It’s rare to find a comedian who is so universally appealing that they’re plainly destined for the arenas. But then Al Porter is very much a one-off.
Already huge in the Republic of Ireland where he’s had his own TV series and a regular national radio show on RTE, Porter is in the class of Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper and Vic Reeves for being hilarious before he’s even had to say anything.
When he does speak, the youngster who grew up on a council estate in Dublin is a natural charmer. He tells Loaded that “I’m a pub act who got lucky”, but that’s far too self-deprecating for someone who was born to be in showbiz.
And Porter – aged just 22 – is set for a career in the shiny side of showbiz as much as he is for being acclaimed as a stand-up. He freely admits that he wants to be a Saturday night prime-time TV host, saying: “I’d love the chance to do the shiny-floored light entertainment shows. I like broad, fun comedy.”
“Once someone paid me 20 euros to talk to crowds about sex, I was sold on being a stand-up”
A proper charmer, the sharp-suited Porter is a true performer even in interviews, reeling off hilarious anecdotes to explain his background. Of how rough his Dublin suburb Tallaght is, Porter comments: “The local bar was closed down. Before it did, the manager took me to one side and said ‘I hear you were engaged in sexual activity on the back stairs.’ I admitted that was true and he told me: ‘You and I both know you need to do that sort of thing downstairs in the kitchen.’ People didn’t use the kitchen at night. If you ever saw people eating at that bar, you just went: ‘Ha! Foreigners!’”
The son of a former Army Sergeant father and parish secretary mother, Porter’s parents are devout Catholics – a challenge, as Porter is gay and mocks religion on stage. As he says: “I say to my mother: ‘Look, God sent me to challenge you.’” His mother is “very quiet, diminutive, a humble woman who could be a saint,” whereas dad Mick relishes Porter’s fame in Ireland. “Our relationship has had a huge U-turn,” smiles Porter. “I used to not want dad to know I was a performer, or into guys. But lately dad says stuff like ‘I met this feller. He does drag – you’d love him.’ I catch him checking out guys on my behalf.”
That fame is set to spread to the UK with Porter about to do his first headline shows following an appearance on Live At The Apollo and a tour supporting Katherine Ryan. (“She’s so glamorous and wonderful, but my favourite memory of Katherine is her drinking gin in a can on the train between shows. Where do you even get gin in a can? That is not a thing.”)
Asked if he has to change his stand-up material for the UK, Porter responds: “Everybody can latch onto it, I think. Everyone can recognise a bit of themselves in the disaster that I am… My life is funny ha, and I turn it into funny ha ha for the stage. It’s not funny at the time when you go on a pilgrimage and end up taking drugs with a nun. At the time, that’s just weird. But then you see the humour.”
Drawn to old-school showbusiness for as long as he can remember, Porter began performing at home aged five, “going into the wardrobe with a sliding mirror on, putting on my nana’s old clothes and running out going ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be…’.” Those Porter impersonated tended to be veterans like Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and “the only five-year-old who wanted to be Don McLean.”
From there, Porter graduated to local pantomime, first playing panto dames aged 14 “when the guy I understudied got sick and the manager said ‘Put that child in high heels and push him on stage.’”
Despite that natural exuberance, Porter only turned to stand-up three years ago, when he was offended by a schoolfriend getting up on stage to do racist material at an open-mic night and thinking he could do better.
“I say to my mother ‘Look, God sent me to challenge you'”
Aged 19 at the time, Porter had dropped out of college and worked a solitary hellish day in a call centre. “Once someone paid me 20 euros to talk to crowds about sex, I was sold,” he laughs. “The only way I’d change to doing a normal job is if I still got the undeserved attention I do for stand-up. If I can still go on chatshows and say ‘Well, it’s been a really difficult month in the shop…’ and tell my whizzy anecdote about someone looking for a Hoover.
“I’m a shadow of myself unless I’m on stage. I don’t feel real in the Post Office, but I do when there’s lights on me. That’s when I feel vivid and vital.”
A proper stand-up geek, Porter owns signed memorabilia of Laurel And Hardy, Frankie Howerd and Ronnie Barker, as well as a radio script of the pre-TV version of Mrs Brown’s Boys and even a pair of trousers which Billy Connolly wore when he wet himself on stage in Dublin in the 80s. “That’s not exactly like collecting stamps,” Porter admits. “You can’t exactly ask celebrities to wet themselves – ‘Hey, Jonathan Ross, you wouldn’t mind pissing in these, would you?’”
Determined to eventually write a sitcom in the vein of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em or Keeping Up Appearances – “a comedy of errors, because my life is a comedy of errors” – Porter is certainly determined to be in comedy for the long haul.
“I catch my dad checking out guys on my behalf”
His ideal would be to keep doing stand-up until dropping dead on stage aged 80, having got married in between.
“If I got married, my husband would be such a pain in the arse that there’d be plenty to speak about,” insists Porter, who jokes in his act that he wanted to be a priest until he slept with one. “I’d love to be a big, fat man when I’m 60, dressed in a tux like Bernard Manning going ‘My husband is a lazy shit, he’s good for nothing.’ Sexist comedy from the 70s, just eating itself.”
If it’s hard to see the dapper Porter as Bernard Manning, then seeing him comedy aged 60 is certainly more believable.
Al Porter’s show Al Porter Is Yours is at London Soho Theatre on January 27-30.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn