PROOF that things have moved pretty fast for John Bishop the past few years came when he caught his own TV show.
“John Bishop’s Britain is being repeated and I happened to see some of it the other day after the football,” says the comedian.
“What I attempt to do, when I’ve done telly, is I don’t tend to repeat material at a gig, and you actually forget some of your own stuff.
“So I saw a clip of John Bishop’s Britain and I found myself laughing at me.
“It’s the oddest thing... I’d forgotten the joke.
“But then I am more of a storyteller than a gag merchant.”
And that is arguably central to the appeal of this likeable Liverpudlian.
An army of followers have fallen for his blend of easy-going tales and his Scouse knack for spinning a yarn many of us can relate to.
In a seemingly short period of time Bishop has graduated from club turn to arena filler, having pretty much got into comedy as a hobby after getting up at an open mic night.
Even the Rollercoaster Tour that sends him back to the Motorpoint Arena on October 26 and 27 happened without grand design.
“I was going to take time off after the last tour,” he says of the Sunshine shift that saw him play some of the UK’s biggest rooms. “Then, after a couple of months, as you can tell, I thought ‘time to get out again, go and do some gigs’.
“I phoned my agent. All the arenas seemed keen so we booked dates and he said ‘What are you gonna call the tour?’ I was sitting round the table with the kids having tea and said ‘I’m looking for a name, one word, I’m going to talk about the way things have been over the last year or two, all the ups and downs’. It was my younger son who said ‘Call it Rollercoaster’.
“It’s quite odd because when you’re in the middle of something you don’t realise how it looks; there’s been loads of ups. My life now is immeasurably better than it was in many respects and touring is one of the benchmarks to see that.
“In 2008 I was in Sheffield doing the Memorial Hall and I got 43 people.
“A lot of my warm up gigs now are in venues like that and they generally sell out in an hour.”
Making the masses chortle has undoubtedly brought the former pharmaceutical salesman wealth and fame. But, now 45, the devoted father and husband is keen to point out the perils of the laughter game as a career path.
Throughout our chat, there’s a sense that success has taken him by surprise and that he’s also not taking it for granted. He acknowledges the comedy bubble could burst any moment, taking him with it.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is where comedy, the industry, has got to be careful because there are people who have seen the success that can be engendered. You can fill arenas and make DVDs, do telly shows and then all of a sudden there’s people coming into it with a career plan for the financial rewards.
“But none of that matters. At the moment I’d say the vast majority who are at that higher arena level...we can’t believe we’re doing it. We’re the ones who were doing gigs and found we could make people laugh just as the explosion in comedy came, so we’re benefiting from it.
“But if it all stopped tomorrow I’d go back. It’s the drug of making people laugh. When I was gonna take time off I was at home, just getting grumpy and irritable, it was my missus who said ‘Just go and do a gig’.
“So I went back to the Comedy Store and said ‘Can I get on for 10 minutes’. I went on and thought ‘This is what I’ve missed’. Hearing people laugh...that’s the thing you want to keep on hearing. It’s great if you get paid for it, great if you get paid well, but everyone starts in the same place; you have to get up and do it for nothing.”
Charity mission was about good causes and not to sell tickets, says joker John
WHEN John Bishop rowed, ran and cycled nearly 300 miles from Paris to London earlier this year he raised £4million for Sport Relief – and his profile with it.
An ideal time to announce a tour, perhaps, but the comic is swift to confirm he held back on revealing his arena plans until he’d put some distance between himself and his ‘Week of Hell’.
“It took on a life I wasn’t expecting,” he says of the charity challenge. “Obviously I’m going to do some material about it, but I want to, in some respects, burst the bubble a little bit on it. I talk about it in a funny way but I want to get away from the pat on the back.
“A lot of people do a lot harder things, charity things. It just so happens there’s a whole machinery behind Sport Relief and Comedy Relief that maximizes the impact. Also it’s not me that’s important, it’s the people who bothered to support, to donate. If it hadn’t raised so much money it wouldn’t matter.
“It’s a personal experience I probably haven’t allowed myself to fully absorb: the night the documentary went out I did a gig. I didn’t feel I could watch it.
“I’ve just been given a book of photographs of it, which was a lovely memento, but as I flicked through it, it’s like it wasn’t me. It’s got a very strange place in my head because the importance isn’t what I did; the sponsorship money will make a difference.”
The total was, however, confirmation of John’s popularity and ability to stir people. And it is testament to his scruples he held off putting Rollercoaster on sale.
“When you’re putting tours on there’s a time when you market, and that clashed with when I was committed to do this.
“So I said to the promoter ‘Book the venues but you can’t advertise’. The last thing I want to be seen doing is promoting on the back of that and if that means we shift fewer tickets..
“I didn’t want there to be a confused message. There’s nothing funny about the documentary or the event. If you see a gig you’re not going to see me running. This tour is me going back to work.”