Thomas Burns Scully
Ask a comedian where they get their ideas and what will they tell you? Probably nothing that interesting. Not because comedians aren’t interesting, but the question is so vague and poorly defined, the best response you are likely to get is “From my real life,” or something equally mundane. If you need a testament to that, then the story of Richards Herring and Pryor will do that job. Richard Herring (reasonably well known UK comedian) once ironically asked Richard Pryor (legendary US comedian) “Where do you get your crazy ideas from?” Pryor responded, confused, “From my life.” A strange exchange, as Herring has attested to since. But if you were to ask Des Bishop the same question, the answer would be obvious. And interesting. His new show ‘Made in China’, presented out of competition at the Origin 1st Irish Festival, was based on his experiences of living two years in China, with the aim of learning enough Mandarin to be able to perform stand-up in Chinese. The results, both his language-learning, and the show he has created, are not disappointing.
‘Made in China’ is largely what you would expect. An extended series of observations on Chinese culture and life from a frank, semi-insider perspective. Bishop touches on certain subjects you’d expect, like the Chinese approach to democracy and censorship, and certain subjects you don’t, like his appearances on Chinese dating shows. He brings with him his previous experience at learning languages (He learned Gaelic in a similar fashion a few years ago), his unique cultural perspective (He is a Queens native who has lived extensively in Ireland), and his fun-loving, incisive sense of humor. The result is a show which touches on everything from cultural stereotypes, and surprising revelations about racism, to zen driving, love and obscure Chinese folk music.
Des Bishop is a funny man. This will not be a revelation to people familiar with his work, but it’s still worth saying. Doing criticism of comedy is a tough thing to do, because there’s so little to say. Everyone laughs at different things, and a one person comedy show often comes down to whether or not you like the performer and their sense of humor. So, I like Des Bishop and I think he is a funny man. He knows how to interact with a crowd (and does so in two languages), write a great punchline (again, in two languages), and convey his real love for cultural experience. Pretty much every gag he tells is on point, interesting, and downright funny. He writes a good show, and makes his audience relax. Of course, senses of humor may vary, and, hence, experiences of comedy, but I would wager that Bishop has broad appeal. So that is the most important thing to know about Des Bishop’s new show. It’s funny. Whether he’s singing a folk song about the IRA on Chinese TV, or banging a shoe on a bench for the purposes of cultural exchange, he doesn’t disappoint.
I do have a criticism, but it’s largely minor: The show feels incomplete structurally. Bishop introduces the show well, sets the story rolling, and keep it rolling very neatly indeed. However, the story never builds to a climax, it just suddenly ends. He holds a Q&A at the end of the show, which is interesting and fun, but the story feels somehow incomplete. The show has a lovely flow, winds and explores wonderfully, but then just stops. I had enjoyed everything I had heard, every single thing, but the show left me feeling unsatisfied. Bishop’s time in China came across as an enlightening time of exploration, and largely free of the kind of long-term, drawn out conflict that tends to create a three-act structure. Nothing wrong with that, but he did seem to be building a theme of cultural understanding, and then never surmised it or encapsulated his experience in a way that made his recanting of the journey feel whole, even though, through his testimony, it very much seemed that it was. And that’s my only complaint for the show. Other than that, loved it.
And there you have it, Des Bishop’s ‘Made in China’. A great comedian with a good show that, with a little workshopping, will be a great show. He’s going to be touring it around the country, I urge you to catch it, it’s a lot of fun, and quite educational. His insights speak to a greater humanity and understanding than you might be expecting from a comedy show. He ably demonstrates that the things that end up binding us together as a species are linked to our senses of humor, our idiosyncrasies, and our acknowledging of our own weirdness. Hardly surprising, then, that it’s both heartwarming, and a good source of comedy. Give it a look.
‘Made in China’ is currently touring, dates and tickets can be found online at: desbishop.net. ‘Made in China’ was presented at Lucky Jack’s as part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival. Since his return to New York, Des Bishop has also been developing a Chinese language stand-up scene in his native Flushing, at the Humor Section Comedy Club. Details also available on the above website.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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