Magazine article The Spectator

Interview: John Bishop

Magazine article The Spectator

Interview: John Bishop

Article excerpt

Stand-up comedian John Bishop tells Matthew Stadlen about the depression that triggered his career

John Bishop doesn't just tell funny stories. He also tells the sort of life story that makes you sit up and listen. He grew up on a council estate outside Liverpool and, at the age of six, visited his father in prison. By the time he was in his mid-thirties he was working in middle management at a pharmaceutical company, had three children and was going through a divorce. Today he sells out 15,000-seat arenas, is still married to his wife and no longer works in middle management.

It was a Monday night and Bishop was looking for something to do. His friends were tired of him 'crying into his beer' about his divorce. So, aged 34, he decided to visit a comedy club for only the third time in his life. 'I just needed to get out the house to stop my own sinking depression,' he says now. The bouncer at the Frog and Bucket in Manchester had to explain what an open mic night was. If he agreed to stand up on stage himself, there'd be no entry fee.

'So I thought, "Well I'm going through a divorce, that's four quid I'll save."' He didn't actually expect to take the stage. 'I'd never been in amateur dramatics, I'd never been in a school play. The first time I'd ever walked on a stage with lights on me was that very night. When I got there I just immediately felt at home.' Bishop is talking to me in his dressing-room at ITV studios after appearing on a chat show. He's waistcoated, firmly built, has a face that shapes easily into a smile and speaks with an unmistakable Liverpool accent.

Bishop took the stage that night after a man doing chicken impressions and did well enough in front of an audience of seven to be asked to return. 'The decision that probably changed my life was to go back the week after.' This time he knew what he was letting himself in for. 'I did it and I thought, "I love doing this."' He began to succeed on the comedy circuit and, after six years, he had handed in his notice. But he couldn't push up to the big time. His second agent was rebuffed by TV producers. Apparently he was a bit old to break through, didn't 'look funny' and the Scouse accent was a problem. 'I was told everything that now some people say is a good thing about me was wrong.' But the agent believed in him, he carried on 'being himself' and eventually he made it on to television.

Today, Bishop's strong dialect is an advantage. 'An accent like mine defines you regionally, but it also gives you a class identity. As soon as I speak, I think people go, "Well, he obviously must have grown up on a council estate, gone to a comprehensive school and be working class -- so I can relate to him."' He adds self-deprecatingly, 'By the way, that psychoanalysis I've never done before.' We laugh. 'So it might be complete bollocks.'

Comedy didn't just change the course of Bishop's career, it also saved his marriage. 'I used to do material about killing my wife, cutting her head off and putting it in the fridge. It WAS very therapeutic. It's just cheap therapy.' His wife turned up to one of his gigs without realising he was on the bill. She liked it and they set out on the path to rebuilding their marriage. 'I'd lost that little thing that made me fun to be with.'

Bishop is not from the Jimmy Carr or Tim Vine school of one-liners. He doesn't specialise in 'succinct jokes, lovely, nice, neat things. …

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