Chris McGlade: Infant Hercules | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett
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Chris McGlade: Infant Hercules

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

The forces of conservatism may be too strong to stop it, but it feels we are overdue another revolution in comedy. The televised mainstream is dominated by stand-ups from a narrow demographic with a narrow world view – as predictable as the 70s comics were when they were swept away by alternative comedy.

The energy, unpredictability and politics of that raw, punk-like movement has long since subsided. But it can still be found in an unlikely vessel: a 52-year-old comic from Cleveland who has spent most of his life on the working men’s club circuit. Come the next revolution, Chris McGlade could be the new Alexei Sayle.

He sits at the confluence of two circuits. He’s a proudly working-class bloke who likes a good old joke-joke, no matter what the stereotypes it’s built on. But he’s also a bright, passionate, socially engaged man who wants to do comedy with a hard-hitting message.

Politically, too, he feels like a comedian whose time is due.  In the wider world, the metropolitan liberal elite – as represented by most comics you could name – are taking a pounding for their failure to connect their politics with the needs of the ordinary person.  But that is not a problem McGlade has. He is an old-fashioned leftie firebrand with fight in his belly who very much feels that abandonment.

Yet many liberal hobbyhorses, such as politically correct terminology, identity politics and safe spaces, don’t concern him too much - he knows the world has far bigger issues. But boy does he like to provoke those who are careful around such sensibilities. Right from the start he does a gag using the word ‘Paki’. In context and with not an ounce of malice – but it’s still a ballsy move. 

For McGlade is a natural contrarian. Tell him he can’t do something, and that’s the first thing he’ll do. Later he happily fat shames – he used to be overweight himself so feels he has the right to mock others – and brings up the record of metropolitan liberal elite pin-up Barack Obama, who may be much more presentable than Trump, but was responsible for many appalling things the fashionable left would rather forget.

Social issues are mixed in with the personal. We always know why he’s here, why he’s saying what he is and why it’s more important for him to speak out than hit a gag every 30 seconds. There are punchlines, and McGlade is a naturally funny and engaging comedian, but they are secondary to the message and just connecting with people.

While that content is cruelly relevant, it’s McGlade’s passion that’s most outstanding. He belts out his polemic with the rhythms of a poet – which he is, occasionally. Rants sweep us up on a crescendo; then all is calm. He sups his cup of tea before the next tirade, which is near musical in its rhythms. He sometimes prowls the undeservedly small audience, personally imploring us to get on board, all adding to the sense of drama.

McGlade says he feels out of his depth in this circuit, but it doesn't show in his super-powered performance. And if there are doubts off stage, there needn’t be – we need more voices like his, if only to prove the industry hasn’t become completely corporatised.

He’s not quite alone. There are other comics at this festival who are niggling away at liberal sensibilities. The difference is that most of them are doing it from the inside, he is doing it from a place of rare authenticity, giving him a legitimacy you can’t fake.

Review date: 12 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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