Where is comedian Des Bishop from? This becomes complicated as you learn his life story. Today, you can usually find Bishop in New York or Dublin, but he was born and raised in Queens and spent his summers in Westhampton Beach. At age 14, Bishop went to boarding school in Ireland. He also attended college and launched his comedy career over on the Emerald Isle.
After getting kicked out of Catholic school in Queens, a cousin living overseas joked that Bishop should attend boarding school in Ireland. What could go wrong, sending a teen with a drinking problem to Ireland? Bishop says, “It was a six-week suggestion into a life-changing moment.” In Ireland, a comedy club manager launched Bishop’s stand-up career by throwing him onstage at a show. “This guy that I knew was hosting a comedy show and one time he basically said, ‘look I’m going to put you on stage in two weeks time so get ready.’ The minute that I tried, that was it—everything changed and I knew this was what I was meant to do.” Since then, Bishop has primarily toured Ireland but has also performed in China.
Embarking on a journey from knowing “no Chinese to enough Chinese to do stand-up comedy” was Bishop’s goal for performing in China, but it became more than that. Not only was it a learning experience for him, it was just as eye-opening for the Chinese public. Stand-up isn’t the mainstay in China that it is in the United States—it may never be, due to the restrictions on what can and can’t be said. In addition to censorship, the form itself is in the early development stages there. Bishop compares it to “pre-Lenny Bruce in Greenwich Village: they’re trying to figure out ‘What is this thing?’” The whole premise for his Chinese shows started with his work in Ireland with The Des Bishop Work Experience. In 2004 he worked minimum wage jobs to understand the challenges that the Irish working class faced, and how changes in immigration impacted the economy. In his next show, In the Name of the Fada, he tackled Gaelic in order to do a full routine in the language.
Breaking China is his show based on experiences working various jobs in China. He says, “I would greet people at the door on their way in and out, in order to learn the language at a restaurant.”
Now he’s looking to expand his reach further. For his next act, he’s taking on Arabic. As he says, Arabic is “connected with loaded subjects such as Islamophobia, terrorism and cultural misunderstanding. It crosses many countries [such as Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, and Morocco] as well.” With this project, he hopes to show the everyday life of these cultures too. “You’re looking for the things that bind us together as humans, and make jokes that everyone understands.”
Bishop has dipped his toe in the United States comedy scene of late with a hilarious string of shows, and he is now on an extended American tour. Returning to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) on this tour is a happy homecoming for the multicultural comedian. He has never performed at the WHBPAC, but “used to watch movies there as a teenager. I’ve been coming out to Westhampton since 1989.”
He’s ecstatic to be able to do a show that so many friends and family will be able to attend and, more
importantly, when talking about the venue, he said honestly, “I wanted my name on the town.”
See Des Bishop at WHBPAC on Sunday, August 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 at whbpac.org or 631-288-1500.