The Chase: Bradley tells Lucy Porter ‘you’re ruining my show’
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“It was the National House Builders Awards at Cheltenham racecourse,” the pocket-sized comedian replies. “It was daytime and I had to perform with my back to the window that overlooked the course, so nobody could see my face. It was like I was on witness protection.
“I was just a silhouette performing to a load of inebriated builders.”
She waits a beat and adds, “I didn’t finish the set; I’ll go back and finish when I get time…” – a good builders’ joke.
Lucy goes on, “I do a lot of corporate events. I also did the National Parking Awards in a multi-storey car park which was impressive on so many levels…”
Lucy returns to Cheltenham on the 27th of this month, her birthday, when she turns fifty. “Better than having a do,” she says. “I hate fuss.”
This time she is headlining town hall on her Wake Up Call. “I do the show in pyjamas,” Lucy tells me. “The gag is that’s all I’m wearing for the rest of my life, I’ll never wear clothes again. It’s weird but also quite cosy. I’ve got brilliant slippers. That hour on stage is the most comfortable I’ll be all day.”
Mum-of-two Lucy was born in Croydon, south London. “Both of my parents were pharmacists, they met over a selection of pills,” she says. “Dad had a chemists shop in Wallington, mum did the books.”
She has two older sisters. “One is 12 years older than me, one ten years older. I was the afterthought.”
Comedy wasn’t Lucy’s first career choice. After graduating in English literature at Manchester University she set her sights on war reporting.
“I wanted to be Kate Adie,” she says. “I applied to Granada TV to work on World In Action and ended up on Stars In Their Eyes instead. That was my Sliding Doors moment.”
Her first TV appearance was on Russ Abbot’s Christmas Madhouse in the mid-90s. “I loved Russ! I was working at Granada and told someone I’d love to be in his show. The next thing I knew I was playing one of Russ’s daughters in a spoof of Pride & Prejudice and he was trying to marry me off to Les Dennis.
“Lovely Bella Emberg was my mum. It was the peak of my TV career…” – which includes every panel show going and two shots at Celebrity Mastermind; she won the second time when her specialist subject was Victoria Wood.
Back at Granada, she worked on The Mrs Merton Show – “Caroline Aherne was my mentor, she was a phenomenal talent. I was tentatively thinking of trying stand-up and she and Craig Cash were lovely and supportive.”
She did her first gig in 1999 at the Alexander Jazz Café in Chester, “I didn’t want anyone who knew me to see it, just in case. They had two ‘comedy cops’ who stopped you if you were dying, like a gong show. I managed to survive…”
Once on the comedy circuit, with the likes of John Thomson, Johnny Vegas and Steve Coogan, she never stopped.
“My most prestigious gig ever was Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas,” she tells me. “Following in the footsteps of Elvis…It sounds grand but it was a little conference room. It was for an HBO Comedy Special. It went okay but they were slightly confused by my references to Hobnobs.”
On her second time in Sin City, Lucy found herself sharing a hotel hot tub with the late James Gandolfini of The Sopranos. “A very hairy man. I wish I had a better anecdote from it, but we just exchanged pleasantries.
“I did NBC’s Last Comic Standing in Florida too, it was so boring I don’t think they ever showed it. On the plus side, three days in Miami…”
Working, and holidaying, abroad fills her with dread. She fell off a ski-lift in Switzerland, closed down a pool in Singapore by sunbathing topless and survived a kidnap attempt in Athens.
“I booked a taxi to take me to the Acropolis and he demanded all my money with menaces.
“I don’t know why I ever leave the country,” she says. “On holiday, everyone else’s bags turn up but not mine.
I had a gig in the Seychelles. I arrive at a five-star hotel, the bags do not. I had no swimwear, nothing to change into, still in the clothes I wore on the flight…
“People were looking at me thinking, ‘Why is this weird tramp hanging around like a bad smell?’ It was 2016, the year my dad died.”
Lucy lives near Harrow, northwest London, with her husband, actor Justin Edwards.
“We met at the Edinburgh Festival in the early 2000s. He’d gone to Manchester Uni too but we hadn’t known each other. We became mates and drinking buddies first. It was a slow-burn courtship.
“Then I went to a gig he was doing which ended with him and another comic shirtless and wrestling. It was very homo-erotic! We had a romantic date that night… not quite sure how I’ll edit that when the children ask…”
Both her daughter and her son resemble their father. “I’ve been ethnically cleansed from my own bloodline,” she laughs.
Justin is 6ft 5, Lucy is 4ft 11. “In the bedroom, we’re like a ventriloquist act that’s gone to a very dark place,” she jokes.
They’re happily married despite her carelessness. “I’m a terrible timekeeper and I lose everything all the time,” she admits. “I live on the edge of another dimension you see and things slip through.
“I also forget my keys, getting my husband up at 2am after a gig. I’m a forgetful incompetent nightmare but therefore I’m also quite self-deprecating…”
They married at the end of 2009, forcing her to substantially re-write her Fringe show Fool’s Gold. “The whole show was about how I didn’t want a gold ring; I didn’t want to get married…It ruined the show.”
They bonded over their indifference to football. “He was the first man I met who didn’t like football. I think that’s why I married him. My dad was a massive Arsenal fan. He had a house full of Arsenal-branded goods. Now I have it all and people assume I’m a fan, but I’m so not.”
She did inherit her Northern Irish father Maurice’s love of comedy though. “He worshipped the great Dave Allen. I used to do a Dave Allen impression with a glass of whiskey and one of my dad’s fags when I was seven or eight – there was no Health & Safety then. His show, ’Allo ’Allo! and Hi-De-Hi! were the staples of my childhood.
“I saw Ken Dodd three times at Croydon Fairfield Halls – my Dad was a huge fan. Dame Edna was amazing. And we saw Michael Barrymore there at the height of his powers. He’d just come out and my dad was quite homophobic but when Michael did a bit about coming out even he had a tear running down his cheek…”
Lucy’s sisters used to sneak her into Balham’s Banana Cabaret comedy club underage to see people like Julian Clary when he was the Joan Collins Fan Club, Jo Brand when she was the Sea Monster and Jeremy Hardy.
“I was really into music indie bands of the 90s, Oasis and Blur, saw Blur at Reading Festival in 91.”
She was a shy teenager, who she recalls looked “slightly gothic and miserable” at local clubs like the Blue Orchid, “where the cool popular kids hung out.”
Her first public performance was singing at The Fairfield Halls with her primary school, followed by a comic routine in the Brownies aged “seven or eight” which won her an entertainer badge.
Ironically her 2019 tour Brownies, Be Prepared was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Since having children, Porter has broadened her horizons. She acted in West End and wrote the thought-provoking play The Fair Intellectual Club which spawned a 2016 Radio4 six-parter. She hosts a quiz-related podcast with Jenny “The Vixen” Ryan from ITV’s The Chase, and last year she had a bit part in EastEnders.
“I played Rita – my mum’s name – a ‘struggling single mum too tired to dress properly’. I turned up at the wardrobe they took one look at what I was wearing and said ‘you’re fine to go’.
“I’m sure the great British public will demand my return!
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“Mum and dad used to watch every soap going, even Hollyoaks in their 80s. Why? Why watch collagen-injected teenagers?”
Her ambitions are to appear on Coronation Street and to sell out the Fairfield Halls – “that’s my life’s ambition.”
Her latest tour will play theatres and art centres. It’ll be upbeat and feelgood, she promises. “I’m not controversial, my mum always said don’t talk about politics, sex or religion.”
She doesn’t attract hecklers, although she did once. Early in her career she played Up The Creek in Maidstone. “I had five minutes and immediately a group of lads started chanting ‘get yer t**s out’.
“I decided to conduct then, bringing up voices on one side and then the other. They loved it. I only had a five minute slot so that was all I did. That was it. It was the easiest money I’d ever made.”
Modern audience irritation include “people with new Apple watches, with alarms and beeps going off…
“But for me the best gig, in terms of pure joy, is always the last one.”
- *Lucy Porter’s Wake Up Call is touring now. For tickets visit boundandgaggedcomedy.com
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