Meet Al Porter, the new king of comedy

Just 23, and still living at home with his mum, Al Porter has become one of Ireland’s biggest comedic talents. After lunch with him, Marjorie Brennan understands why.

Meet Al Porter, the new king of comedy

AL Porter is sitting across from me in a hotel bar in Cork. He is blasting out a tune from Oliver, in full Cockney mode. It’s lunchtime, Porter is tucking into a sandwich, and there’s not an alcoholic drink in sight.

The comedian is telling me about his early start in showbiz.

“The first show I was cast in was when I was nine, in Oliver, at the National Concert Hall. I was the Artful Dodger.”

There follows a hugely convincing and full-throated rendition of the school concert perennial, ‘Consider Yourself’.

“I used to sound like Oliver, now I sound like Dick Van Dyke,” he laughs.

It’s the Monday after a busy weekend for Porter: he appeared on The Late Late Show and had a slot at Electric Picnic.

He is becoming a Late Late regular, and while the show might not be the cultural touchstone of old, Porter is aware of the influence it still wields.

“It’s a career-maker, an institution. Being on The Late Late Show is more nerve-wracking than being on Live At The Apollo or supporting Michael McIntyre. It’s also shared so much now on social media. It’s massive.”

After the show, Porter tweeted a picture of himself and presenter, Ryan Tubridy, with their newly-awarded gold cards for Dublin nightclub, Copper Face Jacks.

“I love the show with Ryan Tubridy — we’re both young fogeys. I like to tease him about his book on JFK not doing too well. He thinks it’s funny.

"One Christmas, I gave him a gift of a box within a box within a box — but it was his book, then another copy, then another copy, and my note just said: ‘there were fucking loads of them. Don’t worry about the cost; I got them all for two euro’.”

Also joining the party at Coppers, after their Late Late appearance, were the Olympic rowing silver-medallists, Paul and Gary O’Donovan.

“We had a proper night. They are what you call authentic. They’re incredibly sound, but they have great cop-on,” he says of the Skibbereen brothers.

The comedian’s star has been in the ascendant for the last few years, and he is still only 23. I laugh when he tells me he is mentoring a ‘young’ comedian.

“Well, he’s only 19, which is what I was when I started,” he says.

Comedian Al Porter’s comedy has an old-school, variety show sensibility, and and he is influenced by performers such as Danny La Rue and Frankie Howerd.
Comedian Al Porter’s comedy has an old-school, variety show sensibility, and and he is influenced by performers such as Danny La Rue and Frankie Howerd.

Porter has packed a lot into the last four years, including a quiz show for Channel 5 and supporting the hugely successful British comedian, Michael McIntyre, who sells out arenas.

“I’d love to go in that direction,” he says.

“The bigger the event, the bigger the suit you wear, the bigger the spectacle — I’m bringing an eight-piece band to Cork Opera House, and a big video screen. I’m upscaling all the time, in the desire to eventually do arenas, and those shiny-floor BBC shows.”

However, Porter still likes to stay close to his theatrical roots, and is co-producing, co-writing, and starring in this year’s Gaiety panto.

He is also in talks with a publisher about writing a book. Can we look forward to a warts-and-all memoir, I ask.

“No, I think they’re naff. I’m interested in writing something anecdotal, but driven by the narrative of my own opinion. I don’t want to be bound by timescale. I want to pick and choose. We’ll see.”

He enjoys spinning many plates, but does he ever worry about burnout?

“I hate taking time off. My work isn’t work, it’s also a hobby. I took time off early this year, through exhaustion — after the pantomime and the mad year I had last year, I ended up on steroids and in bed for a week.

"I could barely breathe, but I popped into the International bar to do a gig. What would you be doing sitting at home?”

Porter is an inveterate showman, inspired by the variety stars of yesteryear, such as Dick Emery and Frankie Howerd. While he is not inclined to lengthy and introspective monologues, however, you don’t have to dig deep to see the intelligence in Porter’s performances.

Earlier this year, on the RTÉ current affairs discussion show, Cutting Edge, he impressed many viewers with his sharp and insightful contributions on subjects such as mental health and social inequality.

“I definitely don’t see myself representing anybody but myself, but I think my voice is an absolutely blue-jeans, working-class voice. My nana was from the flats in Dublin, a bastard child, which was an awful thing to be in Dublin in the 1930s.

My parents were reared in Ballyfermot and my father left school at 13, joined the army to send money home so his brothers could go to college, an opportunity he didn’t have. I grew up in Springfield, in Tallaght, which is great, but I’ve seen, not even the economic inequality, but the cultural inequality.”

Porter did English and philosophy at Trinity College, but it was not a happy experience and he dropped out in first year.

“The questions I got in college — ‘you’re from Tallaght, are you here on a grant?’, and I’d be saying, ‘no, not that there’s anything wrong with being here on a grant’; or, ‘have you ever been mugged?’ and I’d be going red, because I had been mugged, but didn’t want to tell them. You could be mugged anywhere.

"I was there for about five days over four months. I learned more from the French films in the IFI, which are the only ones on at two in the day, when I was pretending to go to lectures.”

He still lives at home with his parents, in Tallaght, and has a large group of friends there.

“I drink in the Dragon Inn, in Tallaght village, every Monday, with a lot of my mates. There are people there who do drugs, who are single parents, who have mental health problems, people who are working in banks, getting married . . . that’s the beautiful thing about where I come from, the democracy of the social scene.

"There’s something there that’s not being represented even in Love/Hate, which was an amazing programme. You never had a scene where someone like Nidge sat down in a pub and someone like me was having a laugh with him — which happens all the time.”

While Porter covers a huge range of topics in his shows, he is not a believer in dwelling on the serious side of things.

“I’d like to think I have the same gag rate as the late Joan Rivers — if you don’t like this one, you’ll like the next one. My show covers family, religion, sex, dating, therapy, language. It’s just mad, silly, feelgood, bright, and fun.

"The reason it’s so light is because when things are a bit difficult, a bit dark, when you get up to entertain you get up to fucking entertain, to distract people, not to remind them of their issues.

"I admire comedians like Dylan Moran and Des Bishop — but Des might do a whole show reminding you about how alcohol is bad, or Dylan a show about philosophy. That’s not my audience.

"In my head, the people I’m speaking to have, maybe, been dealt a bit of a rough hand, they’ve saved up for the ticket, the babysitter, the taxi. It’s my responsibility to make them forget everything.”

He has spoken about how valuable therapy has been in helping him deal with his own dark times. What does he get out of it?

“I love nothing more than talking about myself. At the risk of not getting enough gigs, I thought I’d pay someone to listen for two hours a week, as well,” he laughs.

“That’s the facetious answer. Really, it helps deal with the anxiety and worry. It’s a very unstable career and you have to find coping mechanisms, which I wasn’t doing.

"The self-discovery element of analysis is great. You might get this nugget of interesting information, which might be heavy in itself, but you can turn it into absurdity.”

He is looking forward to his upcoming shows in Cork, home of some comedy greats who are an inspiration to him.

“Three of my comedy heroes are from Cork — Danny La Rue, from whom I stole a love of double entendre and spectacle; Graham Norton, obviously, who won the Perrier in 1993, the year I was born; and Niall Tóibín, a fabulous storyteller.

"Cork people and I are very similar, in that we’re self-obsessed. Me and Cork are ‘enough about me, what do you think of me?’

"In Edinburgh or London, you do a gig and stick to the script. But in Cork, it’s ‘here lad, keep it real, keep it authentic, you needn’t be coming down here with the west Brit nonsense’.”

As for his future endeavours, Porter is open to all avenues.

“I’d be lucky next year to have an identical year to this one, but stand-up is the bread-and-butter — and what I love. I’d like to get better at it, get broader.

"Doing a big musical is another ambition. I love Cabaret — the MC would be a great role. I also love Barbra Streisand’s new album — how gay — which has unusual duets with the likes of Alec Baldwin and Seth McFarlane.”

Streisand and Porter. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Al Porter At Large, at Cork Opera House, Friday, October 21, is sold out.

An extra date has been added, Saturday, October 22.

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