Vicki Notaro meets Al Porter, one of the brightest talents Irish comedy has seen in a long time.
IF YOU were to see a promotional photo of the comedian Al Porter, say for his forthcoming Irish tour, you might get the wrong end of the stick.
With his retro hair, hyper-camp expressions verging on gurning and vintage suits, it’d be easy to think that this was some lad doing a Frankie Howard impression, donning the accoutrements of the past in order to stand out from the crowd.
However, it’s not a shtick. Two minutes in his company proved that however unusual he might be, Al is the genuine article.
He’s loud, he’s expressive, he’s hyper intelligent and he might just burst into song at any given moment, but he’s authentically unusual and one of the brightest talents Irish comedy has seen in a long time.
We meet in House on Dublin’s Leeson Street, the venue’s classic décor blending well with Al’s own personal style.
Today he’s wearing a cardigan under a longline suit and tie, and a heavy overcoat.
Although the 22-year-old from Tallaght might look old fashioned, he’s a modern man au fait with social media.
Fresh from a trip to The Late Late Show where he serenaded Ryan Tubridy, he tells me he had an absolute ball acting up on national television.
“I was all over Ryan, flirting with him and singing ‘Just A Gigolo’. It was amazing.”
I tell him Twitter lit up during his appearance.
“Ah I’m such a retweeter of praise, and I think it’s okay because people realise how insecure comedians are.
“Imagine Tommy Tiernan being on the Late Late in the ’90s and Gay Byrne going ‘okay, here’s Tommy’s landline, ring him and tell him what you thought’.
“Can you imagine? But that’s what it’s like now.”
Al is a man who’s looking for love.
“I’m absolutely, tragically on the market. I’ve always wanted to be in a relationship, but I’d never been in one until recently.
“Finally, I was with somebody, and I f**king went to town on it. I knew his parents’ names, I took his grandparents out to see Mamma Mia. I was way too into it, which is never attractive,” he laughs.
“The last time I was in Cork, I played City Limits and I actually met somebody in the audience.
“But listen to this — I totally forget his name and didn’t get a phone number! I met him after the show for drinks, we had a laugh, he walked me to my bus and we had a goodbye kiss, but I don’t know who he is!
“So I want to tell the Irish Examiner readers, if it’s you, come to the Opera House show and find me. We need to find him.
“Wait and see, there’ll be loads of gay men going to their mates ‘here, were you with Al Porter? He’s looking for you!’”
Fresh from 30 nights at the prestigious Edinburgh festival, Al is still performing the show that saw him become the youngest act to ever sell out Dublin’s Vicar Street earlier this year.
“It’s exactly what it says on the tin — Al Porter Is Yours.
“It’s a show where I’m going ‘here, have everything, all the details of my life’.
“My parents jobs, my life in Tallaght, my sexual mishaps, and the fact I was going to be a priest. I’ll tell you everything.
“It’s very autobiographical and confessional, but in a fun way.
“I wanted my first show to let people know where I’m coming from by knowing who I am.
“I do it with a live band, there are songs… it should feel like you’re going to a light entertainment show.”
However, Al isn’t all sweetness and light.
He may be hilarious in a flamboyant way, but there’s an edge to his work.
“Well, that’s because of who I am,” he admits.
“I’m sarky, I can be grumpy…
“I’m a former philosophy student who’s a failed actor, I should be a total asshole, but I’m so in love with the idea of providing light entertainment.
“However, when I do that, it still inevitably comes with that edge.
“I wish I was Michael McIntyre, and it was broad, fun comedy, so I try and talk about my family holidays when I was a teenager, for example.
“But my experience of that involves a sex act with a waiter, so my life is never going to allow me to be that broad.”
Al has packed a lot in to his 22 years; fame has come relatively quickly for him.
“In the UK they don’t believe me about my age. I went on stage at Edinburgh and said ‘Hi, I’m Al, I’m 22,’ and there was a big laugh. F**kers! But look, I’ve packed about four years experience in to the last 12 months, so I feel it on my face.
“I love the idea of coming off stage absolutely shattered thinking that I couldn’t have left more of myself out there.”
Obviously not your typical 22 year-old, he’s curiously anti-establishment.
“As a kid, I took school way too seriously, ended up in Trinity, hated it and dropped out.
“I vowed never to do an exam again, I still haven’t done my driving test. I live with my parents — I have to!
“If money is my goal, I’m doing something really wrong. But they’re delighted I’m doing something I love.
“They were disappointed and confused when I left college, they thought then maybe I was going to be an actor because I’d done panto.
“But at the time they left a card on my table telling me to follow my dreams.”
When I ask Al if he feels like he’s made it now he’s playing big venues, appearing on RTÉ2 and alongside Colm Hayes on 2fm (“Our show is like the Killarney festival, moved for now, cancelled eventually!”) the former philosophy student reappears.
“What does that mean, though? This isn’t real. It’s very fun, but it’s not real and I just have to remember what I am.
“In old fashioned terms, I’m a turn. If someone is having a tough time, they can throw me a few quid and I’ll do a song and dance for them.
“There could come a time when I’ll have to go back to doing that in pubs. If I end up hosting karaoke eventually, there’s nothing wrong with that.
“As long as people want to come to it, I’ll put it in the bigger venue.”
He credits his mum and dad with instilling in him a good attitude to success.
“Nobody’s job is any more important than anyone else’s, that’s something I learned from my parents. We’re all just trying to make this thing work.
“Humanity is the swan, serene above the water and furiously paddling underneath.”
However there’s no denying that he dreams of playing the biggest stages, and has ambition in spades.
“Look, the bigger ones are more fun for me. I know exactly what I want to do — I want to put on the biggest comedy spectacular Ireland has ever seen.
“I want to play to thousands in the 3 Arena and have them all leave thinking ‘wow!’
“A two-and-a-half hour long show with music, confetti, dancers and loads of laughs.
“I like to think of myself as an inverse Bette Midler. She sings properly, but throws in costumes, comedy and nonsense for the laugh; I’m the opposite, I throw in a bit of singing.
“Because I know a show like that is something I’d eventually love to do, I don’t believe any hype.”
Al Porter Is Yours plays at the Cork Opera House on September 25, and dates around Ireland in October
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