First Published November 2019
ALWAYS ON POINT
Great comedy is nearly always sculpted from truth. And great comedians have an innate ability to seek out the truth of life despite all of the distractions it comes wrapped up in. And within the truth – be in happy, sad, ugly or beautiful – great comedians can always find the humour there. That’s why the really great ones do so much more than just ‘tell jokes.’ They actually tell us about life, and about ourselves. DES BISHOP certainly falls into that category, and he’s bringing his new show, TAKE THE POINTS, to the Tullamore Court Hotel on November 30th.
I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Des before he went on stage for a recent show, and I began by asking him about ‘Take The Points.’ Sometimes comedians or musicians pick a title for a new tour or album just because they need to put something on the tickets and the posters! But there are also some who choose a title that genuinely gives somewhat of an overview of a theme that might be running through the show or body of work. Which scenario was most true of Des in this case, I wondered?
“This title now falls in between those two things. Because I did just need a title. But…I also wanted to have a generic enough title that would still encompass the fact that the show is going to try and tackle certain issues. But at the same time, it does come from, ‘Take the points and the goals will come’, ya know. It’s a sentence that just resonates. It’s not offensive or anything. But when you read the description of the show, you’re like, o.k, point taken, as a guy the world is changing. There’s a lot of just, ya know Irish stuff and funny stuff, and dirty stuff, in the show [laughs]. But it does stay true to some of the description of the title of the show, too. It’s not a very themed show, though, by any stretch of the imagination.”
I wondered if there was also something in the origins of the title – take your points and the goals will come – that suggested if we, as a society, and indeed a world in general, can work on getting some of the little things right again, this in turn will lead us to being better placed to correct some of the bigger things, too?
“I think when I wrote the title it was just when I was thinking about inspiration for the show. Now you have to realise that it was this time last year that I was working on this show. I was doing some preliminary shows which would become ‘Take The Points’. But at the time, I was very much thinking that as a guy it’s very easy to get defensive about the news right now, ya know. Masculinity, and men behaving badly…, and obviously there’s a real push for equality. Even within my own industry, I can see that change. So you’re responding to that all the time. You’re trying to celebrate what’s good about it, while at the same time, trying not to get too down about the fact that some of this is because a lot of people of your own gender have been acting the prick! And also, people within your own industry were behaving in a certain way and…it was like a shock to me. So you feel like a dumbass that you didn’t see these things goin’ on around ya. So there’s also that. That kind of guilty by association type of feeling? This, by the way, is the process behind the jokes, not the jokes themselves. You’re tryin’ to make sense of all these emotions. And there are a couple of bits in the show where I challenged myself to write about that. It’s not so much like you were sayin’ about getting the little things right, it’s really about making sense of where we’re at right now. I thought I’d write more jokes about men being defensive but actually, it ended up not really being the case. It’s funny, because in Ireland it’s actually easier to tell it like it is. The world is changing, so let’s tell some jokes about the changing world. In the States, it’s more difficult because people are more divided. So there, when you do certain material, it’s almost like you’re taking a side. Whereas here, in Ireland, it’s not as divided. People might think it is, but it’s not. So you don’t actually feel like you’re taking a side, you’re just making funny jokes about the things that we’ve seen and the changes that have happened.”
A recent review of the show stated that one of the topics Des touches on is the bad rep straight white men are getting these days. Is this something that Des himself has been personally exposed to in some way, or more what he’s been observing happening around him?
“That review was literally from the first show! The first official show. I mean, listen, it’s clear as day that it’s not completely acceptable to dismiss straight white men as the ultimate privileged group, and that they were not aware of that privilege. And there’s a move against that dominance. And you’d have to welcome it to a large extent, because you’d have to be blind to see that not everybody was as represented. I’ll just use my own industry, for example. Suddenly, when you see female representation in the media rising, it’s very easy to see then that f*$king hell, there was a lot of guys in this game, ya know! [laughs]. When more women are doing it, and more are getting better – because there were just so few – suddenly, there’s a lot of women around! And it’s actually way more fun. It’s way better. Now, none of us – the guys – were actively keeping women out. That was just the way of it. These things happen. No individual straight white guy could take responsibility for what happened in the world, or for whatever reason why straight white men seem to have done the best up to now. So you just have to say yeah, o.k, I see that. And you can do some jokes about it. I do think there’s some humour too in the flippancy with which people dismiss straight white men as if they also are not a group of people themselves! [laughs]. There’s some great stuff you can read about the things straight white men don’t like about being called straight white men, because they don’t like to see themselves as a group. They sort of like to see other groups as groups, and everything deviates from them [laughs]. But I do also think that people can be a bit irresponsible with the flippancy with which they dismiss straight white men. Because you can fall into the trap of suggesting that somebody’s achievements weren’t earned just because they had the privilege of being a straight white guy. But on the flip side, there’s just as many people that will turn around and say, well, she only got that because they’re tryin’ to get more women in the business, or in politics, whatever. The truth of the matter is, you can’t f*$king win! [laughs].
“But”, continued Des, “one thing we do know for sure, is that when people see themselves represented in a job, or in a position, it attracts more people of that gender, race, sexual identity…it attracts them to it. So it’s worth a little bit of a shove to balance out the numbers to get more people in. Only because, if you think of it in purely capitalistic terms, competition brings…and I’m not a real capitalist, but at the same time, if there’s more competition, the game is gonna rise. If you look at hip-hop, it was so basic in the late 70s and early 80s. But then it just kept evolving and evolving…to the state that it’s at now, which is so complicated and complex. It’s the same with comedy. If suddenly there’s a whole other group of people that are now competing, and inspiring people, and talking about different things, and speaking about it from a female point of view, or from a Nigerian who came to Ireland’s point of view…ya know, it’s just good. Because it’s fresh, and it’s different, and it helps everybody. But unfortunately, it’s very easy to be defensive. And I am not immune to that, being defensive or being resentful. All these emotions rise up. But I guess if you can just be honest about it, then it doesn’t take over. But a lot of people aren’t honest with themselves. They just get angry. And they express that anger online. And, as you know, it’s easy to find a home, a safe place for your anger. And that’s where the divisions come from. And it’s amplified in the States. But it’s here, too. And I have to say, I have, at times, been a little bit afraid to take what is essentially a centrist position. I nearly called this show ‘No Fence To Sit On’! [laughs]. A good title, but a little long, though, I thought! But it’s almost like that, like having a nuanced position on something is a cop-out nowadays. That used to be smart politics. But now you can’t sit on the fence. You can’t just say, well sometimes I’m this, but sometimes I’m that. You have to pick a tribe. And people talk about tribes all the time now. I’m definitely not in a tribe. Traditionally, I would have been a left-wing, liberal guy. And I am very much that guy. But I’m also a guy that thinks people stifle debate from the left-wing liberal side. That’s clear as day. You’re actually a hypocrite and you’re contradicting yourself if you can’t see that ‘cancel-culture’ hasn’t been 100% positive. I see positives effects of it sometimes, but there are definitely some negative aspects to it. In the sense that people just assume their positions are right all the time.”
When Des turned 40 a few years back, he said, “Street cred just loses meaning when you hit 40, because you realise that all the worrying you did about other peoples’ opinions is just bullshit.” As he moves towards his mid-forties now, I wondered if this was a feeling that had perhaps intensified, or even altered?
“No, that’s still pretty much how I feel. The only thing I will say is that even since that time, because that was before #MeToo, and before, ya know…Trump! [laughs]. And Brexit. I definitely just cannot handle the stress of online debate. I don’t mean comments, because at this stage now, I can’t be bothered with that. But I do try to avoid controversy more than I used to. Like, I can see, particularly in the States, there’s a lot of guys that are really thriving on being an anti-PC crusader. And sometimes it’s entertaining. And they’re really thriving in that space of people who have had enough of that PC culture. My problem with that is that I can see why people find PC culture frustrating, but then they dismiss the aspects of it that are positive. So what you’re doing is you’re just tapping into peoples’ anger which is irrational. There’s a whole cohort over there that are living in that angry male space. I would like to speak out against that, but sometimes I actually just don’t because I can’t handle the f*$ing stress, ya know. These guys are so aggressive online, the fans, not the comedians. The comedians are my friends! And a lot of the material is just really funny! I think it’s good to do material about tackling P.C. culture. I see Jonathan Pie did one just the other day tackling cancel-culture. But sometimes, ya know, I just don’t like that energy of controversy. Unfortunately, controversy drives a lot of the business these days and it’s f&$ing tedious. It’s not good debate, but you’d be blue in the face talkin’ about it.”
When Des looks at everything Trump has been doing to America – and by extension in one way or another, to the rest of the world – over these past few years, where does he think it’s all leading?
“It’s hard to know. Right now, as somebody who’s studied history, you’d have to say that it just looks like a time where humanity – or certainly western humanity, as we know it, the peaceful, post World War Two order that we’ve experienced – will only come to its senses when a serious tragedy happens. That’s me wearing my history hat. However, there may also be a post-Brexit, post-Trump, enough-is-enough, rational reawakening! [laughs]. That may happen. Because people are a bit sick of it all. But then, when you see…well let’s take the two extremes, right, the people who love Trump and the people who are very, very anti-Trump. I’m anti-Trump, but at the same time, I’m not as committed to being anti-Trump as some people are. And if you look at how far apart those people are [pro and anti-Trump], it doesn’t bring a lot of hope. And also, in fairness, can we just say that President Trump is so sh&t, he couldn’t be a worse president! How you can be blind to his narcissism, his delusion, his one or two lucky positives that are completely washed away by innumerable negatives, ya know…It’s easy to be right every now and then. But he’s just so f&$kin’ bad, on top of the corruption and everything about the guy. But I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because you just never know. I thought maybe he would just dump a load of money into infrastructure. Which, by the way, Obama wanted to do anyway. But the Republicans wouldn’t let him. Now, they’ve just bumped up the deficit with nothing to show for it. And it’s so frustrating, because I think there was a real opportunity when Trump got elected to invest money in infrastructure and take advantage of the fact that the economy had recovered. But he’s just blown that completely. I would have been happy to eat my pride, swallow my words, and just be like, ya know what, Trump did bring in a different take and it kinda worked. But God…he’s so f&$king bad!”
Des went on, “And they won’t accept any criticism, the Trump people. Comparing Obama and Trump, it’s kinda pointless. Obviously people loved Obama, but they weren’t afraid to be critical of the mistakes he made. Trump people just won’t be critical of massive mistakes! It is a little worrying that people are that divided. It does feel a little bit, sort of like…fascisty! And now that’s frowned upon, too, to bring up fascism. But Trump clearly likes dictators, he admires them. That’s what he wants. And there’s people behind him who seem to be inclined that way, the Breitbart people, Steven Miller, these people. They’re clearly a little bit fascist. Even though Steven Miller is Jewish, which is strange. But it’s funny, because Trump is not like Hitler. People compare him to Hitler. But Hitler was f&$king organised! Trump is more like Hugo Chavez. He could be given twenty-five years to completely f&$k over America. And America will be done!”