Stephen Carlin

Stephen Carlin

Stephen Carlin: The Rise of the Autistic

Note: This review is from 2017

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson

Stephen Carlin has always had an obsessive attention to detail and pedant's readiness to nitpick that has sometimes come at the expense of the bigger picture.

Yet recently diagnosed as autistic – a development that's undermined his feelings of uniqueness even as it's confirmed what his loved ones already knew – he’s become emboldened to make a play for world domination.

Forget post-truth politics. With the world in such a chaotic state, the Illuminati seemingly having abandoned their posts to bored billionaires, we need the likes of him with painstaking attention to detail to keep us on the straight and narrow. Taking MDMA for the first time on Easter Sunday, he found himself identifying the logistics of feeding the 5,000.

With a will to power and a now-justified lack of empathy, he lands on his favourite subject of the Second World War, likening the Nazi invasion of Poland to a bit of exercise that got out of hand. Some men have football and music to feed their nerdiness, he has the war, championing the cast list and plot twists as if it were the next must-see boxset.

Aware that he's being insensitive, not least in the 'Westsplaining' he does to his Polish friend about the death camps, Carlin nevertheless succeeds in making these routines just about accessible, the autism card a useful one to raise whenever the subject matters veers towards the controversial. Besides, he's not made of stone and is conscious of his privilege, acknowledging that his grandfather fought fascism so he could have his OCD quirks indulged.

His routines can frequently take the form of a surreal, imagined butterfly effect, a visit to Pakistan in which he found his resistance to the culture of servitude and the hotel staff's perceived contempt for him in doing so inspiring a potential scenario where he becomes a benign slave-owner, wondering if he could have supported Trump if the circumstances were right. Perhaps his autism isn't the best model for running things.

The comic contextualises his mental health issues within the wider Scottish psyche and the specific example of his family, who've never been troubled by such problems long enough to acknowledge them, despite a dynastic legacy of alcoholism, broken marriages, suicide attempts and his own teenage diagnosis of depression, which his mother reacted to by simply not hearing it.

Despite his propensity to solitude, he recognises the need for human contact and reveals how he's begun running an Airbnb operation from his spare room. Predictably, it's not a success, his fastidiousness not enough for Americans used to a functioning service culture, and rather too much for a Greek guest unfamiliar with British toilets.

With his dry, borderline deadpan delivery and absurdist inclinations, Carlin can, as ever, make it seem like the crowd needs to make an effort to get on board, the autism not really changing anything in the split-second it takes you to laugh or dismiss a punchline. But arguably it does afford him greater latitude to set up his routines, so perhaps his ambitions for power are a goose-step nearer after all.

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Published: 26 Aug 2017


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