John Bishop: Winging It | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Brighton Centre

John Bishop: Winging It

Note: This review is from 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Brighton Centre

As fans settle into the Brighton Centre for John Bishop’s gig, Coldplay comes over the speakers. It seems apt, for he is surely the Coldplay of comedy: hugely popular, technically robust, but with a lukewarm reaction from critics aware of what better work is out there.

The comedian says that his first tour in three years has been defined by two major events: turning 50 and the last of his sons leaving home. There’s a third massive theme, too: a nostalgia for simpler times.

Neither this ‘remember the 1970s’ shtick nor the complaints about getting older are likely to trouble the cartographers of comedy, as he’s on very well-trodden ground. In his day, no one had food allergies, we went on the pull in nightclubs not Tinder and had to tape the Top 40 with fingers hovering over ‘record’ and ‘play’, not swipe to download. Heard it!

The nostalgia is, of course, a bonding exercise for those of similar vintage, who comprise the majority of his audience. But youngsters can laugh at the primitive ways of their ancestors, while oldies throw their hands up at the idea of taking photos of your dinner for Instagram. 

It’s a cross-generational win-win, as many a comic has previously discovered, and it’s received very well here, the audience not caring for how many other comics have covered this territory. That the guy telling it so affably is Bishop, the guy from the telly who always comes across as an engaging drinking buddy, is enough. 

Indeed, he tells us that he never writes his stand-up down as it never looks funny in black-and-white. For everything is in the way he connects with people, material is a distant second.

He literally says: ’How shit is that thing’ and gets a laugh, reducing comedy to the bare bones, the gag being that everyone knows it’s Brighton’s i360 tourist trap he’s referring to. 

Speaking of old gags, he cracks the old ‘un about being in contact with the ‘WTF – that stands for the British Dyslexia Association’. Excitedly he trills that it’s his newest joke: ‘I just thought of that week!’ Someone should tell him he’s not the first…

Winging It starts with an over-long introductory video in which he inserts himself into some classic pop videos, ending with Let Me Entertain You, the perennial walk-on music of the Jongleurs clubs (RIP).

Our man of the people starts with a story of meeting ‘all the significant members of the royal family’, of whom he’s a fan, despite acknowledging the Monarchy system as inherently ridiculous. And then there’s the time he met U2.

The latter excites him more after he snags backstage passes for him and his mates in Boston. Though there is a comic payoff that doesn’t exactly puncture his privileged bubble of fame, but at least deflates it a little bit. After all, his persona is that he’s just like one of us, so he needs to stay grounded.

He delivers casually, sometimes strolling the stage with hands thrust into his pockets, sometimes perched on a barstool, Dave Allen style - but instead of whiskey, an ironic World’s Greatest Dad mug for his bottled water.

The set-ups are always spun very effectively – he can go for minutes without a big laugh, while still holding the room as the crowd enjoy the journey. By the time the payoff comes, everyone is invested.

Several times he flashes some impressive acting skills, too, as he recreates the moments he’s discussing or the people he encounters – a talent that’s been underused on TV and film.

And occasionally, too, he adds some tartness to his banter, a bearing of fangs that he also tends to keep hidden. A bit about how airbags are just another symptom of this cosseted generation is a fine display of biting sarcasm.

But much of Winging It comprises Bishop recounting pedestrian material in a cheery, matey way – as he always has.

On aging, he discusses how peeing and farting aren’t as controlled as they used to be; though the biggest issue is the menopause and how it affects him, now sweltering in bed next to a woman with a literally ‘hot body’. 

With his kids leaving home, he confesses to empty nest syndrome, and fills the void by having countless animals in his large country home, from alpacas to Shetland ponies, from rheas to a hypochondriac pig - their behaviour acted out with incredulity.

The personal tales are engaging and affable, told with affection and not a little sentimentality (he is a Liverpudlian after all, and Scousers typically love a dollop of that). 

Tying in with the material about how times have changed, he recalls how he met his wife Melanie, and closes with a home video montage depicting scenes from a happy family life, reinforcing some of the stories he told earlier, and making a neat package to tie up the two-hour (plus interval) show. 

Winging It? No, this is well-polished stuff.

John Bishop is on tour until December. Dates and tickets.

Review date: 26 Oct 2017
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