INTERVIEW: Des Bishop talks Under The Influence

“Realistically I was hoping to get into some people’s minds like In the Name of the Fada did”, Des Bishop writes via iPhone from China. “I wanted to make some sobriety propaganda too because it is hard to be a non drinker in Ireland and I wanted to make it look attractive.” The stand-comedian has taken on many a television project over the past few years, but tonight sees his latest endeavour, Under The Influence, come to an end on RTE 1.

Under the Influence took a rather sobering look at our attitudes to alcohol in Ireland, the way the demon drink is sold to us, the impact it has on the people around us and our own personal relationships with the bottle. For the past four weeks it’s had us talking, and taken over many a Twitter feed of a Thursday evening. “If it had not become a talking point we would have felt we had failed” says Des. “It needs talking about.”

So, why on earth did he of all people take up the mantle? “I did most of my short lived drinking in Ireland”, he explains. “I know I am not a unique person. There must be kids in Ireland that feel like I felt. There must be kids that mess up big time too often when they are drinking. There must be people who have friends they worry about. I wanted people to know the route I took. You can’t have discussion after discussion about “those young people and the way they drink” every few months. I think eventually you need to tell a story some people might see themselves in. It helps when that story has an example of the potential you can have when you remove the thing that is holding you back.”

Over the past four weeks Des has challenged each and every one of us to look at the way we drink, and ask ourselves if our relationship with alcohol is a little bit intoxicating. Many of the issues Under the Influence brought to our attention were shocking for some, but for others the reality of our drinking culture was nothing new.

“In Ireland the atmosphere enables people to feel like they are being normal when they drink too much. It also makes it easy to disconnect your behaviour from the harm drinking too much has on society. So we hoped to join the chorus of people who are trying to motivate people to have less tolerance for the things that are bad for our society. It is just a drug many people enjoy at the end of the day. Like all drugs that enjoyment has the potential to cause problems.”

One of these hard working people, Mr Murray of Beaumont Hospital, inspired Des to become part of the solution, “He inspired me to find Hello Sunday Morning, which launches on tonight’s episode” Bishop reveals. The campaign aims to encourage people to take a short break from alcohol, and enjoy living life without being under the influence. “Everyone in the production hoped that after the series a few more people would be motivated to change the acceptability of problem drinking in our society and might turn to a friend who went too far and suggest that it is not kosher for that to happen on the regular”, he says.

When it comes to changing our attitude to alcohol, Hello Sunday Morning is just the first step on a very long road, but Des hopes that both the campaign and the documentary have had an impact. “Alcohol is meant to be enjoyed not defended” he argues, “you have to ask why do people get so emotional around the suggestion that our society has a factually based issue with alcohol use?” It’s clear even now, looking back at the Twitter feed from the last few episodes, that it’s certainly an issue that gets both sides going, though Des has largely avoided reading the stream. “Broad looks at twitter discussions are bad for your mental well being. It would be like drinking the water from the tap here in China. Guaranteed to make you sick” he says.

So, with another series under the belt, and a college course in China starting on Monday, what does Des hope Under the Influence has achieved? “My ideal hope is that even in the angriest minds we possibly planted a seed that a change in attitude around booze would be better for our society” he says.

“I know for a fact it is better for the individual. Not just for me who doesn’t drink at all but also for people I know who have a very healthy relationship with booze. It costs them very little money or energy or emotion. How many people when they are done calling me a yank can say that about their drinking? That example is what moderation really is. So I assume some people are afraid I might be right. I hate when people I don’t like are right, especially some f*cking yank.”

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