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Sunday 4 December 2016

Al Porter: The audience was 30 Tallaght lads in tracksuits saying 'Ye mad thing'

Al Porter
Al Porter
Rachel with Al Porter

Flamboyant and in-your-face, Al Porter is an expert in probing the discomforts of the audience with jokes about his Catholic upbringing, his working-class background and tales of his sex life as a young gay man.

However, the 22-year-old comedian wasn't always so mischievous.

"I wanted to be a priest," he says.

Despite now identifying as an atheist, Porter says he "appreciates Christian values" and explains how Mass was a defining childhood experience for him.

"The church, for me, was my first introduction to theatre. My family didn't bring us to theatre that much, they weren't into it, that's fine.

"But the real panto for most Irish kids was actually Easter, watching 'Crucify him!' and 'Give us Barabbas!', that was panto for me.

"The priest was all dressed up, there was call and response, there was readings to be done, you've got music, people were lighting candles and waving s**t and there's smoke everywhere - incense is basically dry ice - you've got a bit of monologue up there, it was very dramatic."

However, after realising that it may take 10 years before he could take up the starring role of local priest, Porter turned to the stage in the interim.

Rachel with Al Porter
Rachel with Al Porter

Pantomime

After successfully taking part in an open audition for the Olympia's Christmas pantomime Bugsy Malone at age 11, the young Al Porter was hooked.

He has performed in 11 pantomimes in the past 12 years and has played the "Dame" - a female character that's played by a man - since he was 14.

"They used to put [a section] in the script called 'Al's bits'. It's just the part where they know you're going to improv - they came to get longer and longer over the years."

However, Porter, from Tallaght, didn't discover his true comedy talent until he found himself unemployed as a college drop-out and "living" in a local restaurant, drinking late at lock-ins and doing karaoke.

He fondly recalls having a thoroughly good time "running the place into the ground".

At the time Porter was at a loss, however. He earned an impressive 575 points in his Leaving Cert and gaining a place in English Literature and Philosophy at Trinity College, but four months in he decided the prestigious institution just wasn't for him.

"I didn't enjoy it at all," he says. He disliked the academic course and found some students to be "snobby".

"'Are you here on a scholarship?' was the thing most said to me," he says.

When asked on an administrative form to explain why he was dropping out, he wrote "To tread the boards, darling".

He found himself on stage of his favourite bar one karaoke night, discovering a love for making people laugh.

Melodramatic

"It became a thing where I would sing There Are Worse Things I Could Do from Grease and throw myself around the stage in the most melodramatic performance ever.

"If you can picture this, the audience is like 30 lads from Tallaght in tracksuits and I'm up on stage doing Mein Herr from Cabaret, and they were clapping, saying 'Yeah, go on ye mad thing'.

"Then I'd be talking between performances and came to comedy from that."

One night, a friend got up on stage to do a comedy routine and Porter got jealous.

"A guy who I never thought was that funny in school got up on stage and had every one in rapturous applause and laughter and I thought, 'I'm funnier than him'.

"I decided to ask could I do it. I was so nervous I didn't do it until a month after, but once I did I was hooked."

The manager of the comedy night saw talent in Porter and took him under his wing, introducing him to the Irish comedy scene. Soon after, his career took off.

He has since sold out shows on his debut tour, appeared on 2FM and on Republic of Telly, Next Week's News, The Savage Eye and Callan's Kicks. He also recently sold out his Edinburgh show and has been signed by the agent of comedian Michael McIntyre.

But what is it that makes his material funny?

Perhaps Porter's comedy comes from his life experience.

Whether it was the student everyone assumed was on a scholarship in Trinity or the camp cosmopolitan gay man who wore double-breasted suits and sang Broadway songs in Tallaght, Al has always been slightly at odds with his social circle. Yet he has taken those imposed weaknesses and turned them into a fierce armour.

"I've always enjoyed the contradictions. That's where the fun is," he says.

But while Porter says he enjoys the "mischief of it all", he adds that the stage is the only place he feels truly authentic.

"That was the point of my first show, Al Porter Is Yours. It was saying 'This is me in all my camp working-class glory'. For me, I only get to be myself on stage."

So, at the peak of his career with offers from television shows flowing in, what has Porter decided to do?

He is returning to the place where he first discovered himself, playing the dame once again in this year's Christmas pantomime at the Olympia, having co-written the script with Karl Spain.

"It's called Freezin'. It's a completely original production, definitely not anything to do with any Disney movie ever," he says, with a smile.

Starring alongside Simon Delaney, Porter can't wait to return to his roots.

"There's buzzing choreography, slapstick, pop music and lots of shouting for the kids to get involved with. There will be ice and snow and glitter. It should be very special."

Despite his reputation for the outrageous, Porter is no stranger to entertaining youngsters, having worked as a children's drama teacher for years before his fame.

He'll be burying his sass in hidden jokes for the parents and focusing on entertaining the kids with chart songs and pop cultural references.

There'll also be friendly slagging of public figures - and Dustin the Turkey is even making a come-back as the director.

The Tallaght funnyman says he is looking forward to the show.

"I love entertaining children, I love their innocence and their honesty," he says.

Freezin' runs at the Olympia from December 18 to January 10. For your chance to star in Freezin' see Page 13

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