Comic John Bishop is vetoing the quick laugh in favour of an engaging, in-depth chat with some of showbiz's most fascinating stars in his new chat show
You might think he’d settle for being one of the country’s leading stand-ups, but John Bishop made it clear long ago that he was up for a challenge. On his packed CV, a regular slot on sports panel-show A League Of Their Own sits alongside travel documentaries, his own variety showcase, and various gruelling challenges for Comic Relief.
Now he has a new goal: ruling the chat show.
Don’t expect John Bishop: In Conversation With… on W (Thursday, September 1) to be much like the quick laughs and high turnover of Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross, though. This is one guest for a full hour, with no audience interaction, no question cards, and no rush.
Of the 10 interviewees, some are pals – James Corden and Freddie Flintoff from A League Of Their Own, for example – but what links them all, from Jo Brand to Charlotte Church, Lenny Henry to Rupert Everett, is having stories to tell and backgrounds to explore.
Which isn’t to say that John has changed the relaxed and down-to-earth persona we know.
“I’m nearly 50 and I’ve been talking to people for years – it’s just doing what I’ve been doing,” he says. “It’s only two people having a conversation.”
What was the inspiration for the show?
“I’ve been on a number of chat shows like Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross and I’ve enjoyed them, but I noticed they’re driven towards the funny anecdote. Sometimes you don’t even get the chance to finish your sentence – someone else has jumped in because they’ve got a gag.
“It seemed there was a gap where you could actually learn something about people. Everybody who’s successful has a story – it didn’t just happen by accident, and it makes them interesting people.”
Anything else you wanted to do differently?
“The research chat, when they ring you up the day before and say, ‘We’ve got someone on who’s in a film about driving cars, so have you got a funny story about cars? And what have you been doing lately?’ I said there’ll be none of that.
“And there’s no promotion – we’re not asking them to come and tell us about their latest film. They’re not doing it out of an obligation, they’re doing it to present themselves to the world or because they just fancy having a chat for an hour.”
Was it a help knowing some of the guests?
“It probably allowed me to ask the questions that ordinary people wouldn’t, but you don’t often interview your friends, do you? I know James Corden and Freddie Flintoff pretty well, but when did you last sit down with your mates and say, ‘Tell us how you got on with your dad?'”
Were any of the interviews tricky?
“I did expect Steve Coogan to be more guarded because he’s been through so much in terms of being misquoted and so on, but he was a joy. It was Miriam Margolyes, to be honest. The first question didn’t come out the way I wanted, and for the first 10 minutes it was like getting to know someone. But, honest to God, by the end she was like my favourite auntie.”
What did you learn from it?
“The longer you talk the harder it is to edit – I learned that. And there was loads about the guests. You wouldn’t think Freddie Flintoff would be bullied at school, and there was Miriam talking about her dad or Rupert Everett talking about his experiences in Russia – moments where I thought, ‘I know you haven’t said that before.’ To me, that was the biggest compliment.”
What’s your favourite ever TV interview?
“Michael Parkinson’s first with Muhammad Ali, in 1971. A very interesting person being interviewed by someone interested in him, about more things than just the last fight.”
What’s the favourite chat show you’ve been on?
“Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 felt like an honour. It also feels like a therapy session because Kirsty Young just draws you in.”
Finally, who’s your dream guest?
“Robert De Niro, though I believe he can be quite tricky. Tim Peake would be fascinating, or Brian Cox. But I don’t want it to be a list of names because then it’s in competition for the glitter of showbiz rather than the interest of the person.”