Sunday, 4 May 2008

John Bishop - The Stand, Edinburgh, 22/04/2008

The comedy world tends to divide itself into two camps, the modern observational or “alternative” comic, and the old fashioned gag-teller or “mainstream” clown as they are usually described. John Bishop is something of an anomaly, because he seems have fallen with a foot in both camps.

From the moment he walks on stage, wearing an expensive suit and with his hair coiffed within an inch of its life, it is clear that Bishop is closer, fashion-wise, to his seventies counterparts than to most of today’s tee-shirt and jeans brigade. And after an opening in which he explains how unhappy he is to be playing the gig while Liverpool’s European semi-final first leg is live on the telly, and informs his audience that for the first time ever he wants them all to keep their phones on and let him know the score if anyone hears anything, he then spends the rest of the gig perched on a stool, again reminiscent of an earlier style of comedy.

And then there is the first half of the show. Bishop informs us that for the second half he will be performing last year’s Fringe show “Stick Your Job Up Your Arse,” but that for the first half he will simply be talking, acting essentially as his own warm-up act. And having said that, he proceeds to regale us with a series of his most showbiz tales possible. There’s the one about playing golf with Alan Shearer, and the one about going to a private gentlemen’s club in Hong Kong with England rugby star Mark Regan, and then there are others about the various famous names he has met and performed for, and it is all a bit “Tarby and Brucie” if truth be told.

His excuse for telling these stories is his amazement at how suddenly, after turning professional as a comic, he found himself moving in these sorts of circles. But you know somewhere deep down a big part of it is the desire to namedrop wildly. But for all that, he is an excellent raconteur, and so while the subject matter of his material might be something of a throwback to another age, he nonetheless has the ability to take the audience with him and keep the laughter coming at a regular pace.

The second half of the show is more thoughtful and paced. Here he tells the story of how, disillusioned with his life, his job and his marriage, he went through something of a personal crisis and found his way out of it when he discovered comedy. It is a story of giving up the things that made him successful in life, in order to pursue the things that gave him self-respect. And of how trying to be all things to all people nearly lost him everything, but being true to himself won them back again.

It is an engaging tale, if at times slightly self-indulgent, and Bishop has a keen eye to spot the humour in every situation. But it lacked the immediacy of the more unfocussed first part of the show. So that overall I came away with the feeling that Bishop is a good comedian, but he will probably never be a great one. He comes across as likeable, charming and decent, but somehow just a little too glib. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that he won’t be needing to return to his day job any time soon.

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