Your only man... Why do other comedians bitch about Al Porter?
Al Porter is sharing a story about having dinner with the wife of actor Roger Moore. He explains how, through their mutual friends, developer Harry Crosbie and his wife Rita, the pair became acquainted over pizza at Crosbie's restaurant, with a view to meeting the 007 star later that night.
"It was all very proper," says Al. "My boyfriend and I were eating our pizza with a knife and fork, thinking, 'Well, this is really uncomfortable'," he recalls. "I was trying to make polite conversation. So at one point I said to her, 'Oh my God! Your son [who was at the table] is the spitting image of Roger!', and she replied, 'His father is the one before Roger'."
This resulted in a very long and awkward silence at the table.
Now most people would have left it there. Not Al, who turned to the woman, and ribbed, "Who? Sean Connery?"
It is this razor-sharp humour that has led the 24-year-old to become a household name in Irish comedy.
From being largely unknown several years ago to an IFTA win in the Rising Star category last year; regular appearances on British hit comedy shows such as 8 out of 10 cats, Michael McIntyre's Big Show and Live at the Apollo; and a recent nomination for Best Newcomer at the IMRO Radio Awards, he has successfully secured his place as one of the country's brightest young talents.
But, according to Al, not everyone is quick to celebrate his rise to fame.
We're sitting in Dublin's Westbury Hotel sipping a Beefeater cocktail and a green juice [no prizes for guessing who had what] and the Tallaght man is clearly in the mood to share.
Our seats are barely warm when I ask if he is on friendly terms with other Irish comedians, and he lets out an excited gasp, "Oooooh, I'm glad you asked me that because I have bitchiness for you," he laughs. "But, to answer your question: no. I don't get on with all the comedians."
He muses for a second: "I don't know. I often wonder if I have a persecution complex or whether it's in my head, but I do think there are a lot of comedians who don't like me. Guys who aren't very happy with how quickly I have got gigs - or what they perceive to be quickly, anyway."
He laments the fact that they wrongly believe he only started doing stand-up comedy in recent years and therefore doesn't deserve to make the bill on the big-name shows, when the reality is he has been gigging since childhood.
He believes comedians should know the hard work he has put in in order to carve out a successful career: "I don't mind punters criticising me," he says. "If they don't like my material, they are allowed to turn the dial on the radio, or pay for a ticket and say a gig was shite and tweet about it. They don't know what I have gone through to make it, and that's not their responsibility.
"But other people in the business should know that I am working my ass off. They weren't handed anything on a plate and I absolutely wasn't either, so it annoys me because they should know better. I'm like, 'Ah lads! You know how hard I work. You do know I had no personal life for five or six years to get where I am today'."
He continues: "I have heard rumours of backchat, and that it is coming from all sorts of different people. For example, people say to me: 'I have heard so-and-so say [things about you]'; stuff like that... I just wish we could stick to what we are doing and if you don't like it, then just leave it be."
I wonder if he attributes the sniping to other comedians seeing him as a threat.
"Ireland is a small country," he says, "and there are very few gigs so, unfortunately, I think, in general, comedians are competitive. There is the perception that 'your audience is stealing my audience', but I have always lived by my mam's advice: other people's successes aren't your failures."
I note the backstage biting is ironic, given that the industry is dedicated to making people laugh: "Yeah, it's a real conflict," he replies. "You can get distracted from the job at hand, which is to entertain people and write funny jokes. I love to park all of that, as well as the business and financial side, and stick to the entertainment, which is probably why I have more people on my little Al Porter team than other comedians generally have."
With four staff now on the 24-year-old's payroll - a manager, a PR handler, an agent and assistant - I can't help but wonder how much money the stand-up is taking in.
"I know it sounds like I must be rolling in it, but I'm not! It is a huge dent in what I could make, but it means that I can be 'the funny man' and they can be the business people, and I like it like that."
Still, he is by no means wet behind the ears on the business front. Despite recently being announced as TV3's newest star with his new show Blind Date, he is smart enough to keep his options open.
He he didn't want to be Mr TV3 at the station's new-season launch. "The landscape of TV and radio is too big now to nail your colours to a mast. These days, you can't say, 'I am an RTE star' or 'I am a TV3 star'. People sell shows to Netflix and Amazon, and presenters move stations all the time."
He has made it his business to remain on good terms with RTE bosses. His new Ballymount contract, he points out, "is not disloyalty. No one can belong to anyone else," before quipping: "except Derek Mooney, who clearly just belongs to RTE. But loads of people are in those golden-handcuff contracts in RTE where you think they are dead and then they just pop back on screen."
His attitude is a far cry from that of fellow comic Mario Rosenstock. The star recently blasted RTE as "classless" before jumping ship to TV3. Rosenstock worked extensively with the national broadcaster in 2015 on shows such as The Mario Rosenstock Show. However, in recent years, Mario says he has fallen out of favour with RTE bosses and thinks the way they axed his series was unprofessional.
Al has some stark advice for the impersonator: "Don't shit where you eat," he says. "I like Mario. I will be working with him again soon. I don't know what his personal experience was but, for me, what he said about RTE mismanaging talent was harsh... I feel for him, but I can tell you nothing like what Mario described has happened to me."
Al says performing still makes him feel like the king of the world, but fame has meant certain aspects of his work and personal life have had to change.
On stage, the outlandish sex talk was out. "It was a fairly conscious decision. I was sick of getting calls from shows like Michael McIntyre or Russell Howard and hearing, 'Yeah, we want you, but where is the clean stuff?'"
He realised he had to clean up his act if he wanted to make his name on TV.
"It's not very naughty," he acknowledges, "but it's still outrageous."
The fact that the new script contains a joke about a Rottweiler called Princess Diana says it all. "People will still think, 'Oh my God, I can't believe he just said that' without me having to talk about mickeys and arses."
When it comes to his personal life, fame led him to become more conscious as a single man in Ireland's dating scene.
"Someone might have only seen you doing stand-up and thought, 'He is going to be a laugh a minute', and then when you meet, you are really disappointingly dull and they are like, 'Why are we talking about politics?' So I had to say, 'OK, just forget everything you have heard and just meet me now, in this moment'."
I ask if it made it difficult to date or have a one-night stand.
"I shagged around a little bit, but I don't think anyone has an agenda other than getting the ride if they meet you on Grindr," he laughs.
Did his newfound celebrity status leave him in a vulnerable position in terms of people selling stories?
"It probably did, but I didn't think about it at the time. Now I wouldn't dare. First, I like my boyfriend too much to go offside but, even if we did break up, god forbid, I wouldn't dare. Absolutely not. I was young and reckless back then and a bit out of control. I was drinking a lot. I wasn't an alcoholic, but I was just very depressed and I didn't know why. My emotions were all over the shop, and while I was sometimes enjoying what I was doing, other times I absolutely was not. I was trying to fill a void. I wouldn't dare do it now."
Is that because he had a negative experience?
"Nobody ever told me they were going to ring the papers," he laughs. "They were probably embarrassed to admit they were with me, and so many of them were straight or self-identifying as straight, so they couldn't.
"There is a whole underbelly of 'low-down' men in Ireland who want you to keep [their gay dalliances] a secret. I have been at gigs down the country and gone to the bar afterwards, and the wife would go home and then they would start. But even though I often joke about sex, I wouldn't do it. I always found adultery and affairs seedy."
Would he have sent nude photos and videos of himself, despite being well-known?
"I mean, who doesn't do it?"
Does he worry about any of them coming back to haunt him?
"No, I don't think anyone would be shocked to find out a gay man sent another gay man a dick pic and received one in return. As Oscar Wilde once said: scandal is morality made tedious by gossip. If someone printed something like that or came back now, I would say, 'Alright, grand' because, believe me, I have never sent one and not got one back," he laughs. "And anyway, if I went missing tomorrow morning, you would probably be better off putting a picture of my dick on the side of milk cartons rather than my face - more people would recognise me."
Two factors have made fame easier to manage for Al, he says. "The fact that I still have my close mates from Tallaght, they all still call me 'Kavo' - and meeting my boyfriend has just been life-changing," he says.
The pair met when his boyfriend attended Al's gig with one of their mutual friends without ever having heard of Al before that night.
"The first thing I said to him was, 'Do you like men?' And he said, 'Yeah', and we kissed.
"We just clicked. He does his own thing. He is solid and down-to-earth, he is not into show business and he isn't flashy. If I hadn't met him, I would probably be driving some weird mid-life crisis car by now and wearing flashy boots, trying to overcompensate, because you do that when you are not personally happy, but he has made me very content and grounded."
Despite Al's phenomenal success and new love, I wonder why he still lives at home with his parents in Tallaght.
"It's really expensive. And I am one of those people who feels this could just all go away in a minute, so I am not interested in getting into a mortgage that I can afford this year and next year, and then what happens? Even if I have an accident, that means I can't work. How will I get money? It's not like there is paid leave or sick leave for a comedian. So that's what has kept me at home. I can't afford to buy a house or an apartment. Yeah, maybe I can afford it now, but would be fucked to pay for it three years from now."
And why not rent?
"Again, it's just so expensive. Why would I do it when I like living at home? It's only me, my mam, my dad and my sister Aisling. She's 30, a special-needs assistant and she's saving for her own house. She's very kind and quiet - in fact, so is my mother; my dad and I are the only loud ones, and even he isn't as loud as me. Aisling has a cat called Lucy that I avoid at all costs - cats' independence freaks me out. I love my dog. I wouldn't be able to take him with me if I moved out. I love Tallaght, too. I don't know why I'd bother [to move out of home]."
I wonder if it is a safety blanket, given the fear that his success might suddenly come to an end?
"Yeah, absolutely. I don't want to get caught up in the hype. Don't get me wrong - if suddenly magic happens and two years from now I have a gig on Channel 4 and I have a million quid, well then I will buy a house."
But you don't feel secure enough now?
"No. I could probably afford it, but it would just freak me out."
His boyfriend [he is keeping his name private] marks his first serious relationship, and he reveals it has broken a life-long pattern of unhealthy attractions.
"It stopped the pattern of me meeting people who I would inevitably fancy, [but the attraction would be] unrequited. That was my pattern since I was 14. If I couldn't have them, I wanted them. I was denying myself the possibility of getting with someone for a long time."
Where does he think the tendency came from?
"I have no idea. I also found myself fancying a lot of straight guys because I couldn't have them. It was probably because I wasn't as comfortable being gay as I am now, and if you don't like yourself for being gay, then how can you like someone else for being gay?"
I comment that his parents sound like they have a very solid and healthy relationship, and wonder why that experience still led to his unhealthy behaviour.
"They were good parents and they are still together and get on well, so, yeah, it is strange. But then again, my dad was a masculine army man and, it's not his fault, but we weren't as close as if I had played sport, so maybe there is a touch of that," he laughs. He adds, "But then I gave up psychoanalysis to avoid asking myself questions like that. Repression is the name of the game."
I wonder if his big ambitions also extend to his personal life. Do you want children of your own someday?
"Absolutely. But only when I am financially comfortable enough to support them. I'd like two or three kids, and it's something I would do regardless of whether I was with a partner or not. But, as I said, I would like to be 40 years old and have made a few quid and know that I could cut back on work to look after the children."
As for the other future father of his brood, he says, "I don't know who that person will be. In an ideal world, it would be the person I am with now. But life is life, so I don't know, and I don't want to terrify him in a newspaper either, although I do think he would be a great dad. There would be no point in being with him if I didn't think I could still be with him in years and years."
In the meantime, Al says, "I am really happy with what I am doing and the next stage has me pumped."
His upcoming projects are eye-watering in their number and scale. Wait for it: there are rumours of a potential Netflix special next year; his American agent has set up meetings with both Conan O'Brien and James Corden's teams; he is lined up to perform at both the Montreal and New York comedy festivals; he has a new BBC Radio 4 series called The Men Who Made Me, which will air to an estimated three million listeners.
He is also due to write a book of essays on thought-provoking subjects such as love and art; his upcoming pantomime Polly and the Beanstalk is almost sold out, which marks a decade of Al's pantomime performances at the Olympia -"I'll still be doing that when I am 60"; there's his new Halloween cabaret Camp Dracula; his new show Blind Date on TV3, which is already lined up to return next year; there are talks about his band performing alongside an orchestra at the National Concert Hall where they will perform well-known children's songs from Disney movies; a starring role at a show in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre and his new stand-up show Campus Maximus, which has received rave reviews in the British press.
With so much to be grateful for, it is no wonder Al also gives so much back. His recent charity contributions include a donation of €5,000 to Pieta House; a gig for Amnesty International at Vicar Street which raised an estimated €10,000; and another €10,000 which he and his business team are said to have donated to Comic Relief.
On a local level, Al also gave 150 panto tickets to children at a school in Tallaght and he has raised €5,000 to send pupils to the Gaeltacht. That's in addition to raising €1,000 to purchase sports equipment for a local school in his community and raising €4,000 following a stand-up performance at Al's local pub, The Dragon. The money was used to purchase an autism assistance dog for a local in Tallaght.
Although he is loath to confirm the acts of kindness, I ask why giving back to charity and his local community rank so high up on his agenda.
"My mother is very Christian and she would remind me that it's really important to remember that you are lucky, and you might deserve your success for working hard, but that doesn't mean that other people don't deserve it, too - she's taught me that life is not a meritocracy. Some people just get luckier than others. People have a little bit of responsibility to give back when things are going well."
Al Porter's new show 'Blind Date' airs on TV3 this autumn
Photography by David Conachy
Sunday Indo Life Magazine
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