"I’m happy you like the title of the show. I’m certain you’re in the overwhelming minority," explains the alter-ego of Neal Portenza, Joshua Ladgrove. "I sort of stopped giving up caring about things like show titles and posters and the mechanics of doing a festival show, so I thought this title reflects that attitude of ‘it’s all meant to be a joke anyway, so why take it so seriously?"
Neal Portenza is not quite sketch, not quite stand-up and not quite anything. It is one of those shows that despite being difficult to describe, is a very rewarding experience for audiences, provided you don't go to Adelaide Fringe! "To create a Neal Portenza show I go to Adelaide without a script, plan or an idea and I suck balls for two weeks until the semblance of a show starts to develop!" Ladgrove says. "I use the audience to try and generate laughs. This often fails and the show is most often horrible. This is not blatant self-deprecation, it’s the objective, self-evident truth of the matter. After a few weeks though, you can end up with an interesting show that way."
"I’m very, very restless. Very easily bored. Very disorganised. This coupled with a childhood that was spent largely in my imagination and then watching the classic idiotic shows like Get Smart, Looney Tunes, Mr. Bean, Monty Python, Seinfeld etc. meant that my preferred language is the language of the idiots," Ladgrove goes on to explain. "I love surprises. I love pranks. I love scaring people. I laugh when someone trips over. I laugh when I trip over, so I sort of try to make Neal incorporate that element of surprise & delight; which I think is what makes me laugh the most. Recently, I’ve drawn inspiration from the modern masters like Pajama Men, Dr. Brown and Sam Simmons.
The joy that many experience with these shows is the ability to just enjoy the moment. To forget about everything else going on outside of the room and enjoy the experience and the wackiness that is occurring on stage. "YES! I’m really thrilled to hear that because that is precisely what my show is supposed to be. Absurd escapism. The world is largely shit. Maybe 80% of the world has a miserable time. We are in that lucky 20%. Even within that lucky 20%, our lives are probably miserable 80% of the time, so this is meant to be pure escapism."
"Sometimes people can dismiss my show as being ‘silly’ or ‘immature’ or ‘not clever’, but that misses the point I think. It’s meant to make you laugh from that place where you can’t help but to laugh, even though your brain doesn’t want to. It’s the same sort of laugh when someone slips over in a puddle. It’s not cerebral. I’ve done that work. I’ve put the thought into creating the moments of stupidity so the audience don’t have to think that hard. If I’m doing my job well and there’s a good symbiosis between Neal and the audience, all the audience need do is laugh."
There are moments in the show where improvisation takes over, especially when interacting with audiences, and I'm surprised by the ease that Ladgrove is able to relax everyone and allow them to go with what is happening. "You want to make the audience feel like you’re giving them a big collective hug. I take this literally and give everyone hugs. It’s a bit naff, but it actually does work," Ladgrove says. "Sometimes I rail against things that are ‘devices’ to make the audience feel at home or safe or comfortable, but I can easily forget that the audience need to feel at ease. It’s like foreplay I suppose. If you get the foreplay part right, they’ll join you and by the end of the show they’ll be tied up naked, hanging upside down from silk ropes whilst I’m whipping their collective ass with a riding crop."
But sometimes, even with good foreplay, things don't always go according to plan. "I accidentally set fire to a guy’s t-shirt recently. I should specify that he wasn’t wearing it, but he wasn’t happy. It was an irreplaceable Lamb of God concert t-shirt. I felt really, really bad after the show, even though it was funny at the time."
So if you're still not convinced to see what is bound to be a non-stop laughter show, here's Ladgrove's final words on what to expect. "I don’t know just yet, but you won’t get a middle-class white guy telling you what’s what. I’d love dancers and a choir but I’m very poor at the moment. Chaos. You can expect chaos. And laughter. And comedy from the past, present and future. Actually, I think I’m going to attempt every style of comedy ever invented in 60 minutes. That should be fun."
If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?
Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?
The Mole. Is that still on? I loved the original season of The Mole. I still remember when Alan was the mole. I threw my shoe at the TV. He was sneaky, like a mole. It’s probably not on, so in lieu of that, anything hosted by Grant Bowler. It’s probably one of those midday lifestyle shows. I really like Grant Bowler, I feel safe when he’s around. Uncle Grant.
The most irritating habit I have is not finishing my sente
What's a song that sums up for life?
Dave Brubeck's Take 5. There’s no lyrics, but man do those cats got swing.
During the MICF, I really really really want to sleep well, eat well and win The Barry.
Season: 24 March - 17 April | Tues - Sat 9.30pm, Sun 8.30pm
Length: 55 minutes
Tickets: $24 Full | $20 Conc | $19 Tightarse Tuesday | $18 Previews
Bookings: MICF website
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