By Sam Gardenwrack
It would be fair to say that John Bishop’s comedy routines are not for everyone. A quick search online reveals that while many people find his brand of observational comedy “funny” there are plenty of people who do not and It’s difficult to see him as anything other than a mediocre family entertainer. Sure, he sometimes swears but that does nothing to disguise the fact that he’s a poor man’s Michael Barrymore at best and neither his material nor his delivery stand up to scrutiny when compared to the heavyweights. In this writer’s opinion even Michael “watered-down Jerry Seinfeld” McIntyre is funnier, and that’s saying something. My Room 101 would doubtless contain everything Russ Abbot has ever done on a permanent loop but he at least has the excuse of being a very 1980’s “funnyman” (i.e. they were perfectly at home on Des O’Connor Tonight) while John Bishop’s faux-scouse drivel didn’t come to our collective attention until the mid-00’s. His material, which can be summed up as “I’m a scouser, my kids do silly things, I’m getting older, I don’t understand stuff, I’m unable to go off-script, I’m a scouser” is perfectly suited to the kind of audiences who think Take Me Out is risqué and Ant’n’Dec are the funniest men alive. I had the dubious honour of being taken to a comedy show in Covent Garden (on a date) where the line-up was a secret; as it happens the three comedians on the night were trying out new material before their tours began. Scott Capurro was up first and he was as hilarious as he was cruel, Jo Caulfield took a little time to get going but had the crowd in stitches by the end of her set and then came John Bishop, who wasn’t just a disappointment compared to the comics who’d come before him, he was a fucking shambles, embarrassingly unfunny and actually resorted to pulling faces and telling fart jokes; he completely ruined the date and she didn’t want to see me again after that, so thanks a bunch, John, you hopelessly unfunny twat; she was hot.
In a review of his show “John Bishop’s Britain”, on the newsrants.co.uk website, writer “Aran” asks “What is it about this programme – on the BBC no less – that offends the senses so utterly? I’d say, besides it being a vehicle for the terminally unfunny Scouse twat that is John Bishop, the concept behind it all deeply unsettles me” and adds “The very idea that we’re all one big happy nation, tied strongly by the bonds of shameless, lowest-common denominator comedy sickens me”. Those were just about the kindest words he had to offer. A quick look at the comments below Aran’s review show that he’s certainly not alone and the question remains: “How did John Bishop become popular?” It’s possible that his bewildering positivity about life, about how great Britain is (in his opinion) and just how fucking wonderful we all are has struck a chord with an audience that’s spent years being shafted, by three successive governments, and just wants to get away from it all by listening to a mock-scouser ask questions of his audience such as “What is it with plastic bags getting everywhere?” While I’m sure that question would be hilarious in a world where everyone’s a fuckwit, it doesn’t really work too well here. Sure, his DVDs sell well and his tours do good business, but all that really proves is that stupid people will laugh at anything and pay for anything the tabloids say is good. “Frankly Hilarious” said The Telegraph; they must surely have been talking about someone else. Not everyone is fooled though, as this post on is-a-cunt.com demonstrates:
Nothing hurts quite as much as being likened to Steve Penk, whose TV career was thankfully cut short by him being painfully unfunny to watch or listen to. If somebody compared me to Steve Penk I’d probably kill myself.
Of course, simply disliking John Bishop is too easy; the man talks like someone who believes he’s hilarious, a bit like the office twat. Nobody likes the office twat, that’s why he’s the office twat, and nobody likes a smartarse either, and John Bishop always looks smug, like a man who once knew how fucking lucky he was to have a career but now believes he deserved it all along. The problem is, the sort of people who find John Bishop funny are people like him, people who are smug. John Bishop is, definitely, a smug twat but that’s not a good enough reason to dislike him or to find him unfunny. No, what we need is evidence, so here’s some of his “comedy” material from the opening of “The John Bishop Show”, season one, episode one.
I think when you and your missus have kids, you should measure each other and then you should have a height bar in your house.
And as soon as your kids are bigger than you, they can piss off.
It’s even worse! My youngest son is now 17, so I’ve got one who’s 20, one who’s 19, one who’s 17.
They’re all men.
When they’re all in our house having tea, I’ve never had that many men in our house since we had the loft done.
And you find yourself in this situation like, I’m like a lot of men now, my age, middle-aged, trying to stay fit and one of my mates said to me, “What is it with you? “You’re going to the gym three or four times a week. What’s this obsession with staying fit?” And I said to him, I said, “I’ve got to be fit.”
“Have you seen my sons? One day I’m going to have to fight them for food.”
The problem with this material is, no matter who you are or how good your delivery is, there’s nothing funny to work with here. John Bishop’s brand of observational comedy is simply not funny. He’s making observations, sure, but if Frankie Boyle was making the same observations he’d give himself a slap, say to himself “none of this is even remotely funny” and write about something else. John Bishop, however, is happy to stick to the staples of 80’s TV comics, playing it safe with observations about family life, parenthood, not understanding modern music, how things were different when he was younger and everything else that made your heart sink when a “promising new comedian” made their way onto your TV screen but turned out to be no different to all that came before them. John Bishop is derivative, his act and material are tired and even if they weren’t his material is simply not funny. You may be thinking that I’ve just taken a small section, possibly out of context, and effectively cherry-picked the crap bits to make my point. I can understand how you might think that, so here’s what he said next.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t tell you how much pleasure it brings me to bring on the first act.
My brother brought home a record made by this man when I was a teenager.
He’s the only person who was ever on the wall in my bedroom who wasn’t a topless woman or a Liverpool player.
This is the “teenage boys like football and tits” routine, one I’m sure you’ve never heard before, except for the hundreds of times you’ve heard it before. If it was funny, that would be one thing, but it’s not. It’s not close to funny, it’s just shit, lazy shit at that if there is such a thing. However, his “banter” is even worse. I am presuming the following is not ad-libbed but even if it was that would be no excuse:
I tell you, if I’d have ever spoke to my dad about buying oven gloves, he’d just look at me and go, “What do you need gloves to pick an oven up for?”
Here we have the “misunderstanding” routine and the “generation gap” routine, mixed together and turned into one completely unfunny joke. It’s material beyond cliché and it suggests a total lack of ideas and imagination. If he was able to create new material from old subjects, a different take on a well-established theme, something original, I’d find his work less insulting and offensive, but John Bishop is a pub comedian with good hair and somehow he’s now famous and, worse, successful.
So what’s his secret? Easy; he’s a kiss-ass. He bounds onto a stage, big smile, beaming with optimism and happiness and says everything is great. The audience is great, the things he talks about are all great, laughter is great, his guests are great and isn’t it all just fucking great. How can you not like someone who tells you you’re great? Out of a sense of duty, perhaps, the audience is obliged to find him funnier than he is because, well, he said they’re all great. Everything is just fucking great in the world of John Bishop, even the bad stuff. He also behaves as if he’s not famous and sucks up to his idols too. I for one cannot stand this false modesty and firmly believe if you’re going to reference your own success on stage you need to do it like Ricky Gervais or Frankie Boyle do, with their tongues planted firmly inside their cheeks. John Bishop is not self-deprecating when he talks about other famous people; he’s saying “look at all the famous people I know” (I refer you back to my “smug twat” suggestion) and even on those rare occasions he does try to mock himself, his jokes just don’t hit the mark:
I have been privileged to get to know Kenny Dalglish and I would call him a friend – though his lawyer would call me a stalker (I don’t know why – just because I was in his garden!).
Pathetic, not funny and what a horrible turn of phrase too. Sadly his entire set is made up of “jokes” like that.
I could dig deeper, offer you more examples but they will be more of the same. Years after hitting the big time he still talks about how different his life is now he’s famous, how everything is great, how old people don’t get him and how he doesn’t get young people, and it’s all twee, trite and ultimately just annoying. You can be all of those and funny at the same time but John Bishop is not. He wants to be an everyman, but he’s a nobody who was marketable because he was so bland. As comedians go, and especially famous comedians, he’s just about the worst Britain has to offer. I’ll leave you with one final quote from the man himself, a would-be zinger about Courtney Love:
“I was only in her company two hours, but I can’t blame that Kurt Cobain fella.”