Lucy Porter: “Stand-up is my one remaining vice…”
Effervescent, whip smart and – at just under 5 ft – absolutely tiny, Lucy Porter is a distinctive presence on the crowded UK stand-up scene. A familiar face from her appearances on Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, Porter is also an established comedy writer and has been a fixture on the live scene for the past decade, regularly selling out tours and travelling the world. After a two year break to deal with the small matter of two new babies (she explains that she’s spent 18 of the past 24 months pregnant) Porter is back at Edinburgh to perform her new solo show People Person. It has been officially described by her PR as “a guide to the human condition that draws on Lucy’s academic background as a student of social anthropology”, and by Porter herself as “the story of how I met my friend Sophie…but funny.” Whatever the case, given Porter’s past form, odds are that this latest show will be typically refreshing, perceptive and extremely funny.
This is Porter’s fifteenth year appearing at Edinburgh, and I wonder if she feels like something of a Fringe veteran. “You know, I talk to comedians who are going up for the first time and it’s hard not to be a bit patronising and go ‘Oh bless, it’s your first time. Come back to me when you’ve done it fifteen years running!’” she admits. “I don’t think I’m cynical about it, but I think it does get a bit easier the more times you do it, you sort of relax a bit and forget about it.” Porter’s advice to Fringe virgins is simple. “Don’t drink for the first week and don’t get off with anyone. Easier said than done!” Is this from personal experience? “I think we can say in all honesty that there are mistakes I’ve made!” Porter laughs. “I met my husband [fellow comedian Justin Edwards] at the Fringe, so that was a terrible…” she trails off. “You know, the Edinburgh Festival can do terrible things!”
Although she sweetly describes Edwards as “the funniest man I’ve ever met” and is quick to emphasise that having kids has been a delight, Porter is clearly keen to get back to work after hiatus, announcing that “the excitement of childbirth and the excitement of performing a new Edinburgh show are very similar!” Despite the Fringe’s reputation as a comedic feeding frenzy, Porter maintains a genuine affection for the festival. “God, I love it!” she says, with palpable enthusiasm. “I think that maybe there was a time when I was ambitious and competitive but after fifteen years at the Fringe it would be a bit tragic if I was still thinking ‘This will be the year I’ll be discovered!’ I mean, I go back because I love it and I love doing the shows. I enjoy being up there for the month although there is always a point about half way through when you think ‘Why the hell am I up here?’ I’ve really missed it, so I’m hungry to get back.”
Porter is renowned for her buoyant stage persona, sharp wit and candid material and People Person continues down that route, examining the effects getting older, moving jobs and having kids can have on friendships. Given her reputation for honesty, and the apparently autobiographical nature of much of her material, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Porter admits that she finds it hard to self-edit, and has been running her show past husband Edwards to check she’s not gone to far. “I did have a joke in my show that Justin said was too vulgar and I wasn’t allowed to do it,” Porter laughs. “But if audience members want to come and slip me a pound I’ll tell the joke that was too rude for my husband…” Is Porter un- embarrassable? “Whatever dignity I had went out the window when I had kids,” she concedes. “I don’t over-share, but I am quite candid. I’ve done so many stupid things in my life that embarrassment has ceased to be a problem.”
Growing up in Croydon, Porter admits she was a “comedy nerd”, watching Dave Allen with her parents and obsessed by Radio 4 comedy as a teenager. Her first experience of stand up was from radio, and her interest was immediately piqued by the immediacy of the art form. “I love all kinds of comedy but there’s something about stand up…” she explains wistfully. “I thought that it was amazing that you could just get up and talk about your life and no one was editing you, you’ve got complete freedom. It is the most complete sense of freedom.”
Such enthusiasm is typical of a comedian who seems genuinely every bit as cheerful and optimistic in the flesh as her chirpy stage persona. Throughout our chat Porter is friendly, personable and candid, and it’s only when I touch upon the difficulties of being a female comedian in a macho industry that she becomes temporarily wary, speaking with uncharacteristic care. “I have always tried to… I mean you always just have to do the best job you can do,” she says cautiously. “You know, you can drive yourself mad thinking about it. I think what’s nice now is that there are more female comics. There are just loads now, so we kind of…it’s just starting to get so much easier than it was when I first started.” Porter regains her characteristic optimism. “You know,and also I think people are just a lot more clued up. In the last couple of years, people have sort of woken up to sexism again after a period of complacency. I think we’re sort of back in the mindset of ‘It’s OK to talk about social feminism.’ Which is a good thing because it does then allow you to say, ‘Well it’s hard being a woman’, without people sort of shouting you down. It’s a hell of a lot easier than it’s ever been.”
A fan of the new wave of high profile female comic talent epitomised by Girls creator Lena Dunham and last year’s unexpected cinematic smash Bridesmaids, Porter’s advice for women in comedy is simple: be funny. “I think as a female comedian people always ask you, what can be done about sexism? And you just go, ‘Well, from our point of view all you can just do is try and be as funny as you can be.’ Because comedy television is sexist and there are sexist mechanisms in place. But you can win an audience over by being hilarious. You might have to be more hilarious than a man but it can be done. All the female comedians who have succeeded have done it. But that’s just what you have to do. Every comedian has to try their hardest to be funny.”
Given her frequent television and radio appearances, Porter is conscious of the ruthlessness of the edit and admits that her love of stand up stems from megalomania. “Stand up is so great is because you are constantly in control,” she explains. “Whereas with TV radio, any other kind of print media, you relinquish a certain amount of control… with stand up you’re really a hundred per cent your own boss.” Yet interestingly for such an established and singular stand up, Porter admits that she craves more collaborative work. In 2004 she appeared in a revival One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest starring alongside other comedians and Christian Slater, and it is this experience that she settles on as the personal highlight of her career so far. “I think the reason I liked that so much was because… the lovely thing about [stand up] is you feel you’re in control, but it is nice working with other people. And I need to do something [like that] again; an ensemble project.” Porter is suddenly wistful. “Maybe I’ll try and make that happen for next year’s Edinburgh. Now that I’m back in the game!”
After the festival, Porter plans to rest, but then she expects she’ll be ready to look at more ensemble work. “I think what I’ve realised from having time off is I love stand up and I’ll never stop doing it; but I do think it would be nice to work with other people again rather than just being a megalomaniac.” Now that she has family life to contend with, Porter imagines that she will be doing more writing than touring in the future, and she already has a screenplay in development with a film company, although she doesn’t think it will see the light of day any time soon. “Getting a film made is kind of like planning the Olympics, really,” she says. “You don’t know if it’s ever gonna happen.”
Yet despite these other interests, Porter is insistent that she’s not through with stand up yet. “I will always do stand up because I am completely addicted to it.” She explains. “Stand-up is my one remaining vice. I don’t take drugs, I try and eat sensibly now, I’m such a boring person! So the only adrenaline rush, the only way I get my endorphins now is yoga and stand up.” Ultimately, Porter’s game plan for the next year is simple: “No more babies and lots more comedy!”
Lucy Porter’s ‘People Person’ runs from 3rd-28th August 2012 at The Stand 1, Edinburgh. For tickets, see: thestand.co.uk.