Manchester based comedian John Bishop talks to LivingEdge

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 Manchester’s 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: ‘It’s �4 to get in but it’s an open mic night, so if you get up, it’s free.’

Says the visitor: ‘I was going through a divorce at the time so I thought, that’s four quid she’s not gettin’  - so I got up.’So began, ten years ago, the career of one of Britain’s 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 McIntyre’s televised Comedy Roadshow just a few months ago, was ‘Don’t worry, I’ve never heard of me either’, these are heady days. But you’d never know it from John’s laid-back, laconic style.

He’s 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. John’s 43 now: ‘See, I’ve lasted longer than Elvis,’ he quips.

Despite his ‘I’ve 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: ‘I’ve been around but I haven’t been around.’

‘I only went full-time three years ago and for the first four or five years of performing I’d do a gig and not do another one for three months or so because I had the day job. To be honest, I didn’t think there was a job in comedy and I had no real desire to be a full-time comedian; that was never the plan.

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 ‘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 don’t give this a go, I’ll never know.’

While he’s older than many up-and-coming comics his observational style requires maturity. ‘There’s a saying – it may have been Richard Pryor who said it – that you can do comedy at any age but you can’t be a comedian until you’re 40 because you’ve got nothing to say. That’s quite true, particularly with the breadth of audience I have. It’s really wide spread through the age groups which is great, because there’s 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, that’s the sign of a man who really knows what he’s 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 doesn’t try to pretend he’s still in the Clydeside shipyards. He’s famous and he talks about his life as someone who finds himself famous and I think that’s 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, he’s lived mostly in Manchester with his family. Their home is now in Didsbury and his sons attend St Bede’s 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 – that’s something I’ll 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 don’t want the venues to expand because of ambition, ego or even demand if the product you put on is worse for the audience. So there’s a real balance to be struck.’

John reckons that much of the subtlety in comedy is in the performer’s 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 it’s a joy to do. It isn’t work. I haven’t really had a job for three years,’ he enthuses.

An avid fan of Liverpool, he’s been working for the club’s television station, LFCTV, interviewing players and celebrity supporters. ‘It’s an opportunity to talk to your heroes about football. How can you call that a job?’

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