John Bishop. What a meteoric rise to the top he’s enjoyed. Not that long ago, we heard the other night, his sister was using the facilities at the Brindley to photocopy flyers advertising John’s first steps into comedy.
Those days are long gone, that’s for sure. Bishop is currently in the middle of a week-long run at the Echo Arena with his new show Rollercoaster. The venue is close to sold out, with around 10,000 people in when we go – on a wet Tuesday night at £30 a head. Impressive.
The Runcorn man has seemingly made a very good career for himself by simply being that most Liverpool of archetypes: a nice guy, a funny guy. His appearances on TV shows suggest an accessible, rather gentle everyman humour, while his last stand-up tour won plaudits for Bishop’s anecdotes on his sudden rise to fame and exposure to celebrity culture.
Bishop has been a busy man since his rise to the top table of UK comedy. We know this because stuff he has been doing over the last year forms a significant part of his latest show. Being mates with Andrew Flintoff, being a torch-bearer in the run-up to the Olympics, being invited to Downing Street in light of some charity stuff, being on holiday with his missus.
Things do warm up a bit in the second half, where Bishop injects some vim into his take on 50 Shades of Grey and tells a diverting tale about having his balls waxed. But in reality it’s very tame stuff and all feels rather half-hearted.
The show ends with a very funny visual gag, which involves the unlikely fairground-themed set. Ah, the fairground theme. It seems fair to say that if you hit the stage through the mouth of a giant clown at the bottom of an actual-size helter-skelter to the sound of The Prodigy’s Voodoo People at your show, called Rollercoaster, then people should expect a white-knuckle ride.
Bishop, with his weird accent that’s often as hard to place as Cary Grant’s, offers cosy anecdotes, tested observations of married life and some familiar humour on regions and their people. It’s more akin to a kid’s bike with stabilisers than a rollercoaster; a reassuring, unchallenging fireside chat with a guy who it’s easy to warm to.
And people lap it up. While there were few belly laughs the audience did not seem unhappy with what their thirty pounds had bought them. Perhaps they got exactly what they expected; what they wanted. Maybe comedy isn’t so much about making people laugh in these vast stadium tours; it’s about making them feel secure, comfortable, satisfied.
Bishop is certainly a man to deliver it, even with a routine than even he would surely accept is hardly knock-out material. But there’s the rest of the tour to finish – and already there’s a DVD being advertised, which will be out in time for Christmas. More cogs in the great comedy machine that makes millionaires out of men who make people laugh in the same way you can see in a hundred Liverpool pubs.
Despite this numbing lack of ambition it’s hard to begrudge Bishop his success, his security, his fame. But when did our best-renowned comedians become people who were previously the funny guy in the pub? Seeing Rollercoaster – a title for the show that seems so at odds with its content it’s almost impertinent – it’s hard to work out how he ever got so big.
But, like a day at the funfair, Bishop seems able to gently entertain people for a couple of hours, allow them to forget their humdrum day-to-days and enjoy the gentle good humour of a nice man relating events through a slight comedy filter.
Rollercoaster is a mug of sweet tea, a warm bath, a DVD at Christmas that no-one will especially dislike. It’s a way of whiling away some time in a way that’s not unpleasant.
John Bishop – Rollercoaster
Liverpool Echo Arena
Until 6 October