Friday 19 January 2018

'I think what I'm best at is just being me,' says comic Al Porter

Al Porter tells Barry Egan about being a creative "anomaly" in the high octane world of show business

Enigma: Comedian and broadcaster Al Porter. Photo: Mark Condren
Enigma: Comedian and broadcaster Al Porter. Photo: Mark Condren
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

A familiar head suddenly leans out the window of a parked taxi in Digges Lane. "I'm just finishing Chiquitita," the owner of said familiar head says.

It takes me a second or two to realise that the Chiquitita Al Porter is finishing is, in fact, the Abba song of that name playing on the car's CD player.

The furiously blow-dried Swedish quartet having finally finished, the young Tallaght Tornado of Talk is soon leading me to the roof garden of Today FM, where he has a brilliant radio show and where for the next two hours the gifted comic will prove why he is one of the most original, and funny, young men of his generation.

We sit in the ever-so-slightly drizzling rain; Al sings a snatch of Maureen Potter doing Dublin Saunter (Dublin Can Be Heaven), and says: "I f**king love living in Dublin."

Al talks about comic boundaries when I ask him if there is anything off limits for a joke. He pauses. Would Al do, for instance, a joke about Aids?

"I have never done a joke about Aids. I have never done a joke about homelessness.

"Is it a good joke about Aids?" he continues. "You see, that is the thing: is it a good joke? Like Joan Rivers had a very good Aids joke."

Impersonating Rivers, Al then tells the joke because I ask him to tell it.

"Aids? These guys are living forever now! In the 1980s, I signed up to deliver their dinners. You got Aids, I deliver your dinner, you die! Then all of a sudden you got these meds! And I'm knocking at this door and he's f**king healthier than me! 'Here's your dinner, Mr Morrison!'

And then he says to me, 'Oh, great. I'm just going to the gym!' 'The gym? F**k you! You've got Aids!'"

"So," says Al Porter as Al Porter once more, "that is a good joke. Joan Rivers is the butt of that joke. Look, I have never worried about making a joke that I wanted to make, but I have never wanted to make a joke about Aids or homelessness. I have joked about drugs. I have joked about broken families. I have joked about unprotected sex."

Later, still in the rain, Al in his own inimitable way will deconstruct himself and his method of working. "I'm actually very f**king good!" He roars with laughter. You can possibly hear his laughter across the rooftops of Dublin.

"But I want it to be better. I am in no way a master of the craft. But this is just a selfish, insecure thing, all comedians are insecure, that you kind of want to get your reviews from The Guardian, The Evening Standard, The London Times and you want to show them to any taxi driver that says you're s**te. But at the end of the day you can't please everybody and have your own audience."

And Porter, one of the most successful comedians in Ireland, certainly has that: his seven shows at Dublin's Vicar Street are sold out, on top of the seven he's already done.

He is playing The Marquee in Cork during the summer, as well as innumerable other sold-out shows across the country and beyond.

But despite the fame and wealth, Al still lives at home on an estate in Springfield, Tallaght, with his mum and dad, Marian and Mick, and his dog, Oscar.

Does his mother, who works as the parish secretary, greet him at the front with a fur Liberace-style fur to drape over his shoulders when he returns from a hard day scandalising the nation before running him a bath and warming his slippers?

"Not at all," he laughs. "We're very grounded, thankfully. So, no.

"The way someone like Quentin Tarantino approaches making his pictures is my approach to light entertainment: I know when I am referencing Frankie Howerd, I know when I am referencing Kenneth Williams, Larry Grayson," he says referring to the camp icons of British screen of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.

It should be noted at this point perhaps that Al Porter was born in 1993.

Did Al go to 'gay university' to learn all about these cultural icons of camp knickery that were on the telly before he was born?

"I was studying English and philosophy at Trinity. I was considering dropping out. I did drop out. I started doing these open-mic nights. I had never done stand-up before but I had done musical theatre and I had done panto," says Porter who was in I, Keano at the age of 10.

"What I think happened was I got up and started doing the stand-up. The only stand-ups I had ever seen were arena comics like Peter Kay and Lee Evans. I might have seen Michael Barrymore and known that he was funny at the time. So I started doing stand-up and the older comedians after the show would say, 'It's very f**king Kenneth Williams'. I didn't know who Kenneth Williams was.

"My mam and dad don't particularly like that kind of humour anyway. But when I YouTubed them I fell down a rabbit hole and I suddenly found that these are my people.

"What was it that Ryan Tubridy said recently, 'I'm a monochrome person living in a technicolour world?'"

And what is Al?

"I don't know what I am. I think I'm a bit of an anomaly.

"Is he a comedian? Is he a commentator judging by some of his stuff on Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge? Is he a presenter? Is he a pantomime? Is he musical theatre? Is he meant to be on radio? Is he a writer? I don't want to be a jack-of-all-trades, a master of none, but, if anything, I think what I am best at is just being me.

"I struggle with, even in my personal life," he says breaking off.

"I have such a vivid, 3D internal life. There is so much going on.

"I know me; I know my entire history. You know the bad things that have been done to you; the good things that have been done to you; the people you fell out with and the people you got close to.

"Most of us think that we're good people trying to do a good thing, you know? And then you come into the outside world and people only get to talk to you for a couple of minutes. I would say the biggest misconception about me at the moment is, I think, that people don't think I am self-aware."

Al Porter and Katherine Lynch host Rock Against Homelessness in aid of Focus at the Olympia on April 7 (with HamsandwicH, Finbar Furey, The Blizzards, Paul Cleary of The Blades, August Wells, Delorentos, Ivy Nations, and Danny Bracken accompanied by Paul Brady and Dave Fleming). Tickets from €30 including booking fee on sale via Ticketmaster outlets including the Olympia Box Office, and by calling 0818 719 330

Sunday Independent

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