Best foot forward for Des Bishop in 'Dancing with the Stars'

He may have shown his early moves at Sir Henrys in Cork, but Des Bishop is about to take things to a whole new level for RTÉ show ‘Dancing With The Stars’, writes Ed Power

Des Bishop is one of the celebrities in 'Dancing With The Stars ' on RTÉ on Sunday

DES Bishop clicked his heels with joy when invited to participate in Dancing With The Stars, RTE’s new reality juggernaut. “I love dancing… I fucking love it,” the Irish-American stand-up says, practically swinging off a lamppost with enthusiasm. “Part of me wishes I had gone into musicals 25 years ago. I’m not saying I’m an amazing dancer. I just adore it.”

Dancing With The Stars, for the benefit of those who have spent Christmas under a rock, is based on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

The franchise has become an international phenomenon, with local editions airing in the United States and more than 30 other countries.

In the Irish version, which inherits RTÉ One’s Sunday night family entertainment slot from The Voice, Bishop, 41, will put his ballroom skills to the test against comedian Katherine Lynch, footballer Aidan O’Mahony, sports presenter Des Cahill, actress Aoibhín Garrihy and others, with Nicky Byrne and Amanda Byram presenting. Buckle up for tears, laughter and lashings of reality television melodrama.

“It’s cheesy as all hell,” says Bishop, who will perform with Italian dancer Julia (her boyfriend is another of the pro hoofers so it is unlikely Bishop will become involved in one of the on-air romances that are a feature of the UK show).

“Competitors will be voted off by the public, which is one element of the cheesiness,” he continues. “I’m not wild about the reality television part. I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t be learning how to ballroom dance if I wasn’t part of a reality show. You take it on the chin.”

Bishop’s dance education wasn’t exactly textbook. “I used to do drink and drugs,” he says.

“This was in the era of rave and [iconic Cork club] Sir Henrys. When I stopped doing all that [the drink and drugs] I didn’t stop going to Sir Henrys. My formative social years were spent dancing. We would go out literally from 11.30 at night to half two in the morning and just dance.”

He’s jittery ahead of his Sunday night debut, having been in nine to five rehearsals from before Christmas. The audience will likely set a 2017 record for RTÉ and then there is all the social media jeering to worry about. Bishop comes across as rather cocksure but you wonder if a fusillade of Twitter derision might knock even his ego.

“It’s nerve-wracking. It’s like doing a gala comedy spot at a high profile comedy festival. It fucks me up so bad. The difference is the giddy anticipation. I’m honestly can’t wait.”

He was, of all places, backstage at the iconic Comedy Cellar club in Manhattan when the offer came through. With an ageing mother, Bishop has been spending much of each year at home in New York, where he lived until his parents sent him, at age 14, to boarding school in Ireland (he later attended UCC). To a man and woman, the hardened comics at the Comedy Cellar advised him to participate in the RTÉ series.

“In Ireland, people who haven’t seen Strictly Come Dancing think it’s basically I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! In America, it is taken seriously. I was surrounded by these pretty cynical comedians and they were unanimous that I should do it.

“Jeff Ross, who is famous as the ‘roast master’ in the United States, was on Dancing With The Stars in the US… I asked him whether he did it as a joke and his response was that he took it seriously and wanted to do well. And this is a guy who rips on other people for a living. There is not part of my career path or any big plan. I just love dancing. When they asked, I thought, ‘well fuck it’.”

Working as a stand-up in the United States has sharpened his comedy, he feels, and was ideal preparation for his new tour, One Day You’ll Understand. The show is a rumination on life and ageing, inspired, in part, by a phrase his mother would utter to her son. Was it a chore juggling Dancing With The Stars rehearsals with stand-up preparation?

He shakes his head. “Stand-up is part of me,” he says. “I go with the flow. It isn’t that whatever I’m doing literally becomes part of the show. But there isn’t any dichotomy. It’s about my life.”

Right across the street from my house. #dwtsirl

A post shared by Des Bishop (@desbishop) on

Bishop has had an unlikely career. He broke through with offbeat comedy-documentaries such as 2004’s Des Bishop Work Experience, in which he delved into the world of minimum wage employment, and 2014’s Breaking China, where he spent a year living in the Far East learning Chinese.

“In New York, I’m just some guy doing 15-minute spots,” he says of his relocation to the United States (where he now spends approximately half the year).

“It’s table service so there are no breaks. You have 15-minute sets, six acts in an evening. So the tone is far punchier. I’ve performed outside of Ireland a lot, don’t get me wrong. Even when you’re doing Edinburgh or Melbourne, you’re still on stage for an hour and there’s a narrative structure. In America, you’ve got to get up there and just nail it.”

Not that he was entirely new to US comedy. As it happens, he’s close to Louis CK, the megastar comic who just last year filled Dublin’s 3Arena.

“I’ve known him since 2004. He opened for me once — a few years later, someone wrote in a blog that ‘Louis CK opening for Des Bishop is like The Beatles opening for Aslan’. He hangs out in the Comedy Cellar a lot. He shows up and just does slots. He sometimes comes on before me because we know each other fairly well and he knows I’m not going to get pissed off.”

In October, Louis CK came to the club and took the slot just before Bishop.

“So I’m going on after the biggest comedian in the United States. And then [famous actor/comedian] David Chapelle shows up to practise the monologue he is going to be doing on Saturday Night Live.

“I’m standing in the hallway, knowing I’m going to be on straight after Louis CK, with David Chapelle watching me. It’s an education. Performing in America has made me a much better comic.”

  • ‘Dancing With The Stars’ begins on RTÉ One on Sunday at 6.30pm.
  • Des Bishop brings One Day You’ll Understand to Everyman, Cork, January 12, 27 and 28; INEC, Killarney, February 17; Vicar Street, Dublin, from March 10.

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