WHEN AL Porter first discovered Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, he declared "I have found my people", seeing in their bawdy, innuendo laden, humour, a sense of mirth chiming very deeply with his own.
Yet there is more. It is this form of comedy, often seen as 'light entertainment', which Al argues, surprisingly, yet persuasively, that is the most aware of the life's darkest, most tragic elements. Such opposing forces - light and dark, comedy and tragedy - animate his new show, Al Porter: At Large, which the 23-year-old star is bringing to October's Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway.
"I've always had a love affair with innuendo comics like Howerd and Williams," Al declares as we sit for the interview over a Saturday morning coffee. "In the sixties and seventies you had to speak in double-speak. Frankie Howerd couldn't let people know he was gay. Larry Grayson would never have been host of The Generation Game were it not for that kind of innuendo. It's subterfuge and I think there's a very innocent and cheeky quality to it. The audience knew, they were not so naïve, they were enjoying the playfulness and I want to bring that back.
"I'm gay, and it's interesting for me to come from a generation where it doesn't matter what your sexuality is. There is a kind of novelty in bringing an antiquated performance device into your show - 'There's no need to take me up the wrong way!' and 'Oh we haven't had one in ages!' - people like the guilty pleasure of it and it's a great way to move from one topic to the next. It also adds to how over the top it is, so no need for me to have a big band intro!"
Al describes At Large as "thematically similar" to Al Porter Is Yours, but with a "more mature" edge, and "slightly restrained. I want to clean it up for the mammies."
"Al Porter Is Yours was me giving myself to you," he says, "it was an introduction, whereas with this show I'm moving on to what it's like to live with my parents, my ambitions, updates on Sarah Ward," he says, adding there will still be plenty on "working class identity, gobshitery, family, relationships, still light entertainment, still camp, forget about your troubles". Yet, in a new departure, the show will also allow in the darkness, but only so Al let the light of humour shine even stronger. "I'll be mentioning therapy, the Paris attacks, death," he says, "topics I would never have dealt with before."
It has been said a comic actor can easily adapt to playing a tragic role, but not so a tragic actor to comedy. Al understands this, arguing that 'light entertainment' humour is the most aware of the bleakness, the tragedy, and the dread.
"I studied philosophy, so if I had to nail my colours to the mast it would be Camus and the absurdist view," Al says, "the analogy of life being like a cliff edge you walk along, and you either have a fear of falling off, or of being pushed, or of throwing yourself off, but you just have to deal with it.
"In my serious moments, I feel the anxiety of the uncertainty of life in this era of post-economic depression and international turmoil, but no topic should be off limits, there is something funny about every situation. People laugh when there is tension and need a release.
"For me, I feel like a member of the Titanic band, we're all going down, so we might as well have a party, it's a bleak but fun world view. If I felt it less, I'd be a more serious comedian. If I was middle class and less concerned, I'd have a more serious demeanor. People like me, who are trying to be light entertainers know how dark things get in people's lives, that's why we are trying to bring the light."
Will Al ever present The Late Late Show?
Al's star has risen dramatically in the last two years - impressive performances at the 2014 and 2015 Comedy Carnival Galway, taking Edinburgh by storm (his recent run has just been nominated for Best Show at the Fringe ), dates on the London stage, and numerous appearances on Irish TV and radio. Regarding television, the question is now being asked, might Al one day become host of The Late Late Show?
"I'm not Boris Johnson. I'm not staging the coup yet! I'm not taking on Ryan, especially as he's such a great host," says Al. "It's not something I see happening in the short to medium term, but do I want to host a chat show? Yes! Was Gay only 26 when he started hosting the Late Late? Yes! Was that too young? No! Could I do it? Yes!"
Al co-wrote (with Karl Spain ), and starred in, a short comedy film for Sky Arts in the summer, and whatever about the Late Late, an Al Porter sitcom might be the next thing, ("I like the idea of a sitcom on a stage, in front of an audience with cardboard sets, and you can bring your ma," he says ), especially as he recently landed a development deal with Universal for TV projects.
"I'm working on some different ideas," he says. "Universal saw me at the Apollo and Soho theatres and offered me a development deal. It can be hard to take a risk when they don't know if it's going to happen, but they said, 'Here is a bank of notes, advice, and support. Take the time to put into it this.' It's great. It's like stabilizers on a bike. I liked the idea in the short for Sky so I might do that in a revised version. I'm working on that."
The past, the future, and the UN
Returning to Frankie Howerd, is it true Al owns something of his as part of a large collection of comedy memorabilia? "It was started by Pat Egan, who was a music promoter and who managed Brendan O'Carroll and Billy Connolly in Ireland," says Al. "Pat started giving me gifts, and people do as well, for birthday gifts. I have signed material by Frankie Howerd, Dame Edna Everage; framed posters of Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Ronnie Barker, Laurel and Hardy; a programme from the Royal Variety performance of 1904, bits of a script for the Rosanne sitcom, Billy Connolly's piss stained trousers, hand written scraps from radio scripts for Mrs Brown's Boys, postcards from Billy Connolly. I love collecting all that stuff. I also hoard stuff to do with me. I've loads of panto programmes. I'm so interested in the history of showbiz. It makes me wonder what people will look back at us as having been like?"
So what does Al think of the future? What does he think his 50-year-old self will be? "I don't think I'll make it past 27!" he declares, "if I do I'll probably grow a beard, go straight, and people will ask, 'What happened Al?' 'It was all too much!' My hope is that I will still be doing comedy, still be having that conversation with the audience, and hope age will not make me take myself too seriously.
"What's my greatest fear? Being taken seriously. What I say doesn't matter and I hope I will still think that when I'm much older. I picture a man with silver hair, an impeccable suit, lots of character - I'll be Francis Brennan basically - still entertaining and doing panto, with an unbroken run in the Olympia. If that works out, by the time I'm 50 it'll be my 62nd panto in the Olympia."
As we conclude our conversation, Al admits to a little known fact - he once gave a speech at the UN buildings in New York! How did this happen?
"I was 14," he says. "I used to do debates. It was for the Millennium Development Goals and it had to be about helping the developing world, gender equality, providing clean drinking water. Two students from six different schools in Ireland who had been doing the course were chosen, so I had to go into the UN chamber where there were all these diplomats, to give my speech.
"I was trying to be a little Ban Ki Moon. It was so cheesy, and as I was finishing, the guy who was looking after us on the trip, gestured to me to say at the end that, 'I'll be back" which I thought was cringe, but I did it, I said "I'll be back!" like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. Imagine! I did a Schwarzenegger impersonation in the UN! Where was I going? Oh and we stayed in the YMCA!"
Al Porter: At Large is at the Town Hall Theatre October 28 and 29; he will also perform at Gael GÁIRÍ, Red Box, Eyre Square (October 30 ); and in the Spiegeltent, Eyre Square (October 31 ) as part of The Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway. For tickets see www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com