Al Porter: A Work in Progress | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Al Porter: A Work in Progress

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

It’s a running joke how much we hear from supposedly cancelled comedians, and now in a converted church hall away from the main Fringe hubs, Irish comic Al Porter is plotting his comedy comeback.

Six years ago, he was on the verge of major stardom when it all came crashing down after four colleagues on the comedy circuit came forward to say he had touched them inappropriately at gigs. He lost his job on a national radio station and as the host of the newly relaunched Irish version of Blind Date. A subsequent sexual assault charge brought against him was dropped.

Many would be happy if he never worked again, but Porter’s new show serves to argue that he’s done his time and mended his ways. There’s no self-pity here, nor any attempt to explain away his misbehaviour. He knows he did wrong and says he has mended his ways – kicking the booze and coke that so went to his head as a young comic – and trying to make amends with those who went public with the allegations against him, to mixed effect.

Now he’s trying to rebuild the comedy career from scratch, likening his position now to that of a possible Sinn Fein government: ‘There’s a lot a promise for the future, but a bit of history as well.’

The section where he directly addresses his poor behaviour in his early-20s is necessarily sombre, but it’s the only few minutes that are. Much, but not all, the rest of the hour is dedicated to what he went through in the aftermath of the newspaper stories that ended his fast-rising career, gloriously upbeat despite covering his protracted lowest ebb.

Six years of therapy he’s had. For six months he couldn’t get out of bed because of his depression, and he piled on nine stones of extra weight – all of which has since fallen back off. Visitors to his parents’ house would speak of him as if he were dead, as he lay upstairs, and a genuine Catholic relic – the Padre Pio Glove – was deployed to try to shift him from his funk. Not to mention a tacky angel trinket he couldn’t wait to get shot of, more cursed than divine.

None of this is told with any flick of ‘poor me’ melancholy but as vivacious, irrepressible stand-up storytelling, drawing out every ridiculous detail of these extraordinary situations. Personal low points are reclaimed as comedy high points, retold with his tornado-force delivery that it’s hard to resist.

He retains some of the old-school camp that made his name, despite it being a tricky angle to pull off given the circumstances of his downfall. Camp is supposed to be a non-threatening form of sexuality, after all.

An early, offhand joke about Phillip Schofield lands a little awkwardly as it feels too close to home, but otherwise he uses his playfully teasing crowd work to make amusing running jokes about a possible age-gap relationship on the front row and assuming another woman is a drag queen. ‘You look lovely, but you mightn’t be bright,’ he teases the youngest of the couple, setting up a running joke. He can still be inappropriate on this mischievous level and get away with it with his perma-smile charm.

In his material, he paints wittily vivid pictures of his family and their relatives in the South Dublin satellite town of Tallaght. The elderly aunt who kept referring to one family as ‘The Hoares’ makes for immature, but very funny, misunderstandings, and his dimwitted best mate is delight. Since Porter’s work is always likely to be compared to departed gay comedians, we can say this is worthy of the peculiar cast of characters Larry Grayson use to conjure up.

Other stories tell of how the stress of his experiences caused erectile dysfunction, how he spend some time as a child obsessed with a ski mask that made him look like a member of the Junior IRA, and stories of scary rides – and not the kind you find at Alton Towers.

There can be no doubt Porter has paid a heavy price for what he did, and it feels as if he deserves redemption given his attempts to become a better man. He seems born for the stage, certainly not the warehouse where he was working when all else failed.

Pre-scandal, the main criticism you could level against the dapper Porter was that he was all performance and little material. Well, now that he’s got a story to tell – though not one any comic would want – this work in progress has all the elements for a powerhouse comeback. If the public are ready to accept him and if comedians are prepared to share dressing rooms with him, his star will rise again.

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Review date: 25 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Just the Tonic Nucleus

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