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Bill Bailey has all the best cards

Bill Bailey, Larks in Transit, Warwick Arts Centre, Jan 29 & 30.

Bill Bailey left the stage last night to a well-deserved standing ovation and the thunderous chords of Highway to Hell.

It was a prophetic choice.

Most of the audience spent the next half hour trying to get out of the uni’s notoriously vengeful multi-storey and onto the road. That we managed it without one blasting horn or raised fist was down to the good humour instilled by the preceding two hours of brilliance.

How could we act like the jackass Brits having listened to a memorably hilarious dissection of the worst-best aspects of our bizarre national characteristics ?

Why is it, Bailey asked, that when in New York a waiter drops a plate, customers rush to his aid, oozing concern. But here the restaurant erupts in cheers and fist pumping?

Why do we shrug off the prospect of political meltdown, terrorism, alienation from Europe et al as if they were a minor irritation?

A nation whose obsession is watching competitive cake-baking on TV gives us a clue. We are, erm, stupid.

But here’s the conceit. That’s everyone outside the Butterworth Hall. Not us inside, smugly laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Bailey is relentless and masterful. Dropping in a gag when he senses his stream of consciousness is flagging, or literally banging a drum, before setting of on another mazy dribble into the absurd.

Bailey is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and self-confessed heavy metal freak.

When he asked the audience if any of them was in a band, one brave fan admitted he was but gave a lacklustre response to Bailey’s follow-up question.

The comedian quipped: “That was like a long walk up a windy beach, only to find the cafe had closed,”

The highlight of the more musical second hour of the show came when he reached for a Seasick Steve-style guitar which he claimed was built from two hollow Bibles and had two settings: Old and New Testaments.

He launched into an inspired parody of the old country-blues cliche about a man gambling his soul playing cards with the Devil.

In Bailey’s swamp-rock version, his hero comes out on top by cheating, with a fixed deck of Happy Family cards.

Bill Bailey is at the top of his game and arguably now leads the roll call of our greatest observational stand-up comedians once headed by the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly.

Let’s hope he is never given the kiss of death by being dubbed a national treasure.

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