Image by Andy Robinson

BN1 Chats with Lucy Porter

Comedian gives us all a Wake Up Call

“I’ll show you,” says Lucy Porter, suddenly bounding out of the room. I’ve let my curiosity get the better of me, asking the question lingering upon the lips of Britain’s teatime TV audience. Just how large is the famed Pointless trophy? She returns with the solid glass prize, also carrying her Mastermind trophy ‘for scale’ – clearly, she thinks I’m of the calibre to have one of those lying around the house. The cuboid in question is a handsome sculptural piece, about 10 or 12cm high, and not quite as monolithic as the TV quiz would have fans believe. 

“But what you can do, is if you put your phone underneath, it does this…” She grabs her iPhone, takes a few moments to find the torch function, and then pops the award on top. It glows enticingly, the light refracting and magnified. It would be unquestionably useful to take on moonless camping trips. “I’ve got two now. So, if anyone wants one, they can ask me at one of my shows,” she says with a laugh. I don’t have the courage to suggest she gives it to me, and then the moment is gone. The only way I’ll be getting one of these dinky little Pointless trophies is by going on the show myself and being able to recall every US state capital.

We’re talking ahead of her brand-new tour. It’s taking in a hefty chunk of the country, including Brighton’s Komedia on Thurs 2 March and The Hawth in Crawley on Sat 11 March – along with several shows in Havant.

Image by Andy Robinson

I ponder why she’s so popular in this quiet Hampshire community “Obviously, I’m the new Queen of Havant. Presumably, there’ll be some sort of ceremony where they’ll burn a wicker man.” She admits much of the tour calls in on places less than a 90-minute drive from her home in Pinner. It’s got great links to the M4, which is a bonus. But she confesses it feels like there’s very little of the year when she’s not zipping up and down motorways.

Previewed at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Wake Up Call is a reflection on the world. At the moment, it seems there’s more misery being heaped upon us every week, so she feels obliged to ramp up the jollity.  “I’ll put in a joke because everything has got a bit worse. That’s the beauty of comedy – everything is always evolving. As someone who gets bored quite easily, I got into stand-up because I’m not having to do the same thing all the time. If one night, I want to talk about my new hoover, I shall do that…” A Shark Power Fin, if you’re interested. It’s so pleasing for her to be at a stage in life where she can be delighted by small, but impactful, things like this. “ It doesn’t have to be a phone call from Steven Spielberg or a champagne dinner for two at The Ivy. A new hoover will keep me happy for a month.”

She suggests fewer ‘big things’ happen to you as you get older. “My shows have been getting increasingly middle-aged.

It’s absolutely a celebration of the mundane and commonplace, garden centres, hoovers and any day I wake up without a pain somewhere in my body,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s kind of like a midlife crisis management seminar. Although, I’ve been going through a midlife crisis since I was about 28, so I’m in a very good position to help people!”

We all have uninvited wake up calls we receive in life, whether it’s looking out for friends, bringing up children or dealing with elderly parents. Packed with revelations, sound advice and the occasionally spot of cheeky cynicism, the comedian, actress, writer and podcaster delivers a relentlessly upbeat show. Like almost every other creative on the planet, she has been influenced by the lockdown. The pandemic caught up with her last tour Be Prepared, inflicting the faint embarrassment of needing to put up posters stating: ‘Be Prepared is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.’ Those past few years have offered many lessons to learn, for all of us. Not just with Covid, but global conflict, the cost of living and how we treat each other.

“It’s a subtle drip-drip. People are suddenly thinking: ‘What are we doing? The world’s gone mad, everything’s broken and I don’t want to go and work in an office for five days a week.’ so the show is about that stuff, and also the things you learn as you get older.” One epiphany for Porter was that there’s almost nothing you can’t do in pyjamas. Including performing stand-up. So, expect to see her onstage in her most comfortable apparel. 

At a time when so much comedy is polemical or savage, she occupies a middle-ground.

Although it’s far from being safe or mediocre, as she’s given herself the room to indulge her whimsical side or unleash some well-mannered fury simmering beneath the surface. The show might offer some introspection and curt observations about bin collection, but there’s still time to ponder where society can go from this rather wonky point in time. “I think I’m just such a massive people pleaser that I don’t have the moral courage to have a go at the politicians. Perhaps it is a weakness on my behalf, but I can turn that weakness into a strength.” Her default position seems to be optimistic, always seeking that cheer in the bleakest of situations. But not to the exclusion of reality. Perhaps it’s a more cynical world-weary kind of cheeriness.

“In this show I’m quite scathing about marriage. That’s not a reflection on the state of my marriage, I should hasten to add…maybe it’s not cynicism, it’s just being tired. That’s how a lot of people feel.” It seems everyone is working on a hustle for everything all the time, and Porter finds it exhausting. When she was younger, it was a bit easier to coast through life.

You weren’t bombarded with expectations and other people’s stories of success.

“I look at young people now, and they have so much more pressure on them. What’s nice about being older is that you’re just too tired to care anymore. That can make you quite a good role model. You can say: ‘Look at me. I’m wearing Marks & Spencer jeans and my hair is home-dyed from Superdrug. But, somehow, I’m still going. You don’t need to be perfect to be happy.”

She suggests there’s a growing reaction among younger people against image-crafting and the fantasy of idyllic lives presented in the mainstream media. The ones she meets tend to be incredibly self-aware, funny and smart. Porter grew up in the 80s, a time of Loadsasmoney and a similar obsession about perceptions and image. “Living in the Southeast, you were expected to power-dress with shoulder pads and lip-gloss… like the front cover of a Jackie Collins novel. I looked more like the front cover of a hard-hitting novel about alcoholism and despair!” 

Aside from zooming up and down the M4 (at an entirely appropriate speed), appearing on a generous spread of BBC TV comedy and panel shows and regularly brightening the airwaves on Radio 4, she’s also found herself at the helm of a hit podcast.

Image by Andy Robinson

Presented with The Chase’s Jenny Ryan (who Porter boldly describes as the ‘funniest person to come out of Bolton!’), Fingers On Buzzers delves into the competitive world of all things quizzing. From daytime shows to family boardgames, this pair are on a mission to celebrate the nation’s love of general knowledge – from games of Trivial Pursuit with the family to pub quizzes and blockbuster TV shows.

They met backstage at a recording of The Chase, and instantly bonded over a love of quizzes. It brings together guests from both sides of the gameshow experience – professional quizzers and memorable contestants, including Richard Osman, QI researcher James Harkin, University Challenge voiceover artist Roger Tilling and the Reverend Kate Bottley. She says it been something of a dream, just because they’ve got to chat with all their favourites. “Like Henry Kelly! If I could bring back any TV format it would be Going For Gold. Post-Brexit, it’s what we need to heal the divisions. Jenny and I would be happy to assist as co-hosts… Obviously the original theme tune, that Hans Zimmer banger, would have to come back. “

A particular highlight, although there are many to choose from, was inviting on Frost/Nixon, Good Omens and Staged star, Michael Sheen. “I hesitate to use the word stalker, but I’m going to. Jenny is a Michael Sheen fan-girl. So, that was a great day.” She says often the guests are the result of Ryan attending a showbiz party, but producer Amanda Redman is the real powerhouse of the operation.

The pair perfectly complement each other, whether interviewing high-profile (and occasionally unlikely) guests, or getting perceptibly tipsy as they try out games and forget the rules. This joyous podcast originally started out as purely covering quizzes and evolved from there.

Porter says it provides something of a public service, letting people know what boardgames are worth playing.

“We’ve really got into the Nick Knowles Who Dares Wins boardgame. A lot of the ones we play are retro. My husband bought me the ‘Allo ‘Allo! game, which is almost unplayable. But it does allow you to do Officer Crabtree impressions, and say things like: ‘I was just pissing by…’”

Quizzing, whether it’s on TV or at the family table, cuts through age, class and gender. “Obviously there are fashions. I think we’re at peak-quiz at the moment, so hopefully things will continue.” Often the shows sit in sync with the mood of the nation. At the turn of the century, with programmes like The Weakest Link, it was all about vicious hosts and everything was staged as quite combative. Ryan’s own show, The Chase, came out of that format, but has softened over the years. “The Chasers are still tough, but they’re not horrible.” 

Obviously, Porter is no stranger to celebrity versions of the biggest British gameshows. She’s popped up on The Chase, come second on The Weakest Link, won a Pointless trophies and become a Celebrity Mastermind Champion – accruing the highest celebrity score ever. It’s safe to say she likes a TV quiz. “My quizzing trophies are what I stroke before I go to bed at night…”

Lucy Porter brings Wake Up Call to Brighton’s Komedia on Thurs 2 March and The Hawth in Crawley on Sat 11 March. Fingers On Buzzers is available via Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all good podcast platforms.

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