Irish American comedian Des Bishop has returned to New York after spending the past 20 years living in Ireland to be with his terminally ill father and to work on his new show “My Father was Nearly James Bond.”
Bishop, 34, is a Queens born comedian who was sent to boarding school in Ireland at the age of 14 because he had an issue with drinking. He often jokes about the irony of his parents sending him to Ireland to deal with his youthful drinking habits.
Bishop shot to fame in Ireland as a stand-up comedian and soon became a household name when he appeared on several Irish television programs including “Don’t Feed the Gondolas” and his own show “The Des Bishop Work Experience,” a realistic depiction of a marginalized section of Irish society.
Bishop, whose comedy style has been described as sharp, candid and mostly critical of his new home, relocated to New York last November after discovering his father was terminally ill with lung cancer.
Bishop told the Irish Voice in an interview last week that his father’s cancer has brought his family closer.
“We have become really close especially when you consider I have not spent this much time in New York for 15 years,” said Bishop.
“I read recently that cancer is a passport to intimacy and I would say that has been the experience in our house. When you know that there might not be much time left you no longer have an excuse to only talk about sports,” he said honestly.
Bishop himself was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few years ago and rather than shy away from the subject he used it as comedy material during his shows.
Bishop’s new show “My Dad was Nearly James Bond” reflects back on his dad’s life, the relationship they had and how his illness brought about a few home truths.
Bishop said he had discussed with his dad for years the concept of a show based on his father’s life and it was finally his illness that “was the inspiration” to finally tell his story.
“It was only when I began to tell some of the stories he had told me after he got sick on stage and people laughed that I realized it was time to do that show we had discussed. So really I just said, ‘it’s on’.”
The show is themed around Mike Bishop’s career as an actor and how it later shaped his life in America.
Explains Bishop; “My father was an actor and a model before I was born. In the late 60’s he was one of the London models of the time to be asked to audition for the role of James Bond for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
Mike, born in London, didn’t get the part (he was beaten to it by George Lazenby) but did subsequently appear in other movies over the years.
“As young kids we thought that was very entertaining. He was not an actor in our lifetime as he gave it up because he thought it was not a stable enough job to raise a family. So I always wanted to tell the story of his two lives and also that sacrifice that he made for us to give up the career that he loved,” said Bishop.
On creating a show that requires him to be very personal Bishop said it took more time than normal “because you have to get the balance right between the emotion and the humor.”
He said, “I did not want to be completely flippant about serious things such as how illness affects relationships in a family. However I did not want it to become a one-man drama piece.”
To date Bishop’s show has been a success. He performed the show in Edinburgh and received rave reviews including five stars in The Guardian.
Audiences have also had a strong emotional response to the show with people sometimes sneaking backstage in tears to share with Bishop why they thought the show had such a strong effect on them.
“It’s not that hard to be funny about it though as telling stories about how three boys thought it was cool that their dad had bits of parts in movies is not very serious.
“Also anyone who has dealt with cancer in their family knows that there are some funny things that happen when a family comes back together for extended periods after not being together for years.”
He added, “Plus it’s a nice way to take something that is quite intense and turn it into something that is a bit of fun for all of us in the family. Cancer sucks and there is nothing you can do about that so you might as well attempt to bring some joy into a bad situation.”
While in New York Bishop will stage five shows from Thursday, October 7 to Sunday, October 10 at the Barrow Street Theatre. www.barrowstreettheatre.com