Rise and rise of the unlikely lad

Liverpool lad 'with a Hungarian accent?': On stage John Bishop is a storyteller not a joke teller...
Liverpool lad 'with a Hungarian accent?': On stage John Bishop is a storyteller not a joke teller...
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ONCE mistaken in a tabloid picture caption as Bez of Happy Mondays fame – you have to admit there’s a passing resemblance – film directors have been quick to latch on to John Bishop’s winning charisma.

As if numerous TV appearances from Loose Women to sports panel show A League Of Their Own in between extensive touring wasn’t demanding his time enough, he was cast as a parent in C4 drama Skins and appeared in the largely Liverpool-set Ken Loach film Route Irish, which explored the Iraq conflict from the view of private security contractors.

“I’m one of the three main people,” he explains. “I’m not trained as an actor, but as long as the part is for someone who looks and sounds like me I’ll give it a go.”

That laid-back philosophy extends to John’s sense of career timing – a former semi-professional footballer, he appears glad to have ‘made it’ in his 40s rather than at 20.

For his casual turn of phrase and sense of Merseyside mischief are born of life experience, lighting up his stage chat about everything from nose hair and family foibles to budget airline travel where tea costs more than the flight.

But for years the observations that have made him a star were mostly locked in his head as he worked up to being sales director for a leading pharmaceutical company after blagging his way in with ‘the right A levels’.

Prior to that John studied politics at Manchester Polytechnic, cycled around the world, played midfield for Hyde United and coached in the USA. He quips that he came home because he had problems with women who “couldn’t understand my accent... they thought I was Hungarian.”

Having later finally established himself in a reputable career he packed it in to have a crack at comedy.

“Being a good communicator helps in both areas,” he reflects now he earns more in a night than he did in a year.

“There’s an element of treating an audience as if they are individuals. I’m absolutely bowled over by people I meet who have made an effort to come... people who have done a four-hour round trip. I’ve got relatives who wouldn’t come to our house for tea if it took four hours.

“The only real transferable skill is my work ethic and that comes from being skint as a kid. I made my first £100 when I was 13 selling teddy bears door-to-door.”

Now, with his biggest tour to date putting many thousands of bums on seats, John says having a family is both a grounding and motivation.

“I’d like to see more of them,” he admits. “But doing these big tours means when my son wanted to see Lady Gaga I was able to contact the venue and because I’d played there they gave me some tickets. I think that meant more to my son than having his dad at home.”

Either way, Bishop carries a reminder of his kids – and Melanie – with him everywhere in the form of a tattoo around his right bicep.

“I was at a pharmaceutical conference in Dallas and bored out of my head. I’d split up from my missus and went downtown and had my kids’ initials done; JLD, for Joseph, Luke and Daniel. Then I got back with my wife so I had her initials added during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – after I’d waited a few years to see if the marriage would work.”

Having got domestic bliss in the bag, he’s also sussed out the route to keeping fans interested.

“I won’t do routines at gigs that I’ve done on television. I’m essentially a storyteller not a joke teller, so I have to keep coming up with new stories.

“To me comedy is like being a magician; once they know the rabbit is coming out of the hat they won’t care. I want people to keep coming to see me and not think there is no point because I’ve already said it all on telly.”

For years a regular on the small to medium live circuit – at one gig there were only five people in the audience - it was with a combination of his Elvis Has Left The Building tour and increased TV profile that he hit the comedy première league.

“I’ve called this the Sunshine Tour, because someone said to me it’s been a big year for me, it’s my time in the sunshine,” he says. “I thought that was a lovely phrase.”

As for that football dream. Any regrets about making it with a mic rather than a football?

“I’d swap all the telly, but there are very few things I would swap for being on stage,” concludes John, who did get to wear the red shirt alongside his Anfield heroes at a Hillsborough benefit in 2009.

“I love the feedback from an audience and I love the feeling of being a one-man gunslinger. If I could have been Steven Gerrard that’s different but to be in the Third Division, maybe not.”