After a year that has seen his career catapult, John Bishop returns to Edinburgh as TV hot property. But he tries to keep it all in perspective
“If I hadn’t had a good one at Edinburgh last year,” John Bishop ponders on a train between his Manchester home and filming in London, “then you can suggest that most of what’s happened during the last ten months wouldn’t have happened.”
No stranger to success on the comedy circuit, Bishop’s 2009 Comedy Award nominated show, Elvis Has Left the Building, was one of last year’s marked successes, selling out at the Pleasance and cementing his place as one of the Fringe’s most popular performers. But the months that have followed have seen the Liverpudlian climb to new heights on the comedy ladder.
Now at the end a tour that left virtually no corner of the country untouched—he grumbles that he has had no time off since last August—Bishop is returning to the Fringe as one of the biggest acts on the comedy circuit. He’ll be playing to an audience six times bigger than in 2009, boasting a new array of fans won over by his affable demeanour and tales of middle-aged family life.
We’re talking on the phone as he makes his way to film Have I Got News for You, just a long weekend after filming the pilot for his own BBC stand-up show, John Bishop’s Britain – which has since been commissioned as a six-part primetime series. Bishop has become a favourite of TV scouts; if you don’t know his name, there’s a good chance you’ll recognise the face or the broad Liverpudlian accent. From Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Mock the Week to Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, with a role in E4 teen-drama Skins thrown in, Bishop has evolved into something of a regular on the small screen. And there’s no doubt in his mind that this TV exposure has served him well.
“I came out of Edinburgh with the nomination last year and it just helps raise your profile. It means that those people in television who wouldn’t have put you on get a bit more confidence to put you on.
“When people see you on TV, they go to your website and see that you’re on tour. I mean it was a massive tour so there was a chance I was in someone’s town or somewhere close, and they make the effort to come and see you and pass the message on to other people. It just sorta grew like that.”
It’s hard to escape the growth Bishop describes, however calm he is about new found fame, and it will play a central part in his show at this year’s Fringe. Over the past three years, his material has focussed on what he calls “exaggerations” of normal tales: growing up in Liverpool, middle-aged life and his teenage sons. This time, it will be his rise to the top that will dominate, with the usual philosophical overtones.
“Someone said to me at the turn of the year that when this happens you’re often in the middle of it; you don’t realise everything that’s going on around you. Fashions come and go and this year has been good for me, but it will go and it’ll be someone else’s time. It was a lovely phrase: ‘it’s your turn in the sunshine, so just enjoy it.’
“So this show’s going to look back at that evolution a little bit and, without being too self-congratulatory, look at the fact that I’m coming back to Edinburgh and doing a big thousand-seater venue when for years I’ve been struggling to get 35 people to come and see me.”
That 1000-seat venue is Bristo Square’s McEwan Hall, adorned with Italian renaissance styled murals and usually reserved for pageantry at Edinburgh University. The venue will play host to some of the biggest names to have the graced Edinburgh in the past decade, as the Fringe expands to accommodate those performers who have ‘moved beyond’ gigs in redecorated bars and over-heated rooms – part of what Bishop refers to as the “evolution” of the Fringe.
His conversational tone is a foundation of his popularity, those proverbial observations worked to perfection. But this sense of connection with the audience will be difficult to maintain with such a lack of intimacy. However, having become accustomed to such large venues—the last tour climaxed at a 10,000-strong Echo Arena in his home city—he assures me that his approach doesn’t change. “I still try to make it feel like I’m having a chat with a mate in the pub,” he says, and this serene attitude is not just a characteristic of an on-stage persona.
Indeed, Bishop is remarkably grounded during our conversation; there is no sense he considers himself any different to what he was five years ago, playing to 30 people. Adamant that he will keep his feet on the ground during what must be approaching the pinnacle of his career, his three sons stay with him during the festival – a way of maintaining the balance between work and family. This year he hopes to bring them into “the whole Edinburgh family”, not least because it lets them see the former pharmaceutical salesman doing something he enjoys.
“The benefit, I hope, is that they see their dad doing what he wants to do rather than what he has to do. Hopefully that leads them on to doing a similar thing in their lives.”
Originally published at http://fest.theskinny.co.uk/article/99659-scouse-rules