Made in China at Soho Theatre, London
**** (out of five)
IN 2013, comedian Des Bishop decided to move from his position as a household name in Ireland to be a restaurant greeter in northern China.
Why? Well, lots of reasons. After conquering the incredibly niche Irish language market in In The Name of The Fada, he decided to target the broadest one imaginable: 1.2 billion of them, to be precise.
He also loved the access learning Irish gave him to Irish speakers, and wanted to experience that on a mass level.
On the strength of his connection to one Chinese friend (Seamus, who appeared in Bishop’s 2003 breakout hit Des Bishop’s Work Experience), Des filmed his docu-comedy Made in China for RTE, which he is now performing at the Soho Theatre.
Comedians often talk about the awkwardness of taking the stage – the urge, apparently, to just mutter “I’m going to tell you some jokes now, okay?”
Bishop avoids this by exploding on, shouting ‘Pump It Up’ entirely in Chinese. We’re reminded that in Irish culture, Des is the captain of the football team, the Homecoming King and Danny from Grease.
It’s hard not to regard him with initial suspicion, because his very American-ness - wide smiles, open enthusiasm, the kind of blue-collar manners that leads you to suspect he stands up when elders enter the room - should be completely at odds with the Irish voice. And rest assured: the Soho room is at least 70% Irish.
Yet, we love him. We love him because we understand him, and because he understands us. Because after much to-ing and fro-ing on the matter, we accept him as one of our own.
All it takes is a well-timed Abrekebabra joke from Bishop to erupt an Irish crow into peels of laughter. He has an odd sense of responsibility toward us, and will deftly throw in an Irish joke when he senses the crowd slipping.
And they easily could: as Bishop points out himself, his entire act is essentially “an overlong TED talk about Chinese tones – look, I have a laser pointer, and everything.”
Be that as it may, Bishop is never boring. His energy, wit and patent love of the ridiculousness sells both Made in China and China as a retirement destination.
Although at times his set feels a little like a student telling you about his “really really amazing” gap year, its not tiresome.
In a landscape driven by cynical comedy, Bishops enthusiasm and sincerity is touching.
He’s moved to tears by Chinese folk singers, deeply hateful of his toddler landlord, and hungry, always to discover the world anew.