John Bishop grew up in a council estate in Runcorn, and always dreamed of greater things, or at least – as he told The Guardian newspaper in 2010 – a job where he wouldn’t have to go home and ‘get a wash’ afterwards. His ambition and intellect carried him to college, and thereafter into a short-lived career playing semi-professional football for Southport FC. His first foray into the working world, however, was as a vacuum-cleaner salesman, where he was mystified – and perhaps a little scared – by the go-getting ethos that the company had adopted. Each working day began with the mandatory recitation of an inspirational sales song performed to the tune of a Beatles hit. “It was mad,” he told talk-show host Graham Norton. “As a 17-year-old… I thought that’s what all jobs were like.” You can watch John Bishop having a bad-job-off with Chris Pratt in this video:
In his thirties, Bishop was living a comfortable existence as a medical rep for a pharmaceutical company. At the same time as his corporate star was rising, his marriage was collapsing, an event that carried within it – unbeknownst to him – the seeds of serendipity: his failing marriage would kick-start his comedy career, and his burgeoning comedy career would, in turn, kick-start his marriage.
From Open Mic Comedy to Sold-Out Tours
In conversation with fellow comedian Rob Brydon on the latter’s online show Brydon &, (see below), Bishop explained that didn’t nurse a burning, life-long ambition to make strangers laugh in the dark. He pretty much drifted into stand-up. He just wanted somewhere to go and something to do after he’d dropped his three kids off with his estranged wife on a Monday night; something to distract him from missing them. In fact, when he attended his first Open Mic night he didn’t even know what the term ‘open mic night’ meant, but was overjoyed to discover that one of the main things it meant was that as a performer he’d get into the venue for free.
Speaking to Brydon, Bishop recalled stepping out on stage for the first time, struggling a little and getting maybe a few polite titters from the seven-strong crowd. He quickly decided to bin his repertoire of gags, admitting to the audience, “I’m only here because I’m getting divorced”. He then launched into a funny, stream-of-consciousness, self-deprecating routine about his ailing marital fortunes.
In many ways, then, John Bishop is the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of UK comedy (although, unlike Midge Maisel, he successfully rekindled his marriage). Perhaps we should call him ‘The Jubilant Mr John Bishop’.
Bishop had never told anyone he was doing stand-up, so it came as something of a shock to his wife when she went along to The Frog and Bucket comedy club with some workmates, only to see her husband walk out onto the stage. She came to talk to him afterwards, and told him it was great to see him more like his old self. Counselling and reconciliation followed, and the family has been rock-solid ever since. “Getting back together was the reward,” he told Rob Brydon. “All the rest of this stuff is secondary.”
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