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Published October 8, 2018

Comedian Josh Ladgrove took his character Neal Portenza out for one last spin at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2018. We stopped by talk to him about retiring the character, international audiences and bad magic.

Where did the character of Neal Portenza come from, and has he changed over time?

Neal is just me (Josh) in 5th gear, with a silly voice. I suppose I find myself quite boring off stage, so I thought it would be more visually interesting and silly to wear a costume and do a silly voice. Over time, Neal has become less caricaturish and more just me with a slightly affected voice and mannerisms. He has also become known for audience interaction and using the specifics of the audience each evening to try and elicit some laughter.

How does Neal differ from other comedy shows you’ve done before? Did your experiences with straight stand-up change your approach to Neal shows?

Hmm, well, it differs from night to night firstly, so it’s hard to answer. But, in general, it’s a reflection of the fun I want to have with the audience each night and the show is only loosely scripted. This affords me some flexibility in creating a unique experience each night and following leads that may be funnier than what I’d intended. This past show was a bad magic show and so it required me to learn some actual magic, and then perform it very poorly. I only attempted straight stand up once and was very bad at it. It didn’t really change the way I perform, but it did give me a new-found respect of how hard straight stand-up is.

This is your final show as Neal. What led you to retire the character?

This might be my final show as Neal. I think I was a bit hasty in throwing in the towel. I’m not sure what the future holds so I can’t answer this question too well. The things that led me to want to throw it all away are a fundamentally broken entertainment industry where the pipeline for success is not necessarily based on talent alone, with many shysters standing in the way. I suppose it’s the same in any industry really, but I’ve found it overwhelmingly frustrating.

What are you going to be doing after? Will it involve Stavros?

I genuinely haven’t the foggiest clue. Probably still comedy in one form or another. I really don’t know. Maybe become a derivatives trader. A truck driver? Stavros features heavily in my life on a day-to-day basis. If you want to see the real inspiration for Stavros, drive to Altona North, and specifically The Circle shops. More specifically the Fish & Chip shop.

Why magic?

I’ve always loved magic, and it’s a hell of a challenge. I really love Derren Brown and thought it would be funny to try and do that sort of mentalism/magic but very poorly. Sort of like an updated Tommy Cooper, though I’m not comparing myself to the incomparable man.

Is it true that you came to Edinburgh under request from fans upon hearing you’re retiring Neal?

Yes! I had no plans, but then started getting messages from people demanding I come. I’m absolutely susceptible to peer pressure.

How do you find Edinburgh audiences?

Great! Similar to Melbourne audiences I think. Just more Scottish.

Do you have any more Robbie Williams covers in the pipeline?

Yes. Maybe some Coldplay covers. Also working on a bunch of my own music, which is likely not very good, but I enjoy it!

What have been your Ed Fringe highlights? What are your recommendations for Melbourne Fringe?

EdFringe highlights included finding a good vegetarian soup, being consistently whooped by Sam Campbell at table tennis, selling out the show every night after the 3rd show and seeing many friends and Fringe family.

For Melbourne Fringe, I’d recommend just taking a gamble and seeing something that sounds fun, kooky, weird, entertaining. You might find a hidden gem in a gay bar in Collingwood.


Josh Ladgrove may or may not be performing as Neal in the near future. For news on this and other shows follow him on Facebook.

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