Dubliner Al Porter combines old-school showmanship with searing comedy, and has sold 32,000 tickets of a national tour, says Kevin O’Neill
ON STAGE, Ireland’s brightest rising comedy star is loud, brash, unashamedly camp and hilarious. He is also renowned for being brutally honest, so it is no surprise that, off-stage, Al Porter is the same.
The 23-year-old Dubliner has shot to prominence in Ireland and the UK over the last two years. With influences ranging from Bruce Forsythe to Louis CK, the Tallaght-born comedian delights in self-deprecating humour and anecdotes about family and friends.
The result is a national tour of some 32,000 tickets, award nominations at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, and an upcoming tour in Australia. He is the youngest person to sell out Dublin’s Vicar Street, and with his very first headline show.
“To be honest, I am an entirely useless human being,” he says. “Seriously, I have no skills. I cannot cook, I cannot drive, I cannot reproduce — arguably! All I do is talk from morning to night, and a friend of mine recently told me that I talk in my sleep, too. You’d think I’d take a break, even for six hours!”
In 2015, he stayed with comic Karl Spain in Edinburgh, relying on his ‘comedy father’ to wash clothes and clean up after him. At this year’s festival, he was without a roommate and had to adapt.
“I just bought new shirts when I needed them,” Porter said with a sheepish grin. “Seriously, man, I’m useless.”
That time in Scotland wasn’t wasted, though. Porter spent weeks paring down and perfecting his new material, which was nominated for Best Show at the end of the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Graham Norton is a former winner, while Dylan Moran and Tommy Tiernan are former nominees.
That material will make up the bulk of the coming Irish tour.
Porter will spend the next two months in the back of a van, touring Ireland. “I can’t wait to hit the road and spend a few weeks in a van and just meet some new people. I am really excited.
“I’ve done it the right way around, this time. You have to find your rhythm as a comic.
“Last year, I toured Ireland before Edinburgh. This year, I did Edinburgh first. You gig every day, four times a day — I did 150 shows in a month. By virtue of doing it so often, the show becomes really tight and just better than it has ever been. I feel like I am bringing the best possible show to everyone.”
It touches on a lot of the same themes as his previous work — family, friends, ambitions — but includes a raft of new surprises, too.
He will be accompanied by an eight-piece band, the Sugarcubes, best-known as Linda Martin and Johnny Logan’s backing band in the Eurovision.
In addition, there will be Cork-specific anecdotes for his Leeside shows, including a trip to a nightclub with the O’Donovan brothers, on the back of their Olympic rowing success. “The hangover was surreal. I felt like I had been rowing for days,” he joked.
Previous gigs in Cork have been eventful. Porter recalls a show at City Limits, where he was joined on stage by an audience member who was an opera singer. “We sang ‘Nessun Dorma’ together,” he laughs.
Another show, in De Barra’s, ended with the comedian accidentally outing a gay audience member to his parents, over the phone. “That was awkward,” he said. “But, then, the guy’s dad just said, ‘Sure, we knew you were gay and we love you all the same, son’. It ended up as a really powerful coming-out moment.”
He added: “Cork people and I are very similar: we love to talk about ourselves. So I will have something special in store. Maybe I’ll just read from that day’s Echo?”
Porter is a showman. He channels classic entertainers, like Forsythe, in marrying song and dance and comedy, but there has to be a punchline.
“Old-fashioned entertainers don’t exist anymore, that’s just how people like their entertainment now. There has to be a punchline, that’s important. So, people don’t have to worry about me just singing Tom Jones covers and walking off stage,” he said.
Porter cites Cork’s own Graham Norton, Niall Tóibín, and Danny La Rue as huge influences on his comedy.
He said: “Three of my idols are from Cork, and that’s not to be facetious: Danny La Rue, Graham Norton, and Niall Tóibín.
“I love Danny La Rue: the most famous drag queen in the world at the time. He knew how to put on a show and that’s what I am trying to do — I am bringing an eight-piece band with me to Cork. Do you know how expensive that is? They aren’t staying in the van with me — the guards would think I’m into people-trafficking!
“Graham Norton is a huge influence. He has become this Parkinson-like elder statesman of BBC broadcasting. But people forget that he was very naughty, much more so than I am. He won the Perrier Award in 1993 — the year I was born — and his finale was to put on a tea towel and pretend to be Mother Teresa!
“And, finally, Niall Tóibín: one of Ireland’s best actors and Irish speakers. He was a brilliant comedian — if he went to the UK, he would have been like Dave Allen. Very dry, very funny.”
Beyond this trio, Porter draws on his childhood and background. He speaks freely about his father, Mick, known as ‘Mickopedia’ (“for having an answer to everything”) and ‘Matchmaker Mick’ (“for trying to get me out of the house at every opportunity”), adding that his parents are the source of his unbreakable work ethic.
Porter said: “I inherited my work ethic from my dad. He always said, ‘If a job comes up, take it, because you don’t know when the next one will’.
“So, I’ll do anything — I even plastered someone’s house once. I mean, it looked like the Ailwee Caves, but…
“I have never not been working, so I never have time to reflect on anything. But, it means I have accomplished a lot. I am at it since I’m nine!”
Since that first role, he has become a veteran of the stage in Ireland and remains a panto regular in Dublin.
He starred as a young Roy Keane in I, Keano at just 12, and took up comedy at 19.
From there, he has written and produced pantos, completed two headline stand-up tours, presented on RTÉ and 2FM, supported many of the biggest names in comedy, and became the youngest performer ever to sell out Vicar Street.
There is plenty more on his bucket list, he said, and he is expected to be on Channel 4 panel show, 8 Out of 10 Cats, in the near future.
But between now and Christmas, he is focused on his tour.
Porter said: “Yeah, from now to December, it’s all comedy. Well, getting the ride, then comedy.”
Al Porter performs at Cork Opera House on October 21 and 22. Both shows are sold-out.