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Big Interview: John Bishop (LEP)

 

The Big Interview – John Bishop
Published on Mon Nov 08 11:57:21 GMT 2004
When ex-footballer John Bishop arrived at the door of Manchester’s Frog and Bucket Comedy Club one bone-chilling Autumn night four years ago, his life changed forever.
The club manager, who handed Peter Kay his first stand-up break, gave John two options: The first was to pay or he could join the seven other hopefuls for a five-minute slot on the main stage talking about anything they liked.
John was unprepared but there was a petrol crisis on at the time so he just chatted about that and other observations in life in his usual, easy going style.
The audience roared.
“I was as miserable as sin at the time because I was going through a rocky period in my marriage, so it was either a lap dancing bar or a comedy club so I went to the Frog and Bucket,” said John.
“We all put our names forward and my name was called second, so there was no way out of it.
“I clambered up on stage, picked up the microphone and thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ I had no jokes, and absolutely no material.
“I just talked about life. I should have done a few minutes and I was up there for nearly an hour.
“The funniest people I know are my mates in the pub, so I just tried to recreate that intimate atmosphere and somehow it worked.
“I really enjoyed myself and was asked to come back the following week.
“Then they started giving me money for it and I thought ‘This is all right’ and within a couple of months I’d got my first headline booking. I honestly did not know anything about comedy. It was all about instinct and life.
“I was booked to support Johnny Vegas in Warrington and I thought the guy was a cabaret singer. I knew absolutely nothing about him.
“It changed my life in a way I didn’t think possible.”
Since then it has proved a meteoric rise through the comedy ranks, and the down-to-earth Scouser is a major player on the national comedy circuit.
He landed a sell-out headliner at the Lowry Theatre and has been entertaining audiences for Jonathan’s Ross’s television show.
This week he won the best stand-up act in the North-West of England.
A comic talent this natural doesn’t come along all that often.
And if anyone epitomises the old comedy clich of just falling into it by accident, it is John, a man who has enjoyed a truly incredible adventure since his days as a semi-professional footballer for Southport.
A decade earlier, Bishop had been plying his trade in the hard-knocks school of the Northern Premier League when a transfer switch to Stalybridge persuaded him the time was ripe for a career switch – peddling back from Australia on a bicycle and raising 35,000 for the NSPCC.
“I had played in the semi-final of the FA Trophy for Hyde United, and Southport was a smashing time in my life,” he added.
“Brian Kettle was the manager and it was hard training and good football at Haig Avenue, but I probably knew then that I wasn’t going to play for England.
“One day, though, I picked up a hitchiker at Birmingham on the way to a business meeting in London and he told me a fascinating tale about cycling across South America for charity.
“It was the spark I needed, and I gave my notice in the next day. At the time I was going out with a girl who wanted to settle down and get married. It was like an ambush really.
“All her friends were getting married but I just thought ‘no chance’.
“I’d got other things to do in life, like cycle across deserts and drink home brew with Romanian miners.
“The first thing I did was write to the Save the Children’s Fund, whose patron was Princess Anne.
“I got a swift reply, saying that unfortunately she couldn’t support my project because I might die, so I had to bomb that one out. I’d not ridden a bike since I was seven and I didn’t even own one, but a company in Liverpool loaned me a bicycle.
“I told the guy I was doing it for charity. That night he telephoned me back, and said he had to make a few checks.
‘Look mate’, he said, ‘how many people do you think come into my shop in the middle of Liverpool and say they want to borrow a bike for charity!’
“Two months later, though, I was in Australia.
“What had started as a daft idea, quickly became a reality.” John’s incredible nine-month journey saw him wheel back to Liverpool via Indonesia, India, Tibet, Turkey, Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland.
“It didn’t start too well because on the first day I did what you do when you’re English with sun on your back – I took my shirt off.
“I got terrible sunburn, so there I was riding along in this bright pink Lycra cycling suit, which made me look like some kind of weird strip-o-gram in the Aussie outback.
“Then I got my all my possessions stolen in Cairns – money, passport, the lot and, for whatever reason, the burglar even nicked my pink lycra suit.
“The police, I understand, were on the look-out for a gay Australian thief dressed in pink lycra.
“I had no passport and no ID, so I was effectively a non-person, and stranded for days in Cairns until my new documents arrived.
“These two Irish lads took pity on me though, lending me money, and letting me stay at their house.
“If the trip taught me anything, it taught me that there’s more good than evil in people.”
In Romania John and his riding companion – a streetwise kid called Joe from the New York Bronx – ended up toasting Clint Eastwood in an illegal bar with 50 Romanian miners!
“We were in the Transylvania area of Romania and we decided to camp close to a forest. But, as we were putting up our tents, we heard this terrible scream, like a half-animal, half-human
primitive shriek.
“We’d seen a few things in life, but we just ripped the tent down and peddled like fury into the night.
“We were ploughing through deserted villages being chased by packs of hell dogs, and eventually we spotted a light in the distance.
“Outside there was this guy lifting crates into barn, so we stopped and decided to help him thinking that he might let us sleep in the barn.
“There we were, in lycra cycling shorts looking like extras for a Village People video, when the barn doors flew open and a group of the scariest looking blokes I’ve ever seen came marching in.
“They were like evil trolls, with teeth, eyes and fingers missing. It turned out they were all miners knocking off the day shift and coming to this illegal bar to get smashed.
“The beer was home brew and it wasn’t long before we were all hammered.
“The miners could only speak a few words of English, so when they found out Joe was from New York they were all jumping up in the air and shouting ‘Frank Sinatra’ and ‘Clint Eastwood’.
“They didn’t seem that impressed when I mentioned England, but when I told them I was from Liverpool they went mad, rolling on the floor and laughing with glee, going ‘King Kenny’, ‘the Liver Bird’, ‘Anfield!’
“It was incredible, so we decided to raise a toast to Count Dracula.
“They’d just executed
Ceausescu, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to toast him, but they just looked blank at each when we raised a glass to the Count with sharp teeth. Nobody had ever heard of him!
“When we woke up, the barman was there with a special Romanian hangover cure – a thick expresso coffee mixed with Coca-Cola. On the stroke of 9am the nightshift arrived and the crazy drinking started all over again.
“We just had to get out, otherwise we’d have spent the next 10 years down a Romanian mine!
“The bike journey was also very emotional.
“We travelled to the Bridge over the River Kwai, which was a very sad experience because of my wife, who I married after the trip. Her grandfather had died there as a prisoner of war under Japanese occupation.
“I found his grave in a tiny place called Chunghai. Four years later I took my father-in-law back to see his dad’s grave.
“It was very moving and would have never have happened if it wasn’t for that cycle trip.
“I’ve included a lot of the trip in my act recently because it was too significant an experience in my life to leave behind.”
The best time to catch any comic is when they are on the brink of fame and that is clearly now for Bishop, a hugely likeable man.
John has a unique style and juggles his successful comedy career with a hectic home life and a daytime job in industry.
It is a comedy act filled with sharp observational humour. Some nights he does most of his set just talking to the audience about the things he’s seen that day or any old stuff off the top of his head.
He is likened to watching a friend on stage.
It’s that freshness that keeps him sharper than Robin Hood’s arrow.
“When I am doing stuff I have thought up and I’m laughing, I say to the audience: ‘You’re laughing at this and think it’s funny – so do I. It’s the first time I’ve heard it too’.
“No two shows are the same, but I’m just pointing out things people have seen themselves.
“You always have to
remember that the audience has come to laugh.
“Some comedians think it’s the audience that owes them, but they have paid their money to have a laugh.
“You know, I love Tom
O’Connor’s style. Mum and dad used to play a Tom O’Connor tape in the car when we were on holidays and I loved that, his kind of conversational style.
“There’s this idea that there’s mainstream and alternative comedy, but I’m a father of three, I can’t be any more mainstream.
“I don’t care what people think about me, you know the sort of thing ‘that wasn’t very esoteric, as long as they laugh”.
So where does that natural style in front of an audience come from? “Without sounding naff, I honestly think it’s a working class thing.
“You get used to losing so often that you have to look on the funny side of things.
“I was the youngest of four, an older brother then two sisters in between, so by the time the hand me downs got to me I was wearing the stuff my sister used to wear and if you can’t look on the bright side then, you’re never going to!”
John is Liverpool-born, but Manchester-bred, he describes himself as a cultural missionary.
“I spent my teenage years in Runcorn so I am more of a hybrid, I feel comfortable in a tracksuit and trainers but I like the Stone Roses.
“My kids are the only ones in school with Liverpool kits.
“They did want to support United, but it is surprising how a child will change their mind after a few days without food.
“Sometimes the kids come down to watch me. To them I’m a dad first, so if they heckle, you can’t really shout ‘Right, that’s it. Get to bed. Now’!”
John is headlining two big comedy shows in London next month, but he looks back with great fondness at those enjoyable non-league days with Southport.
“The stuff that has happened over the last four years I can’t believe really, and when I sold out the Lowry Centre more turned up that night than used to watch me at Haig Avenue.
“But those were special times in my life.
“Probably nobody else will remember it, but my proudest moment there was scoring a 25-yarder against Caernarfon Town.
“It was a lovely move with Bobby Howard and Peter Quinn setting it up and it just flew into the top corner. Once I missed a chance and I ran past the goal and kicked the wall.
“This fan said: ‘You should have headed that John lad, no use kicking it’ .
“We just stood there talking about the game in the middle of the match.
“I loved all the banter with the supporters and Southport fans were very fair.
“It’s gone full circle for me because I’ve had a degree of sadness in my life as well, but if it ends tomorrow then I’ve had a brilliant time.
“It was either do comedy or go out and get drunk, I think.
“Comedy helped pull me through and I owe it something.
“I’m not expecting to change the world, but I get such a buzz from making people laugh, I can’t think of a better thing in the world.”

 

The Big Interview – John Bishop

Published on Mon Nov 08 11:57:21 GMT 2004

When ex-footballer John Bishop arrived at the door of Manchester’s Frog and Bucket Comedy Club one bone-chilling Autumn night four years ago, his life changed forever.
The club manager, who handed Peter Kay his first stand-up break, gave John two options: The first was to pay or he could join the seven other hopefuls for a five-minute slot on the main stage talking about anything they liked.
John was unprepared but there was a petrol crisis on at the time so he just chatted about that and other observations in life in his usual, easy going style.
The audience roared.
“I was as miserable as sin at the time because I was going through a rocky period in my marriage, so it was either a lap dancing bar or a comedy club so I went to the Frog and Bucket,” said John.
“We all put our names forward and my name was called second, so there was no way out of it.
“I clambered up on stage, picked up the microphone and thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ I had no jokes, and absolutely no material.
“I just talked about life. I should have done a few minutes and I was up there for nearly an hour.
“The funniest people I know are my mates in the pub, so I just tried to recreate that intimate atmosphere and somehow it worked.
“I really enjoyed myself and was asked to come back the following week.
“Then they started giving me money for it and I thought ‘This is all right’ and within a couple of months I’d got my first headline booking. I honestly did not know anything about comedy. It was all about instinct and life.
“I was booked to support Johnny Vegas in Warrington and I thought the guy was a cabaret singer. I knew absolutely nothing about him.
“It changed my life in a way I didn’t think possible.”
Since then it has proved a meteoric rise through the comedy ranks, and the down-to-earth Scouser is a major player on the national comedy circuit.
He landed a sell-out headliner at the Lowry Theatre and has been entertaining audiences for Jonathan’s Ross’s television show.
This week he won the best stand-up act in the North-West of England.
A comic talent this natural doesn’t come along all that often.
And if anyone epitomises the old comedy clich of just falling into it by accident, it is John, a man who has enjoyed a truly incredible adventure since his days as a semi-professional footballer for Southport.
A decade earlier, Bishop had been plying his trade in the hard-knocks school of the Northern Premier League when a transfer switch to Stalybridge persuaded him the time was ripe for a career switch – peddling back from Australia on a bicycle and raising 35,000 for the NSPCC.
“I had played in the semi-final of the FA Trophy for Hyde United, and Southport was a smashing time in my life,” he added.
“Brian Kettle was the manager and it was hard training and good football at Haig Avenue, but I probably knew then that I wasn’t going to play for England.
“On

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