Glasgow Comedy Festival review: Joe Wells: King Of The Autistics, The Stand, Glasgow

For this year’s Glasgow Comedy Festival, Joe Wells presents a mischievous, intelligent show about identity and representation, writes Jay Richardson

Joe Wells: King Of The Autistics, The Stand, Glasgow ***

As the self-declared former King of the Autistics, who has not only acquired the confidence to speak for all autistic people but then relinquished his crown in a graceful manner, Joe Wells presents a mischievous, intelligent show about identity and representation with some exquisitely tuned, often very funny routines.

His commissioning of tour artwork portraying himself as Jesus at The Last Supper might seem provocative, even as conversations about neurodiversity are increasingly entering mainstream discourse. But it's an effective strategy for him to bypass disputes about the typicality of his autistic experience and his humorous distortions of it. Acknowledging the spectrum of experience and critiquing those who would smooth it out or suppress individuality by blithely insisting on his own pre-eminence, the satire is thick and substantial.

Joe Wells PIC: Ed MooreJoe Wells PIC: Ed Moore
Joe Wells PIC: Ed Moore
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At one point he feigns polite, almost apologetic xenophobia (rather than outright bigotry) as a response to the behaviour of a parent he saw trying to correct the charming but unusual behaviour of their autistic young son. Beautifully spun and piled high with successive, ridiculous justifications for his prejudice, it's a fine bit of writing and performance. Still, though, you don't doubt the real pain that underpins the incident for him.

Elsewhere, although he chides his mother's occasionally misguided attempts to connect with him, Wells hails her early progressiveness in seeking the positives of his condition, out of step with the culture of the time.

Not everything is as pithy as his division of society into the mentally ill and the boring, and a routine involving the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme tune isn't worth its setup. However, Wells is sharp on the often well-meaning but misguided limits of supposedly diverse representation, offering considerable food for thought.

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