Sunday 26 February 2017

P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

Neal Portenza is a name that anyone who has an interest in comedy should know. The creation of comedian Joshua Ladgrove, Neal Portenza is about as absurdly bizarre and hilarious as they get. The character returns to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with a new show simply called P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A. As with previous shows, you may read the show description and be entertained but utterly baffled by what it is actually about or you can try read between the lines...and then let Ladgrove know.

"The show is in a pre-embryonic state as of right now (20 February 2017) and so I can’t tell you what it's about with any degree of certainty," he says. "What I can say though, is that I want this show to be different from my previous outings, but to still retain all the elements of live comedy that I love. Chiefly, visceral, whole body laughter, stupidity, cleverness, characters, chaos, danger and fun. So, I suppose, going on past shows, the audience can expect a show that is very live and alive, and a bit different from night to night. I love involving the audience in a way that’s particular to that evening, but not in a hacky sort of way."

While much of what is performed on stage comes across as unscripted and improvised, Ladgrove is keeping silent on how planned the show actually is. "You’re asking me to kiss and tell. A magician never reveals his tricks. Except for that guy who wore the mask and did reveal all the tricks in a 10-part special that aired in the early 2000’s. Did you ever see that? It was fantastic," Ladgrove tells me. "Honestly, sometimes the hardest tricks are so stupidly simple, you feel annoyed at yourself for not figuring it all out a priori. Anyway, the show is a combination of ‘set pieces’, with a lot of scope for dancing around them so as to incorporate the unique nature of that night’s audience. There are only ever two or three jokes I really look forward to performing every night, but my favourite is when it all derails and becomes much funnier than anything I could have scripted. That’s where the magic is. I very much like the philosophy of it’s not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster."

When his shows depend on audience interaction - and sometimes more - Ladgrove has an abundance of memories to choose from for his most memorable, but there is one that sticks out. "There was an intellectually challenged gentleman in the audience of a show a few years back at The Tuxedo Cat. He was just so into it, with zero ego and the vibe was so good and in spite of occasionally interrupting, it was always funny and sweet and made the show much funnier," he recalls. "In that sense, it’s remarkable then that you end up with people who aren’t intellectually challenged, ruining a show by interjecting with a mean spirit and a big ego. There are so many other nice moments I can think of actually, the guy who left me a £50 tip in an Edinburgh show and the lady who told me that she’d just broken up with her boyfriend and was going to cancel but was glad she came out and that I made her night."

Performing a character that is physically and mentally draining as Neal Portenza would exhaust anyone, but for Ladgrove, who has been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), it's added another challenging layer. "It’s a real bastard of a thing to live with, even more so because it’s widely misunderstood, and because one person’s CFS might not be the same as another’s. I’m always reading up about new research and insight into the disease, and I think, and hope, that in the next few years, some new insights will help make CFS sufferers lives a lot easier," Ladgrove says. "In short, I’m a lot better than I was this time 1.5 years ago, but even still, it’s day by day. I’ve just finished Perth Fringe and am still physically recovering from all that and am now about to start Adelaide Fringe before eventually embarking upon MICF."

"Neal requires a lot of energy because I have to be “ON” every single night, which, ultimately is a failing on my part, never having developed a brilliant show capable of standing on its own feet! This means that after a festival show, I’ll need upwards of 10 hours of sleep to feel ‘normal’, which can be hard to come by," he explains. "I try and eat a lot of vegetables, sleep as much as I can, take an extremely strong probiotic, coupled with a mild anti-depressant to create dopamine, and inject my morning glasses of water with extra oxygen to help digestion. I also realise that, so long as the fatigue isn’t crippling (which is very rare these days), my attitude drives my success, and that’s a bit Oprah Winfrey, but it’s true."

Ladgrove has been performing as Neal Portenza for close to six years and it doesn't look like he will be going anywhere anytime soon. "I’m so tired of Neal. Haha, well, that’s not entirely true. I love Neal, and I worry I’ve just about stretched him to his limits, but then I always seem to end up with a slightly better show," he tells me. "So long as people aren’t sick of Neal, I’ll keep performing with him. I think the possibilities are somewhat endless, because I could brand it as a Neal Portenza show, and do a myriad of other characters, or even just myself. As long as it’s an entertaining, funny show, I don’t think people would mind too much. Right?"


The one food I cannot live without is cinema PopCorn. No wait, Prawn Crackers. No, wait, Doritos and French Onion Dip. No wait. Tacos. Hmmm. 

My most cringeworthy moment in on stage is recently in L.A. performing in this mixed bill, alternative sketch comedy show, where this little bit I was doing, dressed in a balaclava, pretending to be searching for an imaginary guy called ‘Jason’ worked really well, up until the final night, where it totally bombed, and because it was a sketch split into 5 parts, I had to keep repeating it. That was fairly cringe. 

A movie that sums up my life is Castaway because I always end up befriending my sports equipment. 

How many seconds before you can't eat food off the floor? I think it depends on both the floor and the nature of the dropped foodstuff. For instance, if I dropped a Smith’s Cheese & Onion crinkle-cut chip on the floor of Lexus Automotive Production facility in Fukuoka, it’d still be perfectly edible in about 8 days time. If however, I dropped a raw prawn on the floor of a men’s public toilet, I’d be hesitant to even try picking the thing back up. Now, in your defence, you’d be right to ask me why I was eating raw prawn in the first instance, but the question didn’t specify that the food had to be strictly edible at the time of dropping, so I thought it was important to highlight the flaw inherent in your question. 

During MICF, I really want to eat well, sleep well, win all the awards, get only 5 star reviews, be offered a TV show and sleep well.

Venue: Melbourne Town Hall, Cnr. Swantson and Collins St, Melbourne.
Season: 30 March - 23 April | Tues - Sat 9.30pm, Sun 8:30pm
Length: 60 minutes 
Tickets: $25 Full | $20 Conc and Previews
| $22 Tightarse Tuesday
Bookings: MICF website 

My reviews of previous Neal Portenza shows can be found here and here. 

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