Lucy Porter: TikTok won't kill stand-up comedy but petrol prices and train fares will

By Emma Saunders
Entertainment reporter

  • Published
Lucy PorterImage source, Andy Robinson
Image caption,
Never mind the little black dress - pyjamas were all the rage in lockdown

Stand-up comedian, writer, actress, podcast host and a regular on TV and radio panel shows - Lucy Porter's done the lot.

An Edinburgh Fringe stalwart, she's back this year with a new show, Wake-Up Call.

Porter began working the comedy circuit in the middle of a recession in the early 1990s and money was tight for an aspiring comic.

But Porter fears the current cost of living crisis could make it even more difficult for comedians to go on the road.

"The thing that will kill stand-up is not TikTok or social media, it is petrol prices and train fares. I think it's just unmanageable for young comics," she says.

"If I was starting out now, there is no way that I would be able to afford to live anywhere or be able to afford to get to any gigs. Money hasn't gone up for the comedian, but the cost of getting there has.

"And for women, I think that's quite dangerous… I used to take risks when I was younger because I couldn't afford to get the train so I'd wait around a coach station in the small hours of the night and that's just a little bit scary."

A spokesperson for the union Equity told the BBC that "even before the current cost of living crisis, there were particular factors with comedy that made it difficult to get started without financial support from other jobs or sources.

"Fees start low. Performing for free can be the only way to get gigs and the work often involves significant travel, resulting in a loss.

"The current cost of living crisis also adds the cost of travel and food into the mix and may also limit audience numbers and their generosity when donating at free entry venues. We know that some comedians have decided not to do The Fringe this year for financial reasons."

Image caption,
Porter's humour is often self-deprecating

The Edinburgh Fringe says its vision is "to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat" and that it is committed to becoming more fair, inclusive and sustainable.

One of the festival's goals is to ensure that "who you are and where you are from is not a barrier to attending or performing at the Edinburgh Fringe".

Porter can certainly see the attraction of TikTok and other social media platforms for new comedians - it may not be that lucrative to begin with but it's a place to build an audience with few overheads.

And there are advantages for more established comedians as well, which many discovered during the pandemic.

"It's amazing not having to go out [to gig]," Porter laughs. "I didn't get into doing gigs on Zoom and stuff early on in lockdown and then when I did, I was like, 'This is unbelievable. I can put a wash on in between introducing acts in a show!'"

Porter believes that platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts are also breathing new life into some comedy genres.

"I don't think it's going to kill stand-up. But I think it's really reviving character comedy and sketch comedy. Which has been a little bit ignored for a while. There's a woman called Call me Chris who my kids are obsessed with. She's really funny, it's a little bit of stand-up and then some characters. You can just do whatever you want. So it is incredibly exciting."

Porter thinks stand-up and social media comedy can quite happily co-exist.

"There's [still] something to be said for developing an act over time. It [social media comedy] really is very instant and very raw, and that's brilliant, but I think there's also a place for stuff that's been refined and of course, when you see stand-up in comedy clubs, it can be that someone's been working on that for years."

Porter's show Wake-Up Call is taking her back up to Edinburgh, where she's been performing for more than 20 years.

"I started thinking it was quite a good title because I feel like a lot of my friends have recently had big wake-up calls... they want to change their job, get divorced, move house. I'm in a sort of midlife crisis phase [and] all my friends are having their midlife crises, too.

"We've all had this weird period where we've been going for long, introspective, moody walks by ourselves because that was all we could do [in lockdown]. And you know, you're stuck in the house and you start thinking, 'Am I really happy? Have I got tinnitus?' I decided I had tinnitus during the pandemic because I think I just wasn't used to the silence! And my doctor was like, 'No, you just need to calm down!'"

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
This year's Fringe is back with a full-scale programme for the first time in two years, following the pandemic

Porter's comedy was once described by a critic as "middle-aged, middle-class and middle-of-the-road" - but she embraces his opinion.

"I did think that was quite funny. And there's nothing guaranteed to make you more miserable than trying to be all things to all people. I would love to say that I've written a show that 18-year-olds will enjoy and they might, but it's not really for them.

"If I'm attracting people who enjoy Radio 2 and garden centres, then I'm very comfortable with that!"

Her new show tackles issues such as anxiety, grief, love, loss and regret, "with a bit of sauciness thrown in for the dads".

Porter says the idea of so-called cancel culture isn't an issue for her as she's "desperately anxious as a person and an incredible people pleaser so I think I've always kind of self-censored and tried to avoid giving offence".

She adds: "You can't worry about it too much because the worst reaction I've ever had was when I slagged off my cats. The absolute fury I got for that! You never know what people are going to take offence at. Don't anger the cat lovers!"

Jokes aside, how has the comedy scene changed for women since she began to break through?

"I used to work in TV production and I left that because it was clear to me that women weren't getting anywhere but at least with comedy, I felt that you had a voice and a platform. I thought, 'At least I'll be in charge. I won't be as powerless as I was.'"

And now?

"There are just more of us really, but I suppose I get a bit disheartened because I do still hear tales of awful behaviour from male comedians. You know, the sleaze of Westminster... comedy is the next worst one after politics. So that's disappointing.

"But it is lovely to see women getting opportunities. There's that feeder lane from the live circuit to television which means more people are visible. When I was younger, Victoria Wood and Jo Brand were the only women I'd seen doing stand-up on telly. So it's definitely better but with the caveat that you can always improve stuff."

Lucy Porter: Wake-Up Call will run at the Pleasance Courtyard from 3 - 14 and 16 - 20 August.