I love Billy Connolly's piss-stained trousers | Al Porter's most memorable gigs

I love Billy Connolly's piss-stained trousers

Al Porter's most memorable gigs

Most exotic gig 

A lot of comics have colourful, curious anecdotes about unusual gigs in far-out places like Dubai, Tokyo or Norway (maybe not Norway). The most exotic gig I've ever performed was in North Finchley. I don't get out much. 

I'm actually a bit of a home-bird and while a run in Soho had its own allure, it wasn't too far removed from the gay scene I'd experienced in Dublin City. But the upper-middle class audience of North Finchley, London, was a far cry from the Working Men's Club where I got my start in Ireland.  Fuck me, they were tough!

I don't know how it happened, but a council estate lad like me (albeit a mincingly camp one) found himself trotting on ahead of one of Michael McIntyre's works in progress gigs. I watched nervously in the wings as Michael did five minutes (which turned into 20) before bringing me on – sweating like Lee Evans without the material.

I realised in his patter that this was an audience not short of a few quid with talk of extravagant bar mitzvah's and palatial homes.  I live with my Ma in a two-up two-down. 

I felt like I was gigging in the hope of adoption. 

Strangest audience member

Some punters feel compelled to seek me out post-show (not that difficult, I'm by the door fishing for compliments and phone numbers) and tell me that they're 'totally cool' with the 'gay thing' (thanks), that they've gay tendencies themselves or their Uncle's best friend's cousin is gay and we should be friends. That's all fine. 

A common line is: 'If I turned gay you'd be the first on my list.' Leaving me wondering why straight men carry such lists. The strangest I had was a man who told me: 'If I woke up gay tomorrow, you'd be the first on my list.' Does he think you can wake up gay? Does he think I'll ever wake up straight? Or does he think I'm caught in some kind of Groundhog Gay, waking up to find myself homosexual over and over to my own bemusement? Strange… 

Best gig as a punter

I love live comedy – if I'm not on stage, I'm near one watching in wonder. Doug Stanhope, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan have been among some of the best live gigs I've ever seen. The finest was none other than the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly. To watch a legend at work just a couple of years back, in the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin, was extraordinary. I love a good long show – and we got well over our money's worth, as Billy performed hours of hilarious stories. Still razor sharp, still utterly brilliant. 

One of my prized possessions is a pair of his black-and-white vertical striped trousers – gloriously pissed-stained at the crotch - that were given to me by an old friend and manager of his, Pat Egan. Pat had never taken them to the cleaners after a gig in Dublin's Olympia and gave me the gross gift one Christmas. 

Gig that changed my life

After an appearance on Live at the Apollo – with Noel Fielding and Dane Baptiste – everything changed back home, and in the UK. I did my first ever nationwide tour, a sell out run in Soho and got to appear on Sky Arts, and C5 with Kelly Brook and Carol Vorderman. That gig definitely changed my life.

A close second would have to be a hostel I once played starting out, allegedly run by the IRA, with an audience consisting of five Dutch backpackers. If I could do that gig and still smile, I knew I would never do anything else. 

First gig

My first stand-up gig took in a lot of firsts for me – performing in male clothing, telling my school mates I was gay (though that was obvious) and passing out in a public toilet. 

I was 19 and a college dropout but I'd performed in Dublin's Olympia Theatre panto as the Dame for years already (strangely started dragging up for family entertainment aged 14). My regular watering hole was Captain America's in Tallaght – a steakhouse pub transformed into a comedy club on a Sunday evening. I'd only ever seen arena comics on the television so I was amazed when I saw local comics talking about 'real life' for the first time. I knew I had to try it. 

I begged the promoter for an open spot and two weeks later there I was, clutching notes nervously, about to appear on stage as myself for the first time and not only that, to tell a room full of former classmates (from a fairly tough council estate) all about my first night gay clubbing!  Thankfully it was a huge rush, a great success (there's no footage so I can claim this) and I got so drunk I woke up in the gents. This was to become a recurring trend in future years.    

Al Porter At Large is at the Pleasance Courtyard at 22:40

Published: 5 Aug 2016

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