You speak Mandarin, after living in China for a spell, and Irish, making TV shows about both. Are there any other cultures you’re drawn to, languages you’d like to learn?
Irish American stand up Des Bishop is back in Australia! After a few years away, Bishop is back touring his show Grey Matter, a comedic look into growing over in the twenty tens. With a career spanning twenty years, international success and television shows, Bishops’ insights are sure to be sharp in content and delivery. He took a moment to answer some of Til Knowles’ questions.
Your show, Grey Matter, deals with some topics common to stand up – parenting and periods in particular. Obviously, they’re common because they’re relatable and there’s humour to be found there. What new spin do you bring to them?
Damn. I need to pay attention to my press releases. I didn’t realise periods are mentioned there. Well in relation to that, 1) you don’t hear many guys talking about them, 2) I am really looking to challenge a number of taboos around discussing it and the shaming of female comedians who joke about it and 3) I haven’t heard many comedians discussing the things I discuss about it. Women definitely appreciate my take on it and I can assure you it is a moment we all encounter in our lives that I enjoy highlighting.
As for the parenting part of the show. It’s unique in that it’s my take on being an observer as opposed to a parent. It’s more about my particular family dynamics. That’s the more interesting part. Sure I indulge in some then and now comparisons but even the then and now is always evolving. It’s fun to look back and realise how much everything has changed and how I (or you) have changed how you see things over time.
The description for the show uses the phrase “backseat parenting”, as you don’t have kids of your own. Do you want them? What do you think of the social pressures surrounding having children?
I do want kids. Though I fear I am witnessing too much reality about how tough it is raising them. “I know too much!” My rational brain is trying to kill my instincts to procreate. I do think there are elements of the modern way of parenting that make it tougher for modern parents in terms of their time. It’s a cliche but compared to my own childhood I see kids as having a lot less freedom. However it seems that expressing love is mandatory nowadays which is a fine trade off. I guess I would sacrifice all those great hours of unsupervised play for a hug. (67.5 percent joking here)
What was your favourite comedy (or comedian) as a child?
As a child my buddies were all obsessed with Eddie Murphy. We could quite Delirious and Raw word for word. As far as film, I would have to say that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a huge influence on me. Like many boys of my age I yearned to be like Ferris.
You’re 41 now, and you’ve been doing comedy for an impressive two decades! What would you tell a 21-year-old you?
I would have contradictory advice actually. In one level I would like to tell me that you should focus more of your material on universal topics that would work well outside of Ireland. However I would also want to tell me that you should not leave behind my unique take on Irish life. More general advice would probably be to try and enjoy it more because even at its lowest points it’s still an awesome life.
20 years is a long while – what’s been your strangest experience on-stage during your career?
I have had some strange ones. I had to follow a singing vagina once, I have gigged in a lift with an audience of 4 and I once giggled on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney but the strangest experience was probably many years ago in Limerick when a butterfly flew on stage. Joking, I called the butterfly to me and somehow it flew right onto my shoulder. I think some people that were there still think I have magical powers. Just one of the those great luck moments.
In previous shows, you’ve been unafraid to find comedy in darker topics, like cancer and alcoholism. How much of your flare for addressing the controversial can audiences expect in Grey Matter?
It’s not really a controversial show. The last 15 mins is very sex positive but it’s not trying to be shocking in anyway. I revisit a theme I chatted about back in 2010 in a greater look at the many awkward moments we can encounter in the bedroom from erectile dysfunction to scenarios relating to question 1.
I would like to learn Arabic and spend time in that part of the world. There are incredible misunderstandings about Islam and Islamic culture that I would love to explore and highlight. Humour is always a great way to try and explore that.
At this point, you’re just as Irish as you are American. What’s one Irish thing you wish Americans would adopt or understand?
Having the craic!
Des Bishop’s Grey Matter is on as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 30 March until 23 April, no shows on Mondays, the Sydney Comedy Festival from 27 – 30 April, and the Perth Comedy Festival on the 4th & 5th of May.
For the Melbourne shows, Bishop is performing at the Greek Centre at 7:15pm. Tickets cost between $25 – $36 and are available through the comedy festival website.