Could do better: Al Porter’s sick patter putters on

Radio: Today FM’s star host fails to deliver, but Sean Moncrieff thrives

“Do people still say ‘groovy’?”: Al Porter admits it’s an odd question from someone who’s only 24. Photograph: Twitter

“Do people still say ‘groovy’?”: Al Porter admits it’s an odd question from someone who’s only 24. Photograph: Twitter

 

Al Porter is a sick man. Not in any edgy, transgressive sense: despite being a young comic open about all aspects of his personal life he has a curiously traditional style. No, he’s actually ill, or at least thinks he is. Opening Monday’s Al Porter show (Today FM, weekdays), he apologises for “sounding like Ronnie Drew”. He turns out to have a touch of laryngitis after a weekend of “screaming and shouting” at a music festival.

The more Porter talks about this, however, the more worried he gets. He notes that his boyfriend is already on antibiotics, and frets whether he is coming down with streptococcus, even as he struggles to pronounce the word. Soon he is asking his audience to text in remedies for his sore throat. 

Gossamer light as Porter’s patter may be on this matter, it is the most substantial part of his programme. Otherwise his idea of zingy radio is to ask listeners to suggest supposedly more logical names for things. “Why isn’t a zebra called a prison horse? Or a penguin a formal chicken?” he wonders. Sounding amused at his own inventiveness, he proposes that ducks be renamed water chickens. “I’ve given you enough examples,” he quickly adds, perhaps conscious that he’s already used the word “chicken” two out of three times. Even by the undemanding standards of daytime pop-music shows this is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. 

That the show doesn’t completely disappear down a wormhole of generic blandness is due to Porter, who provides just enough flashes of candour and humour to maintain interest. On Tuesday there are titbits about overcoming his aversion to vegetables while having dinner with his boyfriend’s family. And although he makes the odd wisecrack about guests, they are gently teasing rather than snarky. It all hints at the old-fashioned, end-of-the-pier entertainer that lies behind the saucy demeanour. “Do people still say ‘groovy’?” he tellingly asks at one point, before admitting this is an odd question from someone who’s only 24.

One suspects Today FM was expecting more when Porter arrived at the station. His enthusiasm about his new stage show probably indicates where his longer-term focus lies

One suspects that Today FM’s management was expecting more when Porter arrived at the station earlier this year, amid much fanfare. The enthusiasm with which he talks about writing his new stage show probably indicates where his longer-term focus lies. Porter owes his listeners more than verbal sick notes.

In fairness, the slow summer season means that all shows have to deal with a dearth of meaty material. The highlight on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), for example, is an interview with a journalist who has lost his job – not normally a big news story. But then Kevin Myers’s dismissal from the Sunday Times does raise wider issues of anti-Semitism and misogyny. Suffice to say, Myers’s much-publicised public self-flagellation on O’Rourke’s show is a masterclass in digging a bigger hole for oneself.

But for true silly-season fluff Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) is the man. Moncrieff interviews Con Slobodchikoff, a real-life Dr Dolittle who claims to have worked out the “language” used by prairie dogs. He also talks to Sebastian Marcu, who wants to bake bread in space. To describe such items as “frivolous” might seem to imbue them with significance. Then again, such fare is Moncrieff’s stock in trade whatever the time of year, so what could be dull segments prove surprisingly diverting.

Even when he deals with weightier political issues – which, thanks to the three-ring circus that is the Trump White House, still crop up this summer – Moncrieff adds a quirky twist. Thus on Tuesday he discusses the sacking of Anthony Scaramucci with Brian J Karem, White House correspondent with, wait for it, Playboy

That said, Karem – presumably one of the few people who really does read Playboy for the articles – is an entertaining pundit. Likening the chaotic Trump administration to a group of quarrelling five-year-olds “unfortunately with nuclear arms”, Moncrieff’s guest says that the White House staff “need to have their butts kicked – or spanked”. This seems a bit risque until you remember which publication Karem works for.

Sean Moncrieff’s ease with the offbeat means that he knows when an ostensibly weird topic is more serious than it seems

Moncrieff’s ease with the offbeat means that he knows when an ostensibly weird topic is more serious than it seems. During his regular agony-aunt (and -uncle) advice slot with the journalist Barbara Scully and broadcaster Declan Buckley, Moncrieff reads out a letter from a married, heterosexual electrician who wants to reveal his love of wearing women’s clothing to his pregnant wife. Happily, what could be an opportunity for tittering or prurience is treated with sensitivity.

It’s not without humour either. “Why are you looking at me?” Buckley asks with the mock offence of someone who made his name as the drag queen Shirley Temple Bar. Unsurprisingly, he has some astute observations on the matter. A champion of ambivalence, Buckley says the man should be honest with his wife, even though it carries risks. “For anyone who’s in a closet of any kind – and I was in the gay closet for many years – one of your biggest stumbling blocks is the fear of rejection,” Buckley says, matter-of-factly.

It’s a heartening item, full of good humour and quietly inspiring wisdom. No matter how desperate a situation might seem, it’s always healthy to discuss it.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK: MURRAY’S EQUALITY DRIVE

As the controversy of the gender pay gap in the media rumbles on, John Murray, guest host of Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), interviews RTÉ’s commercial director, Willie O’Reilly, about disparities among the network’s top 10 earners. Murray tees up one zinger in particular. RTÉ’s director general, Dee Forbes, says the criteria for deciding pay “are listenership, time on air and workload”, he says. “Correct,” O’Reilly replies. “Then why isn’t Mary Wilson, the regular presenter of Drivetime, on the list, pray tell?” Murray pointedly asks. Oof.

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