Laughs that had remained elusive at the start of the festival finally emerged for me last Monday night, much to my delight. The gig that turned it all around was Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his own autopsy. Yes, that is the title of the show in its entirety and yes, the autopsy was indeed metaphoric.
My propensity for the ridiculous should have told me I would enjoy this one. You see, when you’re raised in the nineties on your parent’s Monty Python culture from the seventies, you find yourself craving a bit of physical comedy at these stand-up heavy festivals.
Portenza (a.k.a Josh L Ladgrove) kicked the show off from the audience as the stereotypical yet loveable character Stavros (seemingly the audience’s favourite from their collective cheers to bring him back at the end). From this point on, Ladgrove morphed into a host of quirky and varied individuals, displaying his flare for character acting and ingenuity.
In the interest of not spoiling it too much (the show continues until the 20th) and I’d recommend you see it, I’ll say that Dr Professor Neal Portenza was all about physical comedy, audience interaction/humiliation and the ability to present something completely different. When observed closely, he also had the most engaging and animated face. I couldn’t help but wonder if the comic had been influenced at all by Frank Woodley growing up.
Even though he confirmed at the outset his failings regarding show structure (I love a good disclaimer), he did start to lose me in the middle by bringing his girlfriend onstage for a few gags. Although somewhat of a novelty, this segment began to bore me and seemed like an afterthought of Ladgrove’s. He did redeem himself though as the show incorporated more references from nineties pop culture, much to his late twenty-something audience’s delight and recognition.
I might add on the topic of audience that it was packed and packed with people really enjoying themselves. In fact, the girl in front of me leaned back so frequently to laugh raucously, that her hair hit me in the face more than once. If anything took away from my enjoyment of the show, it was this.
I would say that if you find yourself cringing during Fawlty Towers don’t put this one on your festival ‘to see’ list. Having said this, if you’re looking for something completely and utterly different or you want to break the ice on a first date, Dr Professor Neal Portenza is for you. Just don’t sit at the front, middle or back or you may be required onstage to assist. Do what I did, sit inconspicuously behind someone with ridiculously long hair and hope to God he doesn’t call on you. Hats off to Ladgrove for facilitating my first laugh-out-loud at the comedy festival this year. Let’s hope it’s not the last.