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Bill Bailey has charm and punch in his fanciful new show 'Earl of Whimsy'

Because learning stuff doesn’t have to be boring.

True to form, UK comedian Bill Bailey’s new stand-up offering was whip-smart, surreal and laugh-until-it-hurts funny. True also to title, the show hung sharp turns at Bailey’s whim, but it also had teeth: mischievous yes, fluffy no. Following Bailey’s musings on everything from Trump (who he refused to name, referring to him instead as the “angry apricot”) to this year’s Nutella riots in France (true story), the show was political and absurdly funny.

Bailey is never afraid to flaunt his obsessions, which means, inevitably, we learn something. For instance, irked by the geographical inaccuracy of Toto’s ‘Africa’ we discover that Kilimanjaro doesn’t rise like Olympus above the Serengeti after all. Later we learn about the origins of the “knock, knock” joke (it’s Shakespeare, by the way). Finally, we benefit from Bailey's encyclopaedic knowledge of birds – specifically, the differences in owl hoots and how one, in particular, has become synonymous with creepy music. It’s an unabashed nerd’s delight.

Bailey isn't shy of having a gentle dig at Aussies, which is fair, because we’re all but begging for it. On the one hand, he’s imagining it’s always sunny Down Under and that dolphins bring us quinoa for brekkie. “You disgust me,” he repeats throughout the show in reference to our lackadaisical lifestyle. On the other, he can laugh at our expense on the basis that we need to drop naming the Prime Minister as a test of mental capacity.

That said, he’s well up for taking the piss out of himself too, for example, sharing reviews which state “his head resembles an egg, and his hair hangs like a shower curtain: four stars”. Elsewhere, he's mocked as a “dollar shop Gandalf”.

The dude’s also got a genius turn of phrase. For instance, pegging the arseholes prompting the #MeToo movement as “ossified barnacles”, Ed Sheeran as a “busking Fergie”, and a heckle that goes nowhere as a “brief walk down a windy beach to a café that was closed”.

Interspersed in all of this are his funny as hell original tunes, pretty much always performed on obscure instruments. At one point, he demonstrates beyond doubt that certain songs have inveigled their way into our affections only because they’re in the major key (when played in a minor key, they all sound Russian). Then, there’s Bailey’s corker of a version of ‘Old McDonald’ performed in the style of Tom Waites. Poor McDonald is over farming, but his choices are limited – if you “suck the vowels out of new direction” you’re still left with E-I-E-I-O.

Highlight: Regaling us with snippets from the faux Twitter account of philosopher Samuel Pepys, culminating with him taking a dump in a chimney. Check it out – @samuelpepys.

Lowlight: The patron in the row behind loudly explaining jokes to his bud (except if it was because of hearing or other impairment, in which case, fair play).   

Crowd favourite: For the encore, Bailey played ‘Highway to Hell’. The swell of crowd pride and glee was palpable.