The question of legacies has been troubling Lucy Porter of late.
The stand-up star is bringing her sell-out Edinburgh Festival show Pass It On to Havant, in which she explores the concepts of heritage and tradition.
What have we received from our parents and what will we pass on? Lucy inherited global warming, dodgy knees and a terrifying collection of glass clowns from her mum and dad, so now she is thinking about the legacy she is going to leave to her children and the world at large.
‘My last couple of shows have sort of been largely about death,’ Lucy tells The Guide, ‘so this one is kind of about the legacy – the things you inherit from your parents and the things you pass on to your children.
‘I’ve been going through the things in my mum’s flat before we sell it, the porcelain ornaments and the glass clowns she’d collected over her lifetime. And it got me thinking about what we leave behind us when we go, and what I’m going to leave behind.
‘My mum was a pharmacist, so she treated loads of people, but before she died, she thought she didn’t have anything she’d left behind in terms of her work legacy.
‘And I said that as a stand-up comedian, I tell jokes and go and do these shows, but there’s nothing really left behind of those shows – it’s done and then all of this work kind of disappears. So I thought this was an interesting parallel between me and my mum.
‘Then I thought what do you want people to say about you after you’re gone? Do you want to be remembered? How do you want to be remembered? And I thought that would be quite an interesting starting point for stand-up. So it comes from quite a serious starting-point, but then of course, being me, it descends into chaos, farce and nonsense very quickly. There’s stuff about buying jeans from Marks and Spencers, and the legacy of George Michael.’
When it comes to your own legacy, it’s rare to get to write your own eulogy isn’t it?
‘Yes! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do here – to prompt everyone to remember me as a wonderful human being, who was a joy to everyone. Well, that’s what I’m aiming for.
‘Because my dad died first, my mum had a bit of time to think about she’d made of her life, and what we thought of her life. We had some really interesting chats about how she felt about that sort of stuff. It was really useful.
‘It’s not exactly the kind of thing we normally bring up with our parents. British people are squeamish, we’re squeamish about talking about lots of things, but sex, money and death are the three main ones.
‘I hope that people will come and see me and then go home and talk about death....’ she laughs, ‘I really am not selling this very well am I?
‘It is an uplifting show, I promise. A lot of people will come and see the show who have parents who are elderly, or if they’re a younger generation then they’ll have grandparents. When I talk to people afterwards, everyone seems to get something different out of it, but generally, the feedback I’ve had is that it’s quite a positive, uplifting show. It’s a show which makes people feel happy, which is what one aims for as a comedian!
‘I think a lot of comedians now do shows where they start all upbeat and happy and they draw to a poignant close, whereas I do it the other way round – start off miserable and get happy by the end.’
With stand-up being such an ephemeral art-form which leaves Lucy worrying that her life’s work will disappear when she does. On the other hand, this might turn out to be a blessing, as so many public figures find their juvenilia used against them in later life.
For example, Lucy’s first TV appearance, on Russ Abbot’s Christmas Madhouse appears to be lost.
‘It was a spoof of Pride and Prejudice. Russ and Les Dennis were playing Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley and I was one of the Bingley sisters. Bella Emberg was my mum – it was amazing. Sherri Hewson was in it as well. We were filming in a stately home in Cheshire and Russ Abbott was a delight, the whole thing was brilliant.
‘In a different life I could have been a period actor star – I could have been the Helena Bonham Carter of my generation, but I went down the comedy route instead.
‘Basically I peaked with my first TV experience. That’s the story of my life – it all starts of well and then I ruin it!’
Is her pre-YouTube generation the last whose early embarrassments won’t come back to haunt them?
‘I do have it somewhere – but I’ve lost it. Again this is a legacy of my parents, but they’ve got loads stuff of me on VHS – early, embarrassing stuff, some of which I hope never sees the light of day ever again.
‘You know what, I’m going to go home, and try and find it tonight. I think the world deserves to see it. I think I’ve got the whole thing – not just my bit. And who wouldn’t want to see Russ Abbott’s Christmas Madhouse from 1992 or whatever it is? That would be a thing of great joy.
‘I regularly look for things online I really enjoyed as a young person, and none of them are there. It’s good and bad isn’t it?
‘There are so many awful things I did early on in my career – there’s an advert I did which someone has put on YouTube, he wrote to me and said: “I found this? Do you want me to link you to it?” And I was like: “No! Please don’t.” But it is out there somewhere. But a lot of the really embarrassing stuff I’ve done has gone which I’m quite pleased about.
‘I do feel for young people these days because you’re forced to justify things you said 15-20 years ago. Luckily I was in that sweet spot before it all started to get captured online forever.
‘When I was at university there were a lot of things that were best left there – what happened in the ’90s stayed in the ’90s.’
In considering #metoo, #timesup and all the other, less easily hashtagged attitudes towards historical bad behaviour, Lucy evaluates the responsibility older women have to their younger sisters and vice versa.
Surely we all want to make the world a better place? But it’s difficult when that world is largely digital and virtual and you’re still operating with an analogue brain.
At the time we spoke, a bizarre attempt to smear newly elected American Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had made the news. Her detractors had shared a video of her dancing while at college. It backfired though, as many thought it simply showed a young woman enjoying herself.
‘Wasn’t that marvellous?’ says Lucy.
‘Everybody has their youth documented now.
‘People who are idiots when they were younger probably grow up to be idiots. I think I was less compassionate when I was younger, and more inward looking. Not that I have made any leaps forward in that respect given that I am a stand-up comedian and I largely talk about myself. But I do look back on some of my early material and think that was a bit mean, or I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, and with comedy you’re always a little bit finding your way in the dark, and a lot of the time it is improvised spontaneous and you end up thinking, oh hang on, that’s not entirely what I meant…’
Does this question of your legacy mean you’re looking over your shoulder when writing?
‘No, I wouldn’t honestly say I’ve ever thought: “That’s funny, but I won’t say that because it might offend someone”. I know if something’s a bit contentious, maybe. But it’s been an absolute truth in my life that the things I’ve thought: “Oh, that’s a bit near the knuckle”, or: “That’s a bit of a sensitive subject”, are completely fine and no-one says anything. And then the things you thought were completely innocuous, and it wouldn’t occur to you that someone could take offence at – that’s the things you get tweets and emails about.
‘You can’t please all the people all the time and if you try you’ll end up saying something grossly offensive that you never even imagined could be!’
Lucy Porter is at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant on March 22-3, doors 8pm. Tickets £16. Go to thespring.co.uk.