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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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.