In February 2013, Des moved to China for a year so he could learn enough Mandarin to perform stand-up to a Chinese audience. He even starred on China’s biggest dating show. Now he’s here to share these hilarious and unique experiences with you.
I possess a black sense of humour. Very black. I laugh at all the wrong things and make jokes about all the wrong things. This is not news to anyone, nor am I trying to inject myself into the review; I’m setting context.
Despite what some might call inappropriateness I have one achilles heel, that as soon as I hear my insides cringe up as tight as possible and I almost double over in awkwardness. My hand shoots to my forehead, I look away, it’s all too much. And that awkward factor is white people doing Asian voice. And I mean the stereotypical Asian voice that mispronounces Rs and Ls.
So with this in mind it was with some trepidation that I approached a show about a white dude’s experiences in China.
I needn’t have worried. Des Bishop is amazing. And I think an actual genius. Not like a comedic genius, I mean a guy possessing an insane IQ. He lived in China for a little over a year so he could learn Mandarin well enough to perform stand-up comedy. And he fucking did it. This wasn’t his first time doing that either, he did the same learning Gaelic. Who learns languages like that?!? Rain man. That’s who.
Des’ introduction to the stage gives away nothing of what you’re going to get smacked with over the next hour. He kind of gently shuffles on stage, but then as soon as he gets there he explodes. He’s fast and furious, his patter manic and aggressive, it’s amazing spittle doesn’t bathe the front row. But it never feels like we’re being yelled at by an angry guy, he’s just a very high energy comic.
He gives the impression of being rough around the edges, he liberally uses swear words, all of them, and his volume can go way up. But it can also go way down. His mastery of his own voice is very impressive. He uses tonal shifts, micro-pauses and speed changes all to brilliant effect, wringing guilty-pleasure laughs as he verbally abuses children, teaches us naughty Mandarin words and possibly is racist. We don’t know, because throughout the show he drifts into Mandarin. He does this after identifying the Mandarin speakers in the room. But this is never boring, it’s actually fascinating hear him drift into a foreign tongue ever so briefly, and then we’re really keen to find out what he said. But fuck us, he’s not telling.
There is a lot of him doing Asian voice. But it’s done so more reverently than mockingly, that’s not what we’re being asked to laugh at, it’s the content not the voice.
The show topic itself is not earth-shattering; New Zealand has played host to plenty of foreign comics – largely Irish and British – comparing their home country to New Zealand (I understand we have a short runway); but Des’ perspective is different because he’s a guy born in the US, who grew up in Ireland and is now in New Zealand telling us his cultural perspective on China. And I, for one, found it fascinating as well as genuinely hilarious.
Another reason I suspect Des has a sky-high IQ is that he weaves cultural, economic and historical observations in among his confused/amused observations of life in China. He holds a mirror up to the audience with regards to some stereotypes we might have of China and its culture and then shatters it with truth bullets.
He’s also immensely likeable. Not in a traditional way where he says nice things about us and the audience; he’s more the style of the loveable imp where he kind of abuses us, but then just like the father who works too many hours, we the audience love him regardless of our treatment.
His scripting for parts is brilliant. And I don’t think the audience noticed, there was one rant in particular that was incredibly long, with so many places for verbal trips. Des didn’t slip once. All the beats were hit, the words said clearly, the tone pitched perfectly, I actualled woohed. I never wooh.
If I had *any* criticisms, it would be that the show does attempt some kind of intellectual denouement about free speech that I didn’t think was necessary, and maybe he leaned on the fact that the Mandarin speakers in the room weren’t offended so therefore it wasn’t an offensive show more than he needed to, but this is genuinely a brilliant show and I highly, highly recommend you go.
4 May – 0 May, San Fran