“I went into an odd sort of depression when the kids left home” says John Bishop, in Ipswich next week
PUBLISHED: 12:30 17 January 2018
John Bishop’s back with Winging It, his first national tour in three years. Selling out arenas across the UK, extra dates have been added, including several in Ipsswich and Southend. We found out more.
“You have to come up with a title for every tour,” says John, recalling sitting in his promoter’s office one day and him asking what the comedian was talking about in the new show so they could start selling it.
“I replied ‘nothing, I’m just winging it’. ‘That’ll do’.”
This is typical of the honest, warm, open sense of humour that have made John one of our best loved comedians. It’s this sheer likability that means he can sell out arenas in the blink of an eye.
It isn’t just me who thinks so. Reviewers have been queueing up to heap praise on the stand-up. The Daily Telegraph calls him “unimprovable. A comedy superstar”. The Daily Mirror says “his show easily confirms that John Bishop has finally taken on the mantle of Britain’s top comedian”.
You’ll be pleased to hear he’s just as entertaining off stage as he is on it. Charming, charismatic, compelling, captivating and comic; an hour in his company is like being treated to a command performance – to an audience of one.
The comedian, who turned 50 in 2016, manifests that quality we Brits prize perhaps above all others - self-deprecation. He’s winningly modest about his stand-up success, which came relatively late in life. He only gave up his full-time job as a medical representative for a pharmaceutical company a decade ago.
It’s very appealing that even today the comic can’t quite credit his luck.
“I still can’t believe I do this as a job,” John almost whistles in wonderment. “I still think ‘this is amazing’. I wrote a book five years ago about that very feeling – that’s why it was called How Did All This Happen?
“Now I realise this is the reality. It’s not going to go away. There is no chance I could never ever go back. Whatever life I had in the past, I’m now officially in showbiz. I will retire from showbiz or it will retire me.”
The great thing is, John has never become jaded about his career as a stand-up. He still possesses an infectious passion for the job. That’s why he can’t contain his excitement about the Winging It tour.
Despite establishing an extensive TV career, stand-up has always been his first love.
“I sometimes feel that maybe I don’t need TV. But I can never see myself not wanting to do live stand-up.”
The comic, now embarking on the second leg of his fifth major nationwide tour, says: “There is probably a real scientific explanation for it. I was recently reading a report about how people are hung up on social media. We get a dopamine rush when we get so many likes on Facebook. Being on stage is the same.
“When you say something funny on stage, you get your judgement instantly. You get joy and affirmation straight away. You don’t have to think about it. It’s either funny or not. You’re only ever four words away from joy or the fear that nobody will laugh. You’re always only four words away from success or failure. That’s a brilliant tightrope to walk. That gives me an absolutely huge buzz.”
John, happily married to Melanie with three grown-up sons, says Winging It has three themes.
“I start by talking about being 50. It never struck me as being a big thing before, but now I realise that being 50 is like being five. At five people say things like ‘that’s good for your age’, they start saying that to you again when you’re 50. ‘You can carry your own bag, well done that’s good for your age’.”
The comic, who has also shone in straight acting roles in Fearless, Accused and Route Irish, says the second part is about all the kids leaving home.
“I admit, that was hard. We’re suddenly living in an empty nest and it’s really strange. I was surprised as I wanted them to leave forever, but when they did actually leave I went into an odd sort of depression. I thought ‘that’s over now. I can’t ever be a dad again. I’m just a bloke who they know’.
“We’ve adjusted to it now, but there is still part of you that thinks ‘wow, you only get one go at being a dad and that go was their childhood’. As a parent, you’re busy building a nest to share with the kids, but sometimes you wish you’d done more sharing and less building. I really wasn’t expecting to have those feelings.
“The third theme is mortality, which is a thing you think about when you know you have already passed half way in your life.”
Somehow, the comedian managed to find the time to film the third series of John Bishop: In Conversation With, his popular talk show on W. In the most recent run he has in-depth chats with stars such as Dame Joan Collins, John Cleese, David Williams and Katie Price. A fourth run of the relaxed, absorbing interview series has recently been confirmed with another stellar line-up yet to be announced.
“I really enjoy shows like Inside the Actors’ Studio and Desert Island Discs, where you have no idea who is coming on each week. I wanted to make something with that intimacy and a guest list you couldn’t necessarily predict. I’ve absolutely loved doing it.
“What really counts is the fact I’m one of them. There is an immediate empathy there because I’ve been through some of the things we’re talking about. Because we just sit and talk for an hour-and-a-quarter, everyone relaxes into it. There is no agenda behind it. I don’t have any questions written down and there’s no producer talking into my ear-piece. The second question is based on the answer to the first. It just flows. That’s why it is a genuine conversation. It’s a complete joy to make.”
As he approached Winging It, his first national tour for three years, John couldn’t wait to re-establish his rapport with his very loyal fans.
“I’ve built my career on not being someone from the showbiz world. Even at this stage, I spend most of my life doing normal things and I am still learning this job. I’m very fortunate that people of all ages come to my shows. It’s great to have a relationship with them. The key is to remain plugged into the normal world. Once you start being removed from that, you run out of things to talk about.
“I got on a flight and was sat next to an older woman and her husband had the window seat. ‘I thought you would be on a private jet’, she said and I just laughed and said ‘they all get there just as quick’. She smiled and said ‘I knew it would be something like that, he said you were just tight’.
“I still get the Tube in London and I still have the same season ticket at Anfield that I’ve had for years. There are only so many things in my life that have changed. There’s not a lot in my life that I’m unhappy with. People think there’s a planet called ‘celebrity’, where everyone has a tan and white teeth, but I don’t live there.”
Before we part, John tells me what he hopes audiences will take away from Winging it.
“I hope that if people come in harassed, they soon forget their daily troubles and leave feeling a lot happier. The essence of comedy is to make people feel better. It’s not complicated. You’re not trying to change the world – you’re simply trying to make people feel a lot happier.”
• See John Bishop’s Winging It at the Ipswich Regent, January 23-25; and Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion March 8 and again March 25-26.