From nightclubs in Cork to teenage laughs at Eddie Murphy, comedian Des Bishop tells Richard Fitzpatrick about some of his cultural touchstones.
“In terms of my early years, Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are two movies that are so important, especially Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because I think — like for so many young men at that time of their lives — I wanted to be Ferris: the guy that everybody liked, the shyster, the guy that could pull off a stroke. He seemed so cool.
With Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you can relate it back to yourself, but Back to the Future is this amazing movie experience.
Would you believe two years ago I got the opportunity to play golf with Michael J Fox. He’s a member of this golf club that I joined in New York, not a fancy golf club — it was more to do with the location. Mutual friends had organised the round of golf. They hadn’t arrived yet so when I saw him I introduced myself. His first line — after saying, ‘Hello, I’m Michael’ — was: ‘A lot of people ask me what my handicap is?
I say: ‘Isn’t it obvious?’. Just such a lovely guy.”
“It was the mid-1990s when I started going to Sir Henry’s. Dance culture was quite mainstream by then — it wasn’t that underground. It was great, and disgusting, really, at the same time. There was a lot of sweat and dirt.
There’s so much footage of everything now, but there’s very little — not just of Henry’s — but of rave culture in the ’90s.
There is some stuff online and when I see these videos, the style just seems so bad. Everybody looks so ridiculous even though we thought we were super cool. We were so goddam skinny. But it was so great when you were in it.
People are a lot vainer now because of social media and everything. I’m not complaining about it — it’s brought some health benefits — but I’m so glad to be able to have experienced rave culture, and the madness of it all.
When I stopped drinking and taking drugs, it wasn’t even halfway through my time of going to Sir Henry’s.
I went to Henry’s a lot more as a sober, clean-living guy and it was still great fun despite the proximity of all the drugs that went with it because you went there and danced for two-an-a-half or three hours, full of adrenaline.
There wasn’t a lot of violence or hassle — it was all about the music. It was a pivotal time. In a way, I don’t know if it ruined me because I’ve never truly been able to get away from dance music since that time. I’ve never been able to enjoy a night out unless it’s a very focused, not-too-boozy rave.”
“There was a lot of comedy on TV when I was growing up in the States. Saturday Night Live had got huge in the late ’70s and then stand-up really boomed in the 1980s.
On at least four or five cable TV channels, at any one time, there was some stand-up on so I watched a lot of those guys.
I think stand-up really appeals to teenage boys — all the boys in my orbit gravitated towards it, and repeated the routines to each other in school. Myself and my buddies were obsessed with Eddie Murphy.
We watched Delirious and Raw on VHS on repeat, and his movies at that time.
I don’t know what it was about Eddie Murphy. He had that X factor. Was it luck, timing?
He was so talented, a great performer. Delirious is still pretty great if you get over the homophobia — which is easy to criticise him for, but it was of its time.
Raw is not that funny when you watch it now, but when I was a kid it was amazing. The routine about the Italian going to see Rocky — I could probably still do that word for word to this day. I must have watched it 500 times.
“The first live stand-up shows I went to were in Gorby’s in Cork. I’d only ever seen live comedy on TV before.
The first show I remember was Stu Who? and Geoff Boyz, two UK circuit acts that I gigged with many times afterwards but at the time I was clueless. Geoff Boyz particularly was a real show-stopper.
Some people criticise him for being a bit of a crowd pleaser but he absolutely stormed it that night. With my virgin live comedy eyes, I thought he was the most amazing thing ever.
His closer, which got him a standing ovation, was an impersonation of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, which I’d later learn was probably one of the least original things you could do in comedy but having never seen it before, we just thought it was the funniest thing.
That club was kind of student-y so a lot of great acts that I would later get to know came through with average sets. It was a bit juvenile but the humour that worked the best for the audience.
More importantly, the resident MC was Frank Twomey who very quickly pushed me into giving stand-up a shot.
Niall Kearney, the guy who gave me my first gig, still runs the venue. He’s still there, standing at the door 23 years later.”
“Michael Moore definitely influenced me. I don’t know if I would have even known what to do when the idea of The Des Bishop Work Experience [2004 documentary mini-series] was pitched to me, only for I’d seen Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine.
The experience of a presenter, who is also sort of the subject of the documentary, someone as the main focus — that helped me to understand the concept, and of the concept being funny and entertaining as well as informative.
At the end of episode 1 of the work experience documentary, I challenged these guys about not picking up their trade and I feel like it was a straight-up copy of Michael Moore. It was his sense of having a defining moment.
He liked stunts — like when he tries to door-step Charlton Heston, or when he goes into a bank and gets a gun for opening a bank account. I feel like I was aware of the power of a stunt so I challenged these guys, almost deliberately.
I feel like I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t watched Michael Moore.”
Des Bishop’s Mia Momma Irish tour includes gigs at Cork’s Everyman (March 5-7) and Dublin’s Project Arts Centre (23 March-4 April). See: www.desbishop.net