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Waking hours: comedian and actor Al Porter

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Al Porter

Al Porter

Al Porter

I live at home in Tallaght in a normal, semi-detached house in an estate. It's right across from where my mother works as the parish secretary. My father works as a caretaker. He was a sergeant in the Air Corps, but he's retired now.

It's a real traditional family, which is probably unusual for an entertainer. I work as a stand-up comic, but I'm living at home because I'm only starting out. I'm still counting pennies.

My mother has to say goodbye to me before she leaves in the mornings. I'm such a mammy's boy. I like someone to say – 'I'm leaving. I will be back'. I guess I have detachment issues. I go back to sleep. I could sleep until three in the day, but that's usually because I stay up writing until three in the morning.

The first thing most people ask when they phone me is – 'Are you still in bed?' because I always answer with guttural noises. Usually, I'm not in bed, but it's just that I've no necessity to talk to anybody and everybody else is at work.

I get up and make myself a fry. After that, I might dance around and sing to the dog. That happens a lot. I've had neighbours ring the house and ask me to tone it down. I listen to songs to get me in the mood of entertainment. Also, I've taken up learning a song a day. It has turned into a routine. I love anything that tells a story. I think retention is a really important part of being a stand-up comic and an actor. Then it's emails and admin – all the dull stuff that has to get done. And, of course, there's also the obligatory Facebook posting, where I make sure that I 'like' things by whoever I fancy at the time.

I fall in love twice a day. A big part of my day is falling in love and obsessing about that person. I love anybody who wears a uniform – but not in authority; that would make me feel on edge. I like people who work in coffee shops or Eddie Rocket's or barmen in black shirts and black trousers. I'm so attracted to them. I can't help it. I think uniforms are clean, and I like cleanliness.

I go on dates all the time, but then they never see me again. I like to think that they've come from some troubled area, witnessed a murder and they're probably in witness protection, watching me from afar and they still love me.

After the emails and admin, I spend the day writing, and having meetings, and then I'll do a gig at night. But, if I get an offer to meet for coffee, I'm going to do it, because I wouldn't have stand-up material were I not out and about.

I'm with the Lisa Richards Agency, and they help me get the big gigs, but I do a lot of the day-to-day stuff myself. It doesn't matter how much talk there is about you, if you're not seen to be hustling, you're not going to get the gigs.

To write my material, I don't sit in front of the computer. Instead, I put on a jacket and tie, and stand in front of the mirror. I imagine I've been shoved out on stage and have to come up with new jokes. I'm interested in old-fashioned show business. For example, I don't call them bookings or gigs, I call them engagements. I refer to reviews as notices, and I talk about the halls and auditoria that I play. I could be going in to do 10 minutes comedy in front of 10 people in the Stag's Head, but, before that, I will be at home putting on make-up and listening to Judy Garland singing The Man That Got Away. It is pure fantasy, but I love it.

I couldn't do a real day's work in a normal workplace. I need the lights. I always say, 'Open the fridge and I'll do 20 minutes'. I think the stage is where I'm 100 per cent myself. I've just finished doing Beauty and the Beast in the Olympia Theatre. It was my ninth pantomime playing the dame, Polly Porter, and I'll be back doing it this year, too. This was my most successful year in terms of feedback in the panto. I think we have a cult following now.

Growing up, I had this habit of dressing up, be it in my nanna's old fur coat, my mam's shoes or my dad's uniforms, and talking to the mirror. I was always making up characters. Then it was suggested that I go to drama classes, so I did. I was quite academic at school, and I went on to Trinity to do English and philosophy. I thought it was going to be very Wildean, where people smoked and drank, and had liaisons, and did a bit of reading on the side, but it was so serious and just not for me. It was sucking the life out of me. I ended up wearing T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms, and I didn't get a haircut. I was miserable and, eventually, I left. By then, I knew I wanted to do comedy, but everyone thought I was crazy because I had only done three gigs. Now I have a residency every Monday night in the Woolshed Baa & Grill, where I emcee for students, and I am in the Laughter Lounge on a regular basis, too.

I get prepared at around seven. I'm always terrified deciding about what I'm going to say that night. A lot of comedians show up in T-shirts and jeans, but I like to get dressed up. I've always dressed this way. When I was a young boy, I'd only let my parents buy clothes for me in communion-wear shops, so they had to buy waistcoats and bow ties.

On the way in on the Luas, I'm usually a bag of nerves. When I'm in the dressing room, you know by the noise of the audience if it's going to be a good night or not. Then you hear, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Al Porter'. 400 people start to clap, the lights flash, they play the song I've requested, Macho Man, and I walk on in all my flamboyance. If your first three jokes are a hit, then you know it's going to be the best half-hour of your life.

The whole issue of being gay is not a joke any more. You have to make people laugh. I like to tell people what it's like to be a camp lad from Tallaght – I don't put it on. I get mistaken on flights for being an air steward. One time, a woman asked me for a white wine and, rather than telling her that I was a passenger, I got it for her. That's how polite I am.

When I get home, I'll have a pizza and then I'll burn the ears off my mother to tell her how it went. In bed, I often listen back to the show – I tape it on my Dictaphone – and make some changes. You're never fully happy with it. Then, to unwind, I'll put on some Barbra Streisand. How cliched, I know. My final thoughts before I go to sleep are I enjoyed that gig and can't wait for the next one – and I hope I can find someone to go on holidays with this year.

I love what I'm doing, but comedy can be a lonely business. I've such a lot of love to give, but that's why I do comedy as well. I give myself to the audience and I want them to love me.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Sunday Indo Life Magazine