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Hamptons Life

Jul 31, 2018 11:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Des Bishop, One Of Ireland's Leading Comics, To Perform In Westhampton Beach

Des Bishop in West Hampton Dunes. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY
Jul 31, 2018 4:08 PM

Irish-American comedian Des Bishop says that, though he left America at a young age, he never left Westhampton.

It’s where he spent summers in childhood. It’s where he penned the book about his late father, “My Dad Was Nearly James Bond.” It’s where he had his last drink at the age of 19. And it is still his retreat when he is stateside.

It’s that lifelong personal connection to the area that has him excited to perform on the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center stage for the first time this Sunday, August 5.

Des Bishop is not a household name in the United States, but comedy fans in Ireland certainly recognize it. Mr. Bishop is an in-demand stand-up comic in Dublin and throughout the Emerald Isle, known for such television shows as “The Des Bishop Work Experience,” “Joy in the Hood” and “In the Name of the Fada” for the Irish network RTÉ.

He moved from Flushing, Queens, to Ireland when he was a teenager and spent the better half of his life there, but he has kept coming back to his family’s home on Dune Road in Westhampton—now the Village of West Hampton Dunes—to this day.

He failed out of St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows when he was 14 years old and, at the suggestion of a cousin visiting from overseas, he convinced his parents to send him to boarding school in Ireland.

“It was a good move, because I hated school, and I loved learning in Ireland,” he said. “Boarding school suited me, supervised study suited me, and learning about Ireland. In my mind, we were always so Irish. In my mind, we were really Irish. But then I got to Ireland and I didn’t know anything about Ireland. …

“Everything about my trip to Ireland kind of saved me, really. And the plan wasn’t to stay. But, then, you know, college is free. So it made sense to stay for that. And then when I got into college, I got into comedy.

“I actually paid for my final year—there’s not a lot of expenses for a third-level education, other than accommodations. So for my final year of college, I got cheap accommodation and I had a Christmas job, and I was running comedy gigs in college, and I was going up to Dublin on the weekends to do gigs. And I actually didn’t take a penny off my parents in my final year of college—until I had to stop gigging to study for my final exams.

“So, really, by the time I finished college, I was really a professional comedian. So, then I definitely wasn’t going to leave, because my career had already started in Ireland.”

It was back in 1989, not long before he started boarding school in Ireland, when his parents bought the house on Dune Road in what he said became known as the “washed-out section” after a devastating storm in 1992.

“We had four great summers before the breach,” he said, pointing out that his family’s home is not one of the structures that was washed away. “Our house is up on stilts now, but it is the same structure from before all that stuff. And then we waited. For two summers, we couldn’t go—summer ’93, summer ’94. And then they filled in the breach in ’95.”

A chapter of “My Dad Was Nearly James Bond”—a factual title about Michael Bishop, a once-model and actor who died of cancer in 2011—is about Westhampton.

“It was such an important part of my childhood,” he said, noting that the chapter includes pictures. “Especially because West Hampton Dunes looked like a war zone. It looked like Beirut in the ’70s.”

Nevertheless, there was still a small community that would summer there, including the Bishops.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Westhampton, I don’t know that I would have ever kept my connection to America. I wrote the book about my dad out there. We sold our house in Flushing—the house I grew up in is gone. So the only connection I have to my childhood is that house on Dune Road.”

Only in the past three years has the now 42-year-old began calling the United States home again, as he splits his time between the Lower East Side and West Hampton Dunes.

“I’m not really living in Ireland at the moment, but I still have a place in Dublin,” he said, explaining that he has made a decision to make a run at success in America.

“I still go back there,” he said. “I make a lot more money in Ireland than I do here. This is a professional challenge/risk. So I still go back to Ireland from time to time to do shows. Over the last few years, I’ve gone back and done, like, little mini tours. But I try not to be away from the States too much, because I’m trying to make a proper go of it. When you disappear over here, you go quickly out of mind.”

Mr. Bishop made the move three years ago—but only with the proper commitment for the last year and half, he admitted—after wrapping up a couple of years living and working in China.

He was in China from 2013 to 2015. He started out there making a six-part RTÉ series called “Des Bishop: Breaking China,” which followed his efforts to learn Mandarin so he could perform Chinese-language shows in Beijing. When the series was over, he decided to stick around.

“I just wasn’t ready to leave, so I stayed an extra year,” he explained. “I went back to doing shows around the world, but I was based in Beijing. So when I wasn’t doing Edinburgh, when I wasn’t doing Melbourne, I was back in Beijing as opposed to living in Ireland.”

He said it would have felt like a real waste to walk away just as he had gotten able to do a really good performance in Mandarin.

He had begun by putting on an English-language show called “The Humor Section,” because the gig was in a bookshop/cafe called The Bookworm.

Eventually, he was ready to perform in Mandarin and he took the stage name Bi Hansheng.

“Then I directly translated ‘The Humor Section’ into Chinese, which actually doesn’t make sense in Chinese. … It actually translates as ‘Humor Neighborhood,’ but it doesn’t have any connection to a bookshop.”

Though “Humor Neighborhood” found fans, and the brand still exists in Beijing, it was never allowed to become mainstream, Mr. Bishop said. “Because if it’s mainstream, then you have to apply to the censor. And we weren’t doing any of that.”

At the Barrow Street Theater in the West Village in 2015, he did a one-man show about his time in China, which led to The New York Times writing a profile about him. The article mentioned his plans—more of a stray thought, really—to host Chinese-language stand-up in Flushing just as he had done in Beijing. The response gave him the motivation to get it done.

“Suddenly, I got a lot of interest, and people wanted to talk to me about my comedy club in Flushing—which was just a whim. It was a random idea that I had in my head. So, I felt obligated to do it, and I did it,” Mr. Bishop said.

“But I wasn’t able to keep that going. It’s very difficult to run Chinese-language events in New York that aren’t a bit more like classic, traditional Chinese stuff. They don’t really have the trust, nor am I really connected enough in the New York Chinese community, for them to just go en masse to watch a white guy do comedy. Plus, I just didn’t have the comedians. I flew two guys over from China for that show—it’s impossible to make money.”

But he did recently do another Chinese-language stand-up show, this time with Ronny Chieng from “The Daily Show,” at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan.

“But,” he emphasized, “half the people who bought tickets didn’t know it was in Chinese. So we actually did a bilingual show, which, to our great surprise, worked amazing. It was quite the comedy experience, because the Chinese people laughed when we were speaking in Chinese; white people were just flabbergasted. The Chinese people liked the English stuff that was kind of about China. And the Westerners all loves the Chinese stuff—plus they liked the banter between myself and Ronny.”

Mr. Bishop credits moving back to the United States, and to New York in particular, with making him a better comedian.

“I’m definitely a better stand-up comedian than I have ever been as a result of moving back here, and there’s a ton of reasons for that. I guess the main one being, the standard is so high here in New York, and you’re surrounded by great comics all the time. It’s just a great motivation to be better. Plus, when you go back into the cauldron of 15-minute spots to audiences who don’t know who you are, you just hustle to win them over. You can’t help but get complacent sometimes when you’re already won-over when you walk out. All of that stuff has already been a win.”

He pointed out that he already had connections to prominent clubs and has worked with many renowned American comedians at large festivals—so moving to a country where he isn’t well-known was a risk but a calculated one.

“Not to mention,” he laughed, “who’s going to feel bad for the risk I took by moving back to New York, where I already have a place in Westhampton on the f---ing beach! I can gig at the Comedy Cellar, pop out to the beach, chill, surf, play volleyball. I am a member of the Hampton Hills Golf Club.”

He said that he pushed hard to get a summer date at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

“I used to go there when it was a movie theater. I know that place, like, a super-long time. I pass it all the time on my strolls—the Häagen-Dazs strolls up and down the village. So it just means a lot to me to be able to perform there.”

His younger brother, Aidan—who now operates the comedy club Mr. Bishop started in Dublin, The International Comedy Club—will fly out to be the opening act on Sunday. He, too, may have memories of Westhampton to share with the local audience.

Des Bishop performs at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, August 5, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

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