'If I hadn't come across comedy, I can't imagine what my life would have been like,' says John Bishop

His first DIY project (his house) ended in disaster. Happily, his second (to reinvent himself as a stand-up comic) has been rather more successful... John Bishop is living proof that if you really want something done, do it yourself

'I was 34 years old when I walked on stage for the first time. I knew nobody in that environment,' said John Bishop

'I was 34 years old when I walked on stage for the first time. I knew nobody in that environment,' said John Bishop

Heard the one about the Scouse comedian who bought a huge old house, even though it was falling down? John Bishop admits his missus didn’t find it very funny.

‘When we first got married, I persuaded Melanie we should buy this four-storey Victorian place. I said we’d be able to do the work with my dad, my brother and my mates from school, who are builders. Then I took her to see the house, after we’d bought it.’

It didn’t go well.

‘She was stood in the cellar, but she could see through the roof. She just burst out crying. I thought, “I think I’ve oversold this one.”’

Bishop grins sheepishly, and admits he’s worse at DIY than anyone else in his family.

‘My dad will build anything out of anything. He found an old oak door in a skip, took it home and built a shed around it. They were the only people on their estate with a shed that had a brass knocker. My brother’s a welder, so he’s obviously capable, but I just never have been.

'I remember a teacher at school saying, “Your sister is better at woodwork than you. Does that not embarrass you?” I said, “You should see me knit.”’

He laughs at his own story, and his cheek as a teenager in Runcorn.

‘I really did say that.’

But Melanie Bishop went along with the house project anyway – and it certainly wasn’t the last time she had to take a leap of faith for her husband.

By his mid-thirties, John Bishop was a father of three young sons and working as a sales director with a pharmaceutical firm. He had a company car, a pension and a good salary. But then he gave all that up to try to make people laugh for a living. It was a brave move, but it worked.

Suddenly, over the last year or so, Bishop, now 44, has become one of the most popular comedians in the country, with sell-out tours (performing to 400,000 people), a hit television show and a best-selling live DVD, which he follows up this month.

‘The new one is called Sunshine, because someone said to me, “This is your time in the sunshine.” Which is another way of saying, “It won’t last.”’

'If I hadn't come across comedy, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like... I would never have got back together with my wife'

'If I hadn't come across comedy, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like... I would never have got back together with my wife'

That’s his style: like Eeyore with attitude and a heavy Scouse accent.

On the new DVD, he tells his home crowd in Liverpool, ‘I feel like I’ve nicked somebody else’s life. Somewhere, there’s a sales rep going, “Haven’t I got a gig tonight?”’

You can’t go far these days without seeing a billboard for his BBC show John Bishop’s Britain, but he’s a lot less glossy in the flesh. The sharp blue suit has been swapped for a plaid shirt and jeans. The teeth are nowhere near as dazzling, although they’re definitely all his. He thinks they make him look ‘like a horse’.

The truth, though, is that even close up, Bishop is implausibly handsome. He has the haircut of a retired footballer, and is as fit as one too, thanks to a passion for bikes. Imagine a middle-aged Clint Eastwood playing Jamie Redknapp and you’ll be somewhere close.

Today, though, he’s wrestling with a cold. And as he chews on an egg salad at a café in north London, Bishop is feeling reflective.

‘I was 34 years old when I walked on stage for the first time. I knew nobody in that environment.’

The story of how he became a comedian by accident has been part of his routine, but the truth – as he tells it now, for the first time – is as poignant as it is funny.

‘Melanie and me had split up properly; we’d sold the house and bought one each. I had our three kids every weekend, so Monday – when they’d gone back – was the hardest day. I hated Mondays.’

That was why he went, on a whim, to the Frog and Bucket club in Manchester on a Monday night in 2000.

‘I’ve never said this before, but the truth is I was embarrassed to walk in on my own, so I just stood outside. The doorman said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Oh, I’m waiting for a mate. Has anyone been waiting here?” I even went across the street to a phone box and pretended to make a phone call, then came back and said, “Oh, I’ve told him I’ll meet him in there.”

'I wasn’t in the best place, mentally or emotionally.’

The doorman said it was an open-mic night.

‘I wasn’t sure what that meant. I went to pay and he said, “You can get in for free if you put your name down to do a spot.” So I did. The first thing I ever said on stage was, “**** me, that’s bright.” If you’ve never done it, you don’t know how bright the lights are. Then nothing left my mouth. I froze. I thought, “Get off.”’

If he’d listened to that inner voice, it would have all been over and a lot of laughs would have been lost. Instead he remembered a joke he’d heard about French farmers, who’d been blocking the roads in a fuel protest.

‘I said, “Wouldn’t it have been handy if they’d done that in 1939?” It was my only joke of the night. After that, I just said, “I’m getting divorced. I’ve come here ’cos I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

'I¿ve been home now and off the road for a couple of months, and if I don't get out of the house I'm gonna get divorced'

'I¿ve been home now and off the road for a couple of months, and if I don't get out of the house I'm gonna get divorced'

'I don’t remember what else I said. There was a red light flashing when your time was up, but I didn’t know that; I just thought it was broken. I did about 30 minutes instead of seven, but something must have been right, because when I came off they said, “Come back next week, with ten minutes prepared.”’

He began to turn up regularly, and within a couple of months Bishop was booked on a Saturday night, with an act based on his separation.

‘I had the idea in my head that if you’re a stand-up you can cop off . You sort of send out a public announcement that you’re single. That’s why they all do it.’

Then one night he saw Melanie in the audience with a few friends. And she was laughing.

‘We got talking, then she came again another night on her own. We started going to Relate. One thing led to another and we got back together. She said she saw me on stage in the club getting back to what I’d been. The thing is that when we’d had kids I’d put my head down and worked hard, as you do, and I’d lost my sense of fun.’

So comedy literally changed his life and saved his marriage?

‘If I hadn’t come across comedy, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like. I’d still be in a job I’d grown out of, sat in an office looking at graphs – and I would never have got back together with my wife.’

Five years ago, he became a full-time comedian. Melanie supported him, even when it wasn’t going well – like on the night in Leeds in 2008 when he’d only sold 47 seats in a venue meant for 500.

‘She told me to go out and make those 47 people laugh.’

But things changed the following year. Bishop was asked on to Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow when it came to Manchester, where his wife was born and where they live now.

Next, Live actually played a part in his rise by inviting him to appear in a cover story about British comedy alongside more established stars such as Jack Dee, Al Murray and Alan Carr. We chose Bishop as a relative unknown tipped for success.

‘It was really from that moment that things started to move on,’ he confirms.

Then in February 2010 he was invited to appear on Jonathan Ross’s chat show.

‘That just changed the landscape. I was selling about 2,000 tickets a week for my live shows then – but the week after I went on with Jonathan, I sold 18,000. It all took off.’

There’s a big emotional moment at the end of the show on his new DVD when he tells the audience he’s going to stop touring for a couple of years because ‘I need to go and be a dad’.

So why has he just announced a massive new tour for next year? What changed his mind?

John with wife Melanie at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party last month

John with wife Melanie at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party last month

‘I’ve been home now and off the road for a couple of months, and if I don’t get out of the house I’m gonna get divorced. When I was thinking about changing my mind my agent said I’d better go home and have a word with the wife about it. I said, “Melanie, what do you think?” She said, “Go now!”’

He’s handsome, funny, famous and rich, so presumably he gets no end of offers?

‘A woman came up to me in the shops the other day and she said, “My husband’s over there and he told me not to do this, but I want to tell you I love you.”

'That’s an unusual thing to have happen to you. All I can say is, this has happened at the right time in my life. I can’t imagine going home to my kids on Sunday morning if they’ve read a story about me trying to get off with someone off The X Factor.

‘So, in answer to your question, there are no dolly birds on the scene. I came to this late in life and I’m grown-up about it. If I was looking for a dolly bird I’d be looking for someone who’s like my wife. What’s the point of that?’

This isn’t a routine. It sounds heartfelt.

‘I’ve been married twice to the same woman (in a manner of speaking; they didn’t actually divorce). I don’t want to lose her looking for something else. I’m not being over-romantic. It’s not worth the hassle. I wouldn’t want to risk losing what I’ve got.’

Bishop has never forgotten where he came from either, despite reports that he’s worth between two and three million pounds.

‘Where did you read that?’ he splutters. ‘It’s been a good couple of years, but whether it’s worked out at that I don’t know. Obviously I’m in a better financial position than I’ve ever been in. I’ve moved on from doing gigs for £200, but I haven’t got a helipad or anything.’

There doesn’t seem much chance of him getting one, if only because his mates would never let him hear the end of it.

‘I’m not hanging around with starlets. I’ve got a groggy voice today because I went out the other night for a curry – at the same curry house we always go to – with my mates I’ve known for 20 years, who don’t even think I’m funny.’

Some of them helped him renovate the crumbling Victorian house all those years ago – and one ended up buying it. So did the Bishops make a big profit on their one and only DIY project?

‘Let’s not talk about that,’ he sighs. ‘I sold it to my mate for a discount price and he sold it two years later for three times as much again, and he never bought me so much as a bottle of wine to say thanks. I’m not bitter…’

Why should he be? It’s good material. As long as he stays close to his old mates, Bishop won’t lose touch with the ordinary, everyday humour that’s made him famous.

‘I’ve been lucky,’ he says. ‘Whatever happens now, I’ll always think, “I’ve won.”’

The DVD ‘John Bishop Live: The Sunshine Tour’ is out on November 14. For tour tickets, visit johnbishoponline.com


 

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