lucy porter

Interview: LUCY PORTER

Interview: LUCY PORTER

The top comedian on revisiting Balham for the comedy festival, growing up in Croydon and why she’s encouraging more women into stand-up…

It quite possibly all started In Balham for Lucy Porter. The Croydon-born comedian recalls sneaking in to comedy nights in the south west London locale, way before she was actually old enough to, inspiring her love for live stand-up. And she’s heading back there in July for the Balham Comedy Festival at the much-loved Banana Cabaret in The Bedford.

She recalls: “My sister used to live in Balham just behind the Tube so we’d go out to watch comedy. One of the first I saw was Julian Clary, when he was doing ‘The Joan Collins Fan Club’ and he brought his dog on stage – it was one of those nights that changed my life.”

Lucy, who has become a hugely successful act on the circuit as well as a TV favourite, grew up watching the likes of Dave Allen, Billy Connolly and Victoria Wood – the latter of which became her specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind, for which she won the trophy for Champion of Champions. “It was a real treat to prepare for that. Victoria Wood was an absolute favourite of mine.”

She also cites the comedy of Caroline Aherne and Jo Brand as being big influences. “My favourite at the moment is Lou Sanders. I think she’s incredible. There’s a lot of amazing comedians around – we’re living in a golden era for comedy.”

It’s hit the headlines a lot about the scrutiny female comedians come under and how some have been treated. What would be her advice for young women wanting to enter the industry? “Really there’s never been a better time. I mean, I’m always disheartened when I hear stories about predatory men on the comedy circuit and there’s still sorts of awfulness that happens, but audiences I think are a bit less surprised to see a woman on stage than maybe they were when I first started and it’s a wonderful way to express yourself. 

“Sometimes it feels like free therapy because you’re talking about stuff that’s bothering you and working it out by saying it out loud. Sometimes it feels like art because you’re creating something that you really believe in and you’re proud of, and sometimes it’s just like having a nice chat with your mates down the pub. So it’s a very rich and varied life. The hours can be hard and it’s not always easy, but if you think you fancy it, then it’s worth giving it a go because if you don’t scratch that itch, you might always wonder what if.”

Lucy’s career has branched off into film, playwriting and many, many TV quiz shows. She loves a good quiz, and runs a popular podcast on the topic ‘Fingers on Buzzers’ with Jenny Ryan.

She’s also taken her shows around the world with Las Vegas being a particular high point. “I was appearing at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. That was exciting. I felt I was following in the footsteps of Elvis Presley!”

But for all her travels, she has a fondness for the local clubs. “Banana Cabaret is one of the best places to do comedy. I’ve tried out new material there, and I used to run a parent and baby comedy event.

“And of course, the audience is discerning, sophisticated, and incredibly sexually attractive. So I always enjoy having that as a little treat.”

And what can audiences look forward to? “The show is called Wake-Up Call and it’s been inspired by little epiphanies and revelations that I’ve had over the last few years because obviously, we’ve all had an introspective and reflective time. A lot of my friends have been changing things about their lives: changing jobs or moving house or starting new relationships and I just thought it was quite an interesting time psychologically for us as a nation, as a world really, that we’re all waking up to lots of facts about ourselves.”

She says that she doesn’t sit down and write material as such but heads out on walks, talking to herself and recording into her phone. “It’s all up in my head, although I do make little bullet point notes. Then somehow the whole crazy thing comes together. It’s quite an exciting time getting a new show together.”

“Stand-up is so unpredictable, which is what I love about it, but you do have bits that you think are brilliant and then you try them out in front of an audience and nobody finds it funny, then another aside that you didn’t think was a joke people find uproariously funny.” So you modify it as you go along… “Much depends on where you are in the country, or the age groups in the audience… it’s just a weird chemistry that happens when you step on stage. Sometimes it just really works and you have these magical nights.”

As for hecklers, she has developed a way of dealing with them. “I’m not heckled much but when I get them I tend to kill them with kindness and especially now that I’m a sort of middle aged mother of two I have the ability to make them feel like I’m their mum telling them off for having a cigarette out of their bedroom window.”

Lucy lives in north west London with her husband and two children. “My husband forced me to betray South London and I send a huge and heartfelt apology for doing that but you know love makes you do crazy things and moving to North London is one of those crazy things…”

“But we’re out in the suburbs, near to Harrow, which I think is on a spiritual ley line with Croydon. And we’re near to Watford. Some places just feel like South London, wherever I go I always seek out places that feel like home to me.”

Croydon has featured quite a bit in her routines. “I have huge fondness for Croydon. We had the Blue Orchid nightclub where I spent many many nights failing to get off with boys which helped with my stand up. I wasn’t distracted by being popular or successful. And then we used to sit in Queen’s Gardens: we’d share a bottle of cider and talk about life.” She adds that she is still very friendly with her old mates there and pops back for reunions over a rosé.

When she’s not working, what’s her idea of the perfect day off? “I would spend the day with my children at a theme park and then hand them over to my husband while I go out to do a pub quiz with my friend Jenny, who’s a genius, so we would definitely win.”

Balham Comedy Festival 8 – 16 July. Lucy will be appearing on 14 July. After Balham, Lucy will be taking her show up to the Edinburgh Festival and out on tour.