Irish American stand up Des Bishop‘s latest show, Grey Matters, centres on the 41 year old’s experiences of aging while missing the milestones that people seek to meet by their forties, including marriage and children.
Even performing in a three piece suit to a ‘half empty conference room’, Bishop is incredibly comfortable on stage. The audience, a reasonable mixture of Australian and Irish punters, are relaxed: they know what they’re in for and that they’re in good hands for it. The room is only half empty due to it being a Thursday night – Bishop’s weeknight crowds are double the size, and sit at close to venue capacity. As Bishop himself puts it, the show is mostly ‘nostalgia and character’ (though he also claims there aren’t that many jokes in the show, which is demonstrably untrue). Bishop builds an atmosphere in which he can simultaneously reminisce about his child, comment on the childhoods of his nephews, and introduce both concepts to the young and childless in the audience without isolating those who identify with him. His charming character carries many jokes through their delivery into laughter another comic performing the same material would struggle to muster. At times the relative size of the crowd to the room affects how a joke lands, and it doesn’t help that the audience scattered themselves across the whole room rather than bunching politely in the front rows, but Bishop handles the situation with grace.
Observational humour cops a lot of flack these days, but Bishop proves there are still belly laughs to be found in the form. Grey Matters is a personal, apolitical show, with a loose, friendly amount of crowd interaction. Bishop is aware of his audience, their demographics and the way location-based jokes function, just as he knows his audience is. He expects intelligence and understanding from the crowd, and they appreciate him all the more for it. Memory and nostalgia play a large role in the show, but Bishop manages the themes without having them override the present. The final fifteen minutes are by far the strongest, and dirtiest, of the show, touching on performative masculinity and long-term relationships without falling into tired ‘men vs women’ tropes. Bishop leaves the stage with the crowd still laughing.
Grey Matter is on at the Greek Centre at 7:15 pm until 23 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available online, at the venue, and at the festival box office.