John Bishop: My wife and I had split up, then she saw me on stage...
Published 05/11/2013 | 01:00
John Bishop is best known as the down-to-earth scouse comedian who is more like one of the lads down the pub than the more common snarky stand-up.
Perhaps it's something to do with his definitively working class upbringing (his dad worked on the docks and his mother was a school dinner lady) or maybe it's to do with the fact that he had a fully fledged career as a pharmaceutical sales director before he accidentally fell into comedy.
Now, at the age of 46, Bishop has just published his autobiography, How Did All This Happen?, as a way of making sense of his meteoric success over the last few years. He got his big break after appearing on the Jonathan Ross show in 2010, which turned him from a comedian on the periphery to a household name. "I thought, now is a good time to do it because so much has happened, particularly over the last few years. It's a good time to take stock."
His book is different from the average celebrity memoir. "It's honest. There's a lot in there that you don't know but there's no me-in-a-jacuzzi-with-Girls-Aloud story."
He tells of how traumatic experiences at a young age helped shape the adult he became.
His childhood was punctuated by his father going to prison after getting into a row with two men who attacked him and his wife outside a chipshop.
"That was a huge turning point as a kid but one of those things that gives you determination to press on. Because it happened at the age I was at, it made me determined to be better than everyone expected me to be."
Bishop attributes comedy to having saved both his marriage and his sanity. When he first turned to stand-up 12 years ago, he did it as a way of distracting himself from what was going on in his personal life.
His marriage to his college sweetheart Melanie had ended. He took their three sons every weekend and when they went back to their mother on Mondays, Bishop was left feeling bereft.
He started going to a local pub on Monday evenings, open mic night, and when he realised he could get in for free if he performed, he found himself standing on stage staring into the spotlights.
The path that took him to the stage may have been arbitrary but it was a deliberate decision to stay, he says. "It was accidental my being there at the Frog and Bucket but it stopped being accidental as soon as I got there. What made me a comedian was staying on the stage and starting to talk."
When his wife randomly turned up at the pub one week, completely ignorant of the fact that her husband was performing stand-up, she was reminded of the fun-loving man she fell in love with and it was the first step on the road to them getting back together and they are happily married today.
"I'm not saying everyone who has a problem in their relationship should be a comedian, but I think if you're to work things out you've to get out of the bunker. Everyone who is in a relationship is in the bunker. By doing the comedy you don't get heckled by your own wife," he laughs.
Young, up-and-coming comedians often look to him now for advice, wondering what his master plan was. "I'm from a generation that didn't have a plan. The only reason you should do this is because you like making people laugh. That's all you should aim for and if you're very good at it other stuff happens."
While he is as well known now for his TV shows John Bishop's Britain and John Bishop's Only Joking, like most comedians, he says stand-up is where his heart is. "If I don't do a gig I get wound up. It's like people who exercise and are addicted to endorphins. If they don't exercise they're miserable. The best place for me to be is on the stage making strangers laugh."
John Bishop plays The O2 in Dublin, December 4 and 5. How Did All This Happen? is published by Harper Collins.