John Bishop interview: ‘Laughter is so important, and there’s not been enough of it’
By James Rampton
After more than a year of lockdown, John Bishop returned to stand-up this summer in a most unlikely location – on a cruise ship.
John, who is embarking on Right Here, Right Now, a huge – and hugely anticipated – new nationwide tour this autumn, takes up the story. “This company phoned up and invited me to perform on a cruise ship that was touring round the British Isles...
“At first I said, ‘I love Jane McDonald’s shows, but I can’t imagine playing on a cruise ship’. But this was in June, before anything else was really open, and they said the cruise would definitely take place, and that’s what won me over. The thought of performing again was a big attraction for me.”
The funny thing was, John continues, “the cruise was not going very far. It was going from Southampton to Portland to Liverpool. It was meant to go on to Scotland, but the Scottish government wouldn’t let the ship in. So it just ended up going round the Isle of Man a couple of times!
“There is no way a travel agent could have sold that in 2019. People would have said, ‘What? I’m not doing that!’ But this year, people were so keen to go somewhere that they easily sold the places on the cruise.”
The 500 cruisers who got to see John’s sold-out live show on-board were the lucky few. The comedian was uncorking 18 months of pent-up audience desire to see live comedy again, and recalls: “The moment I got on stage, it was just joyful.”
John, who you’ll be very glad to hear, is just as funny and charming off stage as on it, had a similarly euphoric experience recently when he did a few warm-up gigs in the build-up to the tour. “You could just sense in the rooms that everyone was just so pleased to be out,” he notes.
“It felt a little bit like you were a member of a secret society. You were going to a clandestine meeting and no one else knew about it. Last week I played the Hen and Chickens in Bristol and the Glee Club in Cardiff.
“The last time I stood on those stages was 10 years ago when I was doing the circuit, and to be back in that live, buzzy environment was emotional. Like all live performers, I’ve missed the audience massively. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get a round of applause in your own house, are you? I just can’t wait to get back on the road.”
And John’s legions of fans can’t wait, either. The Right Here, Right Now tour kicked off in September and will visit major theatres and arenas around the UK and Ireland – including the Cambridge Corn Exchange on December 14 and January 14 – before culminating at The O2 in London on April 8, 2022.
John is a truly compelling presence on stage, generating a wonderfully warm atmosphere in the auditorium. At one of his shows, you invariably find yourself swept away on a tide of laughter. Resistance is futile. It’s easy to see why he is just about the most popular comedian in the country.
The reviews are in and the critics agree. The Daily Mirror declares: “John Bishop has taken on the mantle of Britain’s top comic.” The Evening Standard calls his show “two hours of observational humour delivered so skilfully it looks effortless”, while The Times opines “Bishop has funny bones”. The Daily Telegraph’s summary is short and sweet: “frankly hilarious”.
John has had an astonishing career. Within three years of his first ever comedy gig in 2000, he was performing to sold-out arena audiences up and down the country and was responsible for the fastest selling stand-up DVD in UK history.
He has gone on to enjoy enormous success on TV, fronting such hit shows as John Bishop’s Australia and John Bishop’s Britain (both BBC1), John Bishop’s Only Joking (Sky1), The John Bishop Show and
The John Bishop Christmas Show (both BBC1), and John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue (ITV). He was also recently seen as the Time Lord’s new friend Dan Lewis in the latest series of Doctor Who.
But now John is coming back to his first love: stand-up comedy. He is relishing the prospect of once again enjoying the shared experience of a show, another thing we have all been desperately missing after so many months of being locked away in our own homes.
“Laughter is so important, and there’s not been enough of it,” he says. “I won’t say there is an impending mental health crisis or anything like that. But we all know that we’ve got to flush out more of the consequences of what’s been going on.
“One of the things we have to deal with is the fact that as human beings we have lost the art of normal interaction. My wife Melanie and I managed to get away on holiday to Mallorca recently. On the fourth
day, she said to me, ‘This is ridiculous. Just look at you. You’ve lost the ability to eat in public. You’ve got food all over your face. For two years you’ve been able to shovel it in without anyone being there.’
“I sensed that as well at the few gigs that I have done. People reconnected to a memory that they could sit next to someone they didn’t know without social distancing or face masks or sanitising. That’s a big step for people to take now.”
What subjects will John be covering in Right Here, Right Now, then? He says he will be touching on the topic of Covid – it is impossible to avoid it – but it won’t be dominating the show. “It’s got to be mentioned because it’s a universal experience. Like anything else that you’ve all been through, you’ve got to acknowledge it.
“I’ll be talking about the experience of being at home and realising stuff about yourself. You’ve got to start being honest with yourself and admit, ‘I’m probably never going to learn the piano because I had loads of time lately, and I still haven’t done it. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought that piano!’”
However, John carries on, “We all want to move on from Covid now. I think the audience also want to be reminded of life before and after the pandemic. The news agenda for 18 months has been so depressing, so any lightness we can bring that moves away from that is going to be good. Having performers come on stage and just create new energy benefits everyone.”
The other aspect of the show which John is keen to highlight is that he is supporting the very commendable Give It a Go campaign which was set up to remind us all of a time when people spoke to each other. “During lockdown, we’ve all lost the ability to communicate with people outside our own household,” he says. “So the idea is that at every show we’re going to have badges available saying ‘Give It a Go.’
“That’s an ice-breaker. It allows somebody else in the building to say hello to that person. You don’t have to swap numbers or give anyone any data. You can just look someone else in the eye, say hello and start a conversation.”
John continues: “The entertainment industry is a great way of reconnecting people because everyone has decided to be in the same place at the same time for the same reason. So you’ve all got something in common, and you’ve already got a connection with each other.
“What we need to do is just get people talking to each other. If just 10 per cent of the audience say hello to somebody they have never said hello to before, then I would be very pleased with that.”
The comedian adds: “Even in a family group, you can still be lonely. You haven’t fallen out with each other. You’ve just run out of energy with each other and you’re desperate to talk to someone new. During lockdown, a plumber came round and honestly, he must have thought we were weird. We were all following him around the house just because he was somebody different!”
John closes by emphasising how elated he is to be back in the live arena. “This last year brought it all home to me more than ever. I’m just so, so lucky to have this opportunity. As we’ve all learnt in the last year, you can’t take anything for granted. So you’ve just got to enjoy every opportunity as much as you can.”
Finally, what does John hope that people will be saying to each other as they come away from Right Here, Right Now? “I hope they’re saying, ‘I laughed for a couple of hours, and nothing else mattered’,” he replies.
“Audiences don’t need a life lesson, and they don’t need to decide to change anything about their world. They just need to be able to be in a room with other people enjoying the freedom of laughing and the companionship of laughing at the same thing at the same time with somebody else.” And rest assured, they won’t be required to learn the piano.
John Bishop’s Right Here, Right Now is at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on December 14 and January 14. Tickets, priced £38, including a £3 booking fee are available at cornex.co.uk. For more on John Bishop, go to johnbishoponline.com.