Sunday, 23 September 2018
HAVE you ever wished you’d told that awful boss where to stick that lousy job? Dumped an ex before they dumped you? Not backed down when that swine nicked your parking space?
Life is full of arguments we wish we’d had, or wish we’d won — but it’s also common to regret getting involved in a confrontation.
As someone with a lifelong fear of making a scene, Lucy Porter has always erred on the side of caution when it comes to conflict.
Back when she was a single,
self-employed stand-up comedian it was never much of a problem as she spent 99 per cent of her time alone.
But now she’s a wife, mother and pillar of the local community, she’s finding it a lot tougher.
In marriage guidance and parenting manuals, the received wisdom is that you should choose your battles and try not to sweat the small stuff — but how do you know when to stand your ground?
It’s a question that Lucy sets out to answer in her new touring show, Choose Your Battles, which opens at Reading’s South Street Arts Centre tonight (Friday).
That show is sold out, but the good news is that over the next few months Lucy will be criss-crossing the UK — including stops at Norden Farm in Maidenhead and Cornerstone in Didcot on Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24, respectively.
Last week she was unveiled as one of five comedy headliners at this summer’s Henley Festival — alongside the likes of Paul Merton, Lee Nelson, Mark Watson and Dominic Holland.
This will see her playing the Salon Comedy Club at 7.30pm on Saturday, July 13 — officially the final date of her 2018 tour.
Using secret ballots, visual aids and a punchbag with the face of Mary Berry, Lucy will ask the audience to help her work out when she should stick to her guns and fight and when she should use her natural charm and warmth to help defuse a situation.
So what inspired the show? Lucy, who is married to fellow comedian Justin Edwards with a son and a daughter, says: “It comes from issues I’ve had with parenting.
“Benign neglect seems to be the popular contemporary approach to parenting. That fits with my life philosophy, which is that you have to let a lot of stuff go.
“So the central theme of the show is: as a parent, which things should you concentrate on and which things should you let go?
“If you’re trying to get your kid out of the door in the morning, should you get them to clean their teeth or put their shoes on?”
Lucy, who celebrated her 45th birthday on Saturday, is known for her accessible, conversational style of stand-up — with no two of her shows ever being quite the same. So what has prompted her to tackle these sorts of issues now?
“I had lived alone for so many years in a blissful state of isolation,” she says. “Now I have more tension in my life. I’m suddenly living in a house full of people and cats!”
The comedian’s experience of motherhood in particular seems to have introduced her to a set of hitherto unsuspected dilemmas.
“One is the question of whether it is ever acceptable to let your children eat the food left over on someone else’s table in a cafe,” she laughs. “It happened recently and I went to intervene. Then I left it. I thought, ‘They’re happy and anyway it’s free food!’ I also think germ phobia has gone mad. I’m determined that my children should eat as many germs as they can!”
Now her offspring are both of school age, the dilemmas are multiplying apace.
“Every year World Book Day is a constant struggle between what my children want to do and what I want them to do. I’m a bit of a literary snob. I’m trying to guide them down the Jane Austen route but they want to go as princesses and superheroes. I suppose as long as my son wants to go as a princess and my daughter wants to go as a superhero, that’s all right!”
With Choose Your Battles having proved a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival, it’s worth asking Lucy why she thinks people have become so concerned about the calibre of their parenting.
“We are more aware of the psychological damage we might cause our children — but I think we actually overestimate how much influence we have on them. You imagine visiting them in prison in 20 years’ time and them tracing their troubles back to the moment when they weren’t allowed an ice cream. But you simply cannot avoid the fact that your children will hate you at times!”
So are we being neurotically over-analytical as parents?
“Yes. We’re in danger of losing trust in our own abilities. Our children will grow up fine whatever. What we do has so little bearing on our children. We are all guilty of micromanaging our children when in fact they don’t remember anything before the age of two.”
Insights such as these have encouraged Lucy to try and keep a cool head as a parent — especially in light of everything else that’s going on in the world.
“We have to keep things in proportion. Trump could tweet Kim Jong Un something provocative tomorrow and we could all go up in a fireball. As horrific as that sounds, it does put things into perspective.”
Supernanny Jo Frost might be off our screens for the moment, but does Lucy ever turn to parenting manuals?
“I’ve never read a single chapter. It’s pointless trying to read too much about parenting. A lot of it has to be intuitive. We have so many points of references about everything these days. You can’t just cook a meal any more — you have to watch a half-hour video on YouTube about how to prepare it.
“But I’m of the ‘teach yourself’ school. If you ever come round to my house and see my DIY, you’ll know that’s the case. Before embarking on a DIY task, I always think, ‘It can’t be that hard.’ But then when I’ve mucked it up, we immediately have to consult a professional.”
Born in 1973, Lucy is old enough to remember a simpler era of family life — before iPads, PlayStations, the internet, multi-channel TV, or even CBeebies. Were our mothers and fathers better parents for it?
“We’re all very nostalgic for the hands-off parenting of the Seventies,” she says. “But the downside is that is that I don’t remember seeing my dad very much back then. Maybe I wouldn’t be such a terrible show-off and attention-seeker now if he had been around and I hadn’t had to try to build up my self-esteem in front of a room full of strangers.”
Moving from the personal to the political, what does Lucy make of the Tweeter-in-Chief? “I in no way endorse Trump but he makes British politicians look capable, which is quite a remarkable feat! US politics is Dr Strangelove and terrifying, whereas British politics seems like slapstick comedy.”
Would she join a protest march against Trump if he came to the UK on a state visit? “You do sometimes wonder what the best course of action is. If Trump came here, should we stand and point and laugh and show him our bare bums or should we riot? I probably won’t be able to get childcare, anyway, so I’ll end up watching it on TV. This is what my life has become — I now mostly get wound up about parking and bins.”
At least having “the Donald” in the White House gives the rest of us something to chew over.
“Yes! Comedians talk about the curse of happiness. I had a couple of very smooth years when my Edinburgh shows suffered. The cliché is that stand-ups prefer it when the Tories are in power because we have something to rail against. Conflict makes for better comedy. Stand-ups use it as a coping mechanism for themselves. When things are going disastrously wrong, as a comedian you always think, ‘Oh well, at least it’s material!’ It would be nice to be able to fix yourself through comedy, but of course you can’t. You can only distract yourself.”
• Choose Your Battles is now touring. For a full list of dates, visit www.boundandgaggedcomedy.com/
WEB EXCLUSIVE: BONUS QUESTIONS
What do you love about live comedy?
The thrill of it is absolutely unsurpassed by any other form of creative endeavour. I do radio and TV, and they’re lovely things to do. But there is nothing like being able to sniff the audience, get amongst them and ruffle their hair. That common experience is especially important in difficult times. Loneliness is the number one malaise we need to tackle in society, so there’s nothing more uplifting than laughing with a group of strangers. Conversely, there’s nothing worse than being greeted on stage with silence by a group of strangers! But there is something magical and visceral about being in a room full of people all laughing together.
Can you amplify that?
I do stand-up on TV quite infrequently. The idea of committing it to film scares me because stand-up is so much a live art form. If I see myself doing stand-up on TV, I think, ‘No, you had to be there. This is not the same.’ That’s a long way of saying I still love doing stand-up!
What do you hope audiences will take away from Choose Your Battles?
I hope people really enjoy the show and have a great laugh. It provides a moment of distraction and laughter in these troubled times. Friendship is very important to me. It’s a very nice thing that a lot of people come to see me year after year.
What do your fans tell you they particularly like about your shows?
They say they feel like a little dinner party. They meet up with each other at the shows. They tell me, ‘We came to see you and met these other people, and now we go to comedy shows with them.’ I encourage that fellow feeling. That warmth and friendliness is what I hope people will take away. But I should warn you, I don’t answer any questions in the show — God forbid! Don’t come to the shows seeking wisdom or guidance — there will be none of that!
Do you also talk about other parents in Choose Your Battles?
Yes. You have to choose the liberal issues you fight for. It’s all about showing off your parenting to other parents. But I’ve concluded that it’s best never to try and impress other people with your parenting!
What about your politics?
Politically, I’m very worried about things at the moment. Sometimes it feels like we’re going back to the Thirties. Is this how fascism started in Germany? Representative democracy seems to be collapsing around our ears. I’ve never been so concerned about not being mainstream. So in that climate, you feel you want to stand up for what you believe in.
Will the subject of Brexit feature in the show?
Yes. Brexit rumbles on. It’s a constant drone that underpins everything. There is always a Brexit element in the room. But I feel I should get it out of the way early in “Choose Your Battles.”. Perhaps I’ll cover Brexit through the medium of contemporary dance at the top of the show, so don’t I don’t have to put us all through a lengthy routine about it!
You could always tweet about it instead?
We live in combative times. Social media has made us crazy with each other. There are far more public space arguments now. In some ways that’s brilliant, because people are expressing themselves, but in other ways it’s utterly horrific. So I’m asking how do you stand up for yourself and argue with people online?
05 February 2018
POLL: Have your say