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Irish-American keeps his audience in stitches

Updated: 2013-05-05 09:02
By Sheila Sullivan ( China Daily)

Des Bishop's gig was sold out and there was a long waiting list as the Irish community, among others, turned out in force on April 27 to hear his first stand-up routine in Beijing at the Bookworm in Sanlitun.

Irish-American keeps his audience in stitches

Des Bishop is to start a monthly stand-up comedy club at the Bookworm. Liu Zhe / China Daily

The acclaimed Irish-American comedian has come to China for a year to study Chinese at Renmin University, live with a Chinese family in Haidian district and experience as much Chinese culture as he can while filming a documentary for Ireland's national broadcaster, RTE.

"Learning the language is a great way of describing China to the West," says 37-year-old Bishop about an hour before the show. The world has such curiosity about China, but coverage in the Western media is mostly negative, he adds. "It would help to know a lot more about the place."

His mission at the Bookworm, the heart of so much expatriate cultural life in the capital, is to start a monthly stand-up comedy club, in English, to develop the local scene.

"There is a simplicity to what we know as stand-up comedy that would do well here," he says. "China is changing so rapidly, and cultural change is represented very well in comedy."

Born in the United States, Bishop was sent to boarding school in Ireland at 14 and stayed in the country for the next 23 years.

Though Ireland is home, he has a strong New York accent and maintains close ties to Flushing, Queens, the neighborhood where he grew up and where his mother still lives.

In Ireland, he worked on documentaries, wrote a book and developed a brand of stand-up comedy, marked by intense observation of cultural foibles and an edgy style that made him a household name.

Even in a nation of fast talkers, which Ireland is, he's fast.

And even though a curse word does not pass his lips once during several private conversations, his on-stage monologues can turn pretty blue. It's part of his onstage persona.

As the show gathers momentum, this tall, clean-cut guy who looks like a former altar boy starts dropping the F-bomb here, there and everywhere, though less, it seems, than he used to. It's typical Dublin parlance and it's part of his technique.

Comedians Damon Sumner and Toby Jarmin from the US, and Paul Creasey from Britain were showcased at the Bookworm, too.

Sumner, an African-American living in Shanghai, described his first day of teaching English in China. A small Chinese girl took one look at him and wailed: "I don't want to go with the chocolate teacher." Jarmin gave directions to his home in the hutong: "See the cocker spaniel wearing sunglasses? Take a right. You'll see my wife on the roof, giving yoga instructions to a group of feral cats."

The audience was funny, too. When Creasey mimicked a Northern Irishman saying in a threatening voice, "Get down! Get down!" a guy sitting in the audience called out, "We know where you live!" in the real accent.

This is Bishop's third visit to China. Ten years ago, while working on a documentary in Ireland, he became friendly with Nie Changliang, from Hegang, Heilongjiang province, who was working in Waterford in Ireland. In 2004, Bishop visited Nie in Dalian, Liaoning province, and his interest in China and Chinese people grew.

After his year in Beijing, Bishop wants to know enough Chinese to do stand-up, in Chinese, in front of an audience that doesn't understand a word of English. Why? His comedy will reach more people, he says. "And it's what I do."

Bishop will host the next comedy club night on May 18. Judging by the laughs the other night, buying tickets at the Bookworm in advance will be essential.


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