," he says.
"You can just ski most of the time. "People are like, ooh, look at him, he's skiing, he's skiing up the roof of his house, just because he can."
So where does the comedian's Scandinavian knowledge come from? Much like his obsession with Swedish crime thrillers, Bailey admits that Jo Nesbø's books have a lot to answer for.
"I've read them all. I've got to know Norway though the lives of crack dealers and murderers," he says with a long laugh. "They're very funny. That's the thing: they're written with degree of wit and a lot of pop culture references, and it gives them a more contemporary feel compared to sparse style of [Swedish author Henning] Mankell."
And Bailey has a theory as to why Scandinavian crime has taken readers by storm both on home soil and abroad.
"I guess maybe Norway is so ordered that crime is an exotic thing," he muses. "It's like, 'We better write about it... this doesn't happen very often."
Bill Bailey will perform in Oslo on May 29th, Stavanger on May 30th, and Bergen on May 31st. More information here.