In Tom Wolfe’s seminal book the Bonfire of the Vanities a stockbroker, a self-proclaimed master of the universe makes a mistake and watches his life unravel as a result. The book explores the gradual destruction of the self, his career, and relationships both professional and personal implode, as things go from bad to worse. In one of the final chapters the author brilliantly captures the surreal nature of having ones personal collapse played out in public, as the story becomes fodder for the New York tabloids
A fall from grace story in the public eye. What must it feel like to be THAT publicly humiliated? for that humiliation to be speculated on by journalists, and in pub conversations, your deepest fears released as fame turns on you.
Al Porter the young comic from Tallaght, unlike Tom Wolfe’s protagonist, has tasted the benefits of fame, and is only now seeing it’s dark side as it shows him the door. The Weinstein wave hit Ireland a few weeks ago and the dominoes fell quickly when the Al Porter story broke, with Porter being stripped of his radio slot, his Panto and his TV3 gig.
That he had so much to loose at such an early age is not lost on the people who watched his rise over the past 4 years. His peers watched to see if this fast climbing hero had a feet of clay, he did, and they reminded him he did.
It must be remembered that Al porter is just 25 at his next birthday, the youngest comedian ever to play Vicar street has benefited hugely from Ireland’s village mentality. The same newspapers that now slate him, wrote of his genius at every turn billing him as the next Graham Norton or Micheal McIntyre this is despite the fact that his high profile was earned almost entirely in Ireland
Unlike Graham Norton and others such Aisling Bea, Dara O’Brien, Ed Byrne and Andrew Maxwell who built their careers in the UK, Porter came out of the Irish circuit. Des Bishop who arguably kick-started a viable stand-up scene in Dublin with the International Comedy Club, is one of a few homegrown comedians to make a good living from his Irish profile. He got his break on RTE at the turn of the century and the circuit has not produced an act as nationally successful since, this despite a relatively healthy comedy scene in Dublin. The circuit like many things in Ireland and other small countries, is riddled with politics, provincial attitudes and cronyism, the result political animals trotting out cliche ridden Irish centered sets with little or no original material that make little impact here or on the more cultured UK scene.
Then along comes Al Porter his stage craft already earned from years with the Panto he immediately causes a stir on the circuit and things happen very quickly. His act is familiar but none the less grabs the audiences attention, a smartly dressed flamboyant gay cabaret act harking back to the 60s with the wink and elbow sexual innuendo at its core. He is gay and he is from Tallaght, easily accessible material brilliantly performed.
He seems to graduate quickly from the drudgery of gigging for a pittance on a Wednesday night in Tullamore and is quickly entertaining crowds in Dublin’s Laugher lounge and the International Comedy Club. Does he write all his own gags? Probably not, does he steal a few? who cares? he’s funny, but people do care, other comic’s care, as he skips by them into the better paid gigs and the national spotlight.
Another disgruntled group are the people who just find his humor vulgar bordering on disgusting, and here we get to the nub of this issue. Louis CK famously joked about finding places in his house where he could masturbate, a joke? not any more….Al Porter a flamboyant gay man, a bit cheeky, but nice with it….not any more…both acts dance on the line of decency as the audiences are invited to laugh at the dirty jokes while holding fast to the knowledge that they are just jokes.
Porter riding a wave from his Irish profile managed to get a plum spot on live at the Apollo in London, the Irish papers at his back. The next Micheal McIntyre or Graham Norton was about to blow them all away in London. To this day I’m fairly sure they put canned laughter over the track, which in fairness may not just be for him. This was an incredible opportunity none the less, one that many of Porters comedy peers would take your hand off for.
He opened with an Eddie Izzard joke ….Is He? isn’t He? …and then the punch line altered instead of gay it’s from Dublin…this betrayed an incredible naivety, to open with a joke that’s not your own is one thing, but you’re in London now, it’s the big time and this audience barely know where Dublin is never mind what accent people from there have.
RTE in their wisdom deemed him ready to anchor the Christmas eve slot in 2015, Al Porter could barely disguise his amazement at his good fortune…singing songs like ” If my friends could see me now”…well they could, and they were not your friends, and they were waiting.
Comedy is subjective but in my view Porters material that night was completely unsuitable for Christmas eve family time, lewd jokes about anal sex made uncomfortable viewing for a mature audience expecting a variety show. RTE were inundated with complaints, their response? change the channel! those who objected are made to feel out of kilter with the modern world. Al Porter’s act is funny and he is to be indulged as RTE’s latest golden boy. The next day Brendan Grace spent the day on TV3 delivering a master class in how to entertain a broad audience at Christmas but with 3 decades on Porter, he had more than an edge.
Not to worry, back to the warmth of little old Ireland, the warm embrace of village life where its alot easier to become a household name. Ray Darcy decides to bore the arse of people in the afternoon instead and pretty soon a slot opens up for Al on Today FM. I listened to 5 mins once, he invited listeners to text in as to what kind of sausage sandwich they liked…140k a year, money for old rope. Then TV3 and blind date, Porter as I’ve always suspected is not a true stand up and is right at home in this format, he was excellent.
Then came Weinstein and the knives were sharped, were these men groped? yes I believe they were, is that right ? no, keep your hands to yourself…but there’s more to this, they were comics, journey men comics on the scene way before Al Porter, an act that quickly passed them by in the ultra-competitive world of Irish comedy.
In a circuit where acts as nauseously mediocre as Neil Delamare represent success, comics can realistically expect to have a chance to get on TV and make a few quid, they do the shit gigs, they complement the right people, they perfect their fake laughs in the mirror and hope that one day they will be the ones doing well. The festivals trot out the same tired old names to headline, often the only acts actually being paid, Tommy Tiernan, Jason Byrne etc, and now Al Porter gets the keys to the clubhouse, the flamboyant Panto man who robs jokes! fuck him he felt my balls, I wonder who else balls he felt?
The result a wonderful hatchet job. Well done Davey Reilly and Co, your now famous for being felt up by the panto queer from Tallaght. You put on your own Panto this year, Davey Reilly as Brutus stabbing Julius Porter around the stage …tut tut…..in fairness this is probably my favorite character assassination since Sinn Fein took apart that smug bastard Sean Gallagher in 2011 again we can thank RTE incompetence for that debacle.
When all is said and done, I hope Davey and the boys enjoy long and fruitful careers unmolested by flamboyant queers and I also sincerely hope Al Porter goes to his room does his crying, dusts himself off and rebuilds his life, he may not be the next Graham Norton but he’s a human being.