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Irish-American Bishop learns Chinese to break down comedy walls Fitzgerald does ‘Chicago’ double duty

 NEW YORK, Aug 15, (Agencies): Christopher Fitzgerald liked being in “Chicago” so much that he’s doing it again. The actor, who made his debut in the show last October as Roxie Hart’s put-upon husband Amos, has just stepped into the role of slick lawyer Billy Flynn, becoming the first actor in the show’s 18-year history to be contracted to perform both starring male roles. “Chicago” is a scathing 1975 satire of how show business and the media make celebrities out of criminals. Fitzgerald has gone from singing “Mister Cellophane” as Amos to “All I Care About” as Flynn. Fitzgerald is a Broadway veteran whose credits include “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Young Frankenstein,” so jumping into a long-running musical was no big deal.


Some might describe such a feat as like walking a tightrope, but not Fitzgerald. That’s because he was on a real tightrope last summer while playing P.T. Barnum in “Barnum” at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England.
Of his time spent nightly walking 8 feet off the ground along a 25-foot long rope, Fitzgerald said it caused “nightmarish stress” and was “the hardest thing I’ve done.”
The two-time Tony nominee, who has two children with his wife, the actress and director Jessica Stone, took time to talk about “Chicago,” the tightrope and why his kids aren’t that impressed.
AP: What’s it like being in ‘Chicago’?
Fitzgerald: It’s a remarkable show. The fact that it has lasted is because of what it’s about. I have a line where I say, ‘You’re a phony celebrity, kid. In a couple of weeks, no one will ever know who you are.’ Back then, there weren’t as many phony celebrities. Now it’s nothing but phony celebrities. There are no real celebrities any more.
AP: You’re Billy Flynn. Ever dream of playing him one day?
Fitzgerald: Did I ever think I’d be playing Billy Flynn? No. I never thought about it 10 years ago, five years ago or a month ago. It’s like that crazy.
AP: Do you ever get Amos and Billy confused?
Fitzgerald: I do have a bit of nervous energy when I hear the music to ‘Mister Cellophane.’ I have to go, ‘No, that’s not me.’ I have to check myself in that moment. But, other than that, I’m in Billy’s world now.
AP: What’s next? Velma?
Fitzgerald: Roxie’s next. (laughs) Honestly? I want to do Mamma AND Amos. They’re never onstage at the same time. That’s my next challenge. Then I’m going to do a one-man ‘Chicago.’
AP: Switching gears, how did you possibly walk a wire eight times a week?
Fitzgerald: The way to do it is to be at utter peace, completely inside yourself and in line. Completely calm and still. You’re trying to shut off all your stress receptors. It becomes this metaphor for life: It’s one step at a time. You can’t get off. You can’t take a break.
AP: What did your kids think of dad?
Fitzgerald: I don’t know if this is because I’m an actor with kids, but I was like, ‘What did you guys think?’ They were like, ‘It was good. I like the elephant.’ I was like, ‘But I walked a tightrope!’ They were, ‘Yeah, it was good, dad.’ They were just not impressed. I think it’s because I do this crap all the time at home. I’m constantly juggling and jumping on things and standing on my head.
AP: So your kids weren’t blown away?
Fitzgerald: I think if you grow up with actors, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s what my parents do.’ Only later will they be sitting in therapy, going, ‘My father walked the tightrope and was basically a clown.’
An Irish-American stand-up comedian has dramatically increased the size of his potential audience by learning to perform his act in Mandarin Chinese.
Des Bishop, 38, left his home in Dublin and moved to China in 2013 for a year to immerse himself in the language spoken by almost 15 percent of the world’s population.
The result is “Made in China,” a stand-up show in English that Bishop is currently performing to packed houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, where he says he can now enjoy “democracy, milk and sarcasm”.
Bishop told Reuters that his interest in China came from “a childhood obsession with kung fu movies”.
“The people are hospitable and great fun, and I thought this would be a great format to tell the story of modern China to the world,” he said in a telephone interview from Edinburgh.
He dedicated himself full-time for a year to studying the language and spoke as little English as possible. His biggest problem was the tonal pronunciation, especially when he began performing.
“In conversation you can repeat yourself, but onstage you have one chance and then the joke is gone,” Bishop said.
It took 8-1/2 months to get to the first gig, but since then he has performed extensively in Mandarin.
British actor and comic Eddie Izzard has already blazed a trail for multilingual comedy in Europe. After previously performing in French, he is in the process of taking his Force Majeure tour to audiences in German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic — all languages he didn’t actually speak, until made his mind up to prove comedy has no borders.
Bishop, who moved to Ireland from New York as a teenager, made his name as a comic by holding a mirror up to the Irish way of life. In 2007, he learned Gaelic, still spoken in parts of Ireland, though the potential audience is very much smaller than the one he hopes to embrace through Mandarin.
Bishop said the handful of pioneering Chinese comics who concentrate on straight stand-up rather than character-based comedy have quickly become hot property, despite the bureaucratic hurdles.
“To do an official live performance in China you have to apply to the censor and submit the material beforehand, so you’re basically told what you can and can’t say,” Bishop said.
“But all performers do under-the-radar gigs, small places, small crowds, and everyone turns a blind eye.”
Bishop hopes to share his experiences in China — from working as a waiter to encountering disbelief that he was unmarried at 38 — with Western as well as Chinese audiences.
“They (the Chinese diaspora) are more open, and when I’m in a jam for a word, I can use the English word. They understand that, and I can almost achieve the rhythm that I have when I speak English,” he said.
“The stuff in English about China has also been a great success. I’ve been really overwhelmed by how interested people are in seeing a different take on China.”

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