Manchester based comedian John Bishop talks to LivingEdge
PUBLISHED: 17:30 03 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:39 20 February 2013
Liverpool born John Bishop has hit the big time and can't quite believe his luck <br/>Words by Simon Royle
It is a Monday night at the Frog and Bucket comedy club on Manchesters Oldham Street. A six-foot male, thirty-something, alone and at a loose end, ambles up to the entrance and is told by the doorman: Its 4 to get in but its an open mic night, so if you get up, its free.
Says the visitor: I was going through a divorce at the time so I thought, thats four quid shes not gettin - so I got up.
So began, ten years ago, the career of one of Britains hottest comedians, John Bishop, whose current tour will take in the Manchester Apollo Mar 2nd and the huge auditorium at the Liverpool Echo Arena four days later.
For a man whose opening line, when featured in Michael McIntyres televised Comedy Roadshow just a few months ago, was Dont worry, Ive never heard of me either, these are heady days. But youd never know it from Johns laid-back, laconic style.
Hes currently criss-crossing the country in the middle of his Elvis Has Left The Building Tour so called because when it began he was 42 the age that Elvis Presley was when died. Johns 43 now: See, Ive lasted longer than Elvis, he quips.
Despite his Ive never heard of me either introduction, comedy fans in the north-west have known John Bishop for quite a long time now, though, as he puts it: Ive been around but I havent been around.
I only went full-time three years ago and for the first four or five years of performing Id do a gig and not do another one for three months or so because I had the day job. To be honest, I didnt think there was a job in comedy and I had no real desire to be a full-time comedian; that was never the plan.
I was working in sales and marketing for a drug company; mortgage, kids. It was all okay - but then things started to move on the comedy front. People I knew were moving up the ladder and I thought, if I dont give this a go, Ill never know.
While hes older than many up-and-coming comics his observational style requires maturity. Theres a saying it may have been Richard Pryor who said it that you can do comedy at any age but you cant be a comedian until youre 40 because youve got nothing to say. Thats quite true, particularly with the breadth of audience I have. Its really wide spread through the age groups which is great, because theres something, I hope, that everyone can relate to. If you are only 20, with the best will in the world, you can only see the world through the eyes of a 20 year old.
Like most of his contemporaries, John Bishop draws his comedy from stories of everyday life, which he believes gives the material more longevity, rather than reeling off a series of quick-fire gags. Nonetheless he has nothing but admiration for the most accomplished joke-teller of his era, fellow Liverpudlian Ken Dodd.
You need a big volume of gags to fill a show, but Ken is ferocious, says John. I went to see him at the London Palladium and afterwards to the backstage reception. He said How are you John? this was only four days after the phrase credit crunch first emerged and he asked me if I had any credit crunch jokes. That was brilliant, even at 80, thats the sign of a man who really knows what hes doing.
After being frequently compared to Billy Connolly for his storytelling style, John went to see the acclaimed Glaswegian earlier this year for the first time (I never really watched comedy before I did it) at the Hammersmith Apollo as part of my education.
It was fascinating. Billy is 67 now and it was a great show. What I like about him is that he doesnt try to pretend hes still in the Clydeside shipyards. Hes famous and he talks about his life as someone who finds himself famous and I think thats what you have to do; your material should grow with your life.
John Bishop was born in Liverpool but moved out, as a youngster, to the new council estates, first in Winsford and then Runcorn, where he spent his youth. While he was at college in Manchester he met a Manchester girl and, apart from a brief return to Liverpool after college, hes lived mostly in Manchester with his family. Their home is now in Didsbury and his sons attend St Bedes College.
I regard myself as a bit of an ambassador for the peace and harmony that can exist between Liverpool and Manchester, he says.
Though he loves the latter city, he feels most at home in Liverpool, and for some strange reason thats something Ill have to look at, family history Dublin.
As his current tour has been progressing, the venues have been getting bigger and the show at the Liverpool Echo Arena is likely to draw over 10,000 fans. But does size faze him?
It excites me. My biggest thing is that I want to make it a good show. I dont want the venues to expand because of ambition, ego or even demand if the product you put on is worse for the audience. So theres a real balance to be struck.
John reckons that much of the subtlety in comedy is in the performers face, hence the healthy sales of comedy DVDs, and though for most of an arena audience the person on stage is a dot, they can watch on a big screen.
So does he like the job? I fell into it, but its a joy to do. It isnt work. I havent really had a job for three years, he enthuses.
An avid fan of Liverpool, hes been working for the clubs television station, LFCTV, interviewing players and celebrity supporters. Its an opportunity to talk to your heroes about football. How can you call that a job?