Lucy Porter: Good vibrations

Who needs the comedy of bile and cruelty? Not Lucy Porter, who just wants to spread a little happiness. She talks to Julian Hall
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The comedian Lucy Porter is performing at her fifth consecutive Edinburgh Fringe, propelled by a desire to get people to laugh with each other and not at each other. It seems she wants to spread happiness. She says: "I've done that whole comedy of cruelty thing and had a go at Prince Harry and Paris Hilton. I do less of that now because most people who are pop culture figures of fun don't really deserve the amount of bile directed at them."

The 33-year-old has been performing stand-up since 1995 - but "only seriously since 2000" - and has established herself as a circuit and Edinburgh favourite, with shows north of the border such as Lady Luck, Happiness and now the The Good Life. Porter's shows look on the bright side of life but don't ignore its seamier aspects. "Being fluffy and having something to say is the balance I try to strike. So, on sex practices, I don't want to sneer at people's proclivities, I want to celebrate them and explain how tickled I am that the fetish club I once went to had a room called 'Streams of Pleasure'."

Though she has won plaudits for her "winsome" ways, there has been criticism of "gag lite" performances. But she can slip from butter-wouldn't-melt innocence to something more salacious, be it her supposed recipe for happiness ("a bottle of Jack Daniel's, a team of young Filipino boys and a harness") or describing the drunken collapse of a hen party as a "slagalanche".

At other times, however, her act is like a gentle stroll with the audience. "I feel more like a hostess at times. In any job, you play to your strengths. But when I get those reviews that say, 'It's all very nice but where are the jokes?' I was like, 'OK, well I know I can write jokes because I've written jokes for other people.'"

One was Jimmy Tarbuck. Working with him, Porter says, was her "proudest moment". She adds: "It's easy to dismiss that mainstream circuit, but they worked really hard and faced the kind of indifference the circuit today doesn't have to cope with."

Porter cites Peter Kay as a natural. "He's got funny bones and people will always laugh at whatever he does. I'm not like that; I'm a craft comic and I had to work and learn what's funny. It's 100 per cent about confidence."

After she finished her English literature degree at Manchester University in 1994, Porter's career could have moved in a number of directions. She was writing for The Big Issue ("I wanted to be a campaigning journalist like John Pilger") and working as a researcher for Granada television. It was while researching a programme on comedians that she had her "epiphany". "I was a bit frustrated. I wanted to be performing in, rather than researching, the show. I talked to a lot of comics from Peter Kay and Johnny Vegas to Jim Bowen and the Grumbleweeds, and I was fascinated by what they had to say, and wondered what it felt like to perform comedy."

Yet, even now, she's a little restless. "Everything is fine, I'm making a living, but it's a lonely life and you can become quite introspective." Here, the festival comes to the rescue. "Edinburgh is a good way of looking at what you've done through the year and moving on. Last year's show made me realise what wasn't making me happy in my life. This year hopefully I'll get some kind of therapeutic benefit again."

On gender issues, Porter has a sharp eye. She's often sought out as a pundit on relationships and so forth. She feels that gender issues have been sidelined recently, and she's noticed more hostility between men and women. "There's a 1970s-style misogyny about popular culture now as represented by magazines like Nuts and Zoo, or Chris Moyles on the radio. There's a need for the veil of post-modern irony to be stripped away."

Despite stand-up being perceived, Porter believes, as an "unnatural thing for women to be doing", it seems ridiculous to her to talk of female comedy as if it was all the same. Still, women loom large in her list of favourite comedians - she cites Jenny Eclair, Claire Dowie, Jenny Lecoat and Pauline Melville. But she also mentions Woody Allen, whose kind of clever, contorted neurosis is occasionally discernible in her act.

What links most of the acts Porter likes is an honesty and frankness. "Honesty is the funniest thing. I had to learn to become honest." What she has learnt during her comedy journey, she believes others can too. "Ninety-nine per cent of people are funny; it's just about tapping into what makes them funny, and honesty is part of that process."

'Lucy Porter: The Good Life', Pleasance Courtyard (0131-556 6550), tomorrow to 28 August