John Bishop in Dubai

Scouse comedian on fame, football and comedy as therapy

Interview
Interview
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John Bishop turned a tragedy into a triumph. When he was going through the tribulations of a divorce he found comfort and a new career in comedy and as a result, even repaired his marriage. Since then the 47-year-old Liverpudlian’s down-to-earth brand of observational stand-up comedy has brought him success in the UK, where he is currently touring. Fans in the UAE will be in for a night of belly laughs as Bishop brings his laid-back wit and charming demeanour to Dubai for your delactation.

You’re coming to Dubai for the night – have you been here before?
I have. I first came in 1992 because my wife took a job with Emirates airline, so I visited then and a couple of times since. It’s changed unbelievably. Unfortunately on this occasion I’m coming to do the gig and then I’m turning around because I‘ve got so much on in England at the moment.

You’re in the middle of a 20-night tour entitled Work in Progress in the UK, and there’s the even bigger Super Sonic tour at the end of the year – how do you prepare for the marathon?
Well, I sit here in my house and try to think of funny stuff [laughs]. In all honesty there is an element of truth in that. I try to get ideas in my head, but the only way I can really do it is by going on stage. So I drive to Preston and pop up at a gig with about 35 people in a pub. It’s just like the gigs I used to do on the circuit. I do 15 minutes on the stage and it just builds up from that. The Dubai event will be an opportunity for me to drop in some of the new stuff that’s coming, and work with some of the material I’ve done in the past but not everybody has seen, so it will be a really good gig.

What are the differences between playing at home and abroad?
Well I’m not expecting the audience to be mainly local – I’d expect it’s more expat so as a result it’s the same, but the reference points will be a little bit different to a normal gig. Things that are massive on the TV in England might not be the same, but at the end of the day if it’s funny, it’s funny.

At what point did you think, gosh aren’t I hilarious...
You know quite early if you’re any good because people don’t laugh if you’re not. But when I decided it was worth making a career of it was when Liverpool won the Champion’s League in 2005 and I had to miss the final because of a work commitment. I decided I would never want to have a job where someone else told me what to do. I was gigging at the time and thought, I need to see if I’m good enough to make a living out of it and if I can, then if Liverpool get to the Champion’s League final again I’ll be able to go. It was basically all driven by football.

Do you remember the jokes you told during your first gig?
I was in the process of getting divorced. So I just talked about that – it wasn’t much of joke, it was more like counselling. Everybody would just sit there and listen to me. It’s really odd because I’ve got in the habit now of recording everything because I often walk off stage and I’m not 100 percent sure what I’ve said because my mind just bounces around all over the place. I couldn’t be certain of everything I said the first time but I definitely got a sense that I just wanted to do it again.

You had a football career initially – why did you opt for comedy instead?
I think comedy chose me to be honest. I was a bit old when I started doing it, and I ended up in a place where I didn’t have to pay to get in the pub if I’d get up and say some jokes, and because I’m tight fisted I said I’d do it and it went from there really. It’s not that I didn’t decide to be a player – I wasn’t good enough. If I had been, then it’s the ultimate dream because being a comedian really is the third best job in
the world.

Why only the third best?
Well, first best is being a rock star. If you’re a rock star you can get all the adoration of the crowd, and you can also go back to hotel rooms and wreck them because everyone expects you to. You have the whole rock and roll life and you can do a studio album – which means you can go away for two years and write an album then just come back and be like, ‘look I’ve all got all these songs for ya’. You can’t do that with jokes – I can’t sit in a room on me own for two years and say, ‘right I’ve got a lot of jokes for ya’. The next best job is a footballer. There can’t be anything better than being a top level footballer, and the next best is a comedian. Because I’m not good enough at the other two – this is what I’m left with.

You could mix them up a bit and behave like a rock star on stage?
I could go for a rock star ending, but to be fair I’ve missed the boat. I’ve got teenage kids, the idea of me turning into a rock star now is a little bit ridiculous. If I came home with a ponytail that’d be it.

What’s been your most memorable gig?
One of the best for me was when I did the Royal Albert Hall. It was sold out and I got a standing ovation at the end that didn’t seem to end and it was just amazing. At the back of the Royal Albert Hall there’s photographs of everyone that’s ever played there. It’s a culturally important place and people were giving me a standing ovation – that’s the only time I’ve ever stood on the stage and just couldn’t speak, I was choked.

Do you still get nervous ahead of gigs?
A little. The nervous part I suppose is probably when I’ve got gigs and a tour booked – and I’m not so sure what I’m going to say. When you walk on stage it’s like you jump off a diving board – there’s no point worrying about it, you’re already on your way.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out now?
There are no shortcuts in this job. You’ve just got to keep going. Some people think you just appear in big theatres and that’s not true – you have to keep practising. And that’s what’s so good about it – you can never get too big for your boots. You can’t dress it up – it’s either funny or it’s not.
John Bishop Live in Dubai. From Dhs250. Thursday May 29, Sheikh Rashid Hall, Dubai World Trade Centre,

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