by: JK Clarke
There’s a fine line between an extended-length standup comedy set and a one-man show. Perhaps the defining difference is that a one-man show usually encompasses a single subject or a unifying theme, rather than a range of topics; and the performer tends not to be a comic. But the line gets a little blurry when a well known stand up comedian, such as Ireland’s Des Bishop, puts on a “one-man show,” as he does in Made in China, now playing selected dates through March 29 at the Barrow Street Theater in the West Village.
Made in China is Bishop’s story of his sojourn in China, undertaken with the goal of learning and performing stand up in the Mandarin language. A feat, he reminded us, that would allow him to reach millions of potential audience members by capturing just the minutest percentage of China’s overall population of nearly a billion citizens. Simple math dictates that with minimal success in China, he could easily reach more than Ireland’s entire population of just five million.
Though his goal of learning such a very complicated language well enough to perform it in front of a paying audience within a year seems at best outrageous, he succeeds, even ending up on China’s most watched dating show (with hilarious results, of course). With a strong, yet self-deprecating style (and regard) reminiscent of the late Robert Schimmel, Bishop’s experience of traipsing through culture shock and the inevitable linguistic malaprops is the stuff of great comedy. He explains that because of the nuances of Mandarin, tonal mispronunciation of even the correct word could be disastrous: his Chinese name, given the wrong intonation, is one of the dirtiest words (particularly in American English) possible. But, it’s Bishop’s description of both his cultural experience and his eventual total embrace of Chinese culture that make Made in China a true one-man show, and not just a very funny stand-up set. It’s also a cultural touchstone, as his performances attract an unusual mix (in New York anyway), of both Irish and Chinese expats, all of whom clearly enjoy his tale, though for strikingly different reasons.
Taking stand up comedy to a foreign culture is not an entirely new endeavor. English comic Eddie Izzard, most notably, has exported his act to several different countries, including France, Spain, Germany and Russia, learning each language along the way. But, Bishop (who was raised in Queens to the age of 14 before emigrating to Ireland where he is very well known for his comedy), has immersed himself in Chinese culture, and brought a little of his uniqueness to the people there as well (which we witness in a slideshow of vacation-esque snapshots). And it’s this story that makes his one-man show both charming and hilarious. But when this one-man show is all said and done, Bishop also accomplishes the one thing every comic burns to do: he leaves ‘em wanting more.
Made in China – Performances Mon, Fri, Sat (2 shows) and Sun. Through March 29 at The Barrow Street Theater (27 Barrow Street between Bleecker Street & Seventh Avenue).
Photos: Pat Comer