“He is serious, powerful talent.”
Would you laugh at jokes about a pensioner being murdered?
Even when the pensioner in question is the comedian’s father?
I did. And you would.
In the basement of Frankenstein’s pub, we met Chris McGlade, the Smoggie James Nesbitt. From the off he was prowling the audience, slapping us on the back, getting in our faces, and joking about us all with a glint in the eye.
McGlade told us at the start it was a long show (2 hours) and we were to get comfy: go to the toilet, get a pint, come and go… ”you just aren’t allowed to leave’.
The first hour of the show has been called elsewhere a cri de cœur against the metropolitan liberal elite. It is in part.
It is more than that though and to view it as such misunderstands the show. The first hour is McGlade not only telling us about who his dad was but also explaining the culture that he, and his father, grew up in. A culture that shaped them. A culture that was rough but kind. A culture where you mocked others but with a smile.. and with the expectation you would be mocked back. The culture he feels his now ignored, belittled or denied. A culture that has roared both here and in the USA.
This show is an English ”Hillbilly Elegy”. To see it is to understand why so many Northern working-class voters voted Tory in 2019 and voted for Brexit a few years earlier.
There were a few folk younger in the crowd and whilst there are moments of genuine shock in that first hour the moment they bristled was when he announced he’d voted Tory. That interested me – some of the language and themes will likely offend some people but it was a working-class man who announced he’d voted Tory that brought silence. The use of racial language, the on the edge jokes… they got laughs.
Did I agree with everything McGlade said about working-class culture? No. There was plenty to challenge but I think he’d welcome that with a joke, a wink, and craic. There was plenty of truth there and plenty to think about. There were moments that made me think deeply and moments that made me laugh out loud. There were moments throughout where I swore out loud in shock only to find myself laughing.
This is a comedian who has been brought up in the tough world of working men’s clubs. There is much disdain of this. I’d guess many comedians on the circuit couldn’t shine there and at Edinburgh. McGlade does. He is a serious, powerful talent. He notes he is an outlier – a 50-something, white, working class, heavily accented guy who hasn’t been to University. It is a long way from the all too frequent liberal university grad tell a bunch of liberal university grad jokes that make them feel smug.
His skit of walking around the audience telling the sorts of jokes he’d tell there – all the expense of audience members – was very good. Whilst I am sure he shines in those venues he shone here because of his fleetness of foot – there are times when you think a joke is going one way and he totally wrongfoots you. His gag about middle-class people peppering their speech with French only to do so himself was very clever. Gags about heroin addiction and being a good Catholic were laugh-out-loud.
The first half is integral to the second. He wants you to understand his dad, and the world they lived in, and the second half focuses more on the relationship with his father, his family, and his now estranged wife and how those relationships (and their endings) have shaped him.
The second half just wouldn’t work without the first. There are jokes aplenty still but it is more thoughtful, more poignant, more beautiful. He tells us of his anger, his rage, his tears. He tells us of the jokes he told to the Police when they explained his father had been murdered. He tells us of the moments in court where people fell about laughing. He makes the audience laugh when he tells us of a bizarre suicide attempt where he is saved by a mobster’s daughter. His point throughout is what unites working class people is that they find humour everywhere.
There are moments of beauty here. I enjoyed his occasional diversions into poetry. His joking with the crowd was phenomenal (at one point it looked like he was going to do a Sadowitz by unbuttoning his trousers but stopped and laughed it off). The political message in the first half will make many uncomfortable but it will make more laugh.
Ultimately though it all builds to forgiveness. Here is a man who has forgiven the man who brutally murdered his father. A man who understands how the relationship with his father has shaped him. His language at points is astonishingly un-PC. If he can speak so eloquently about forgiving a man who strangled his father perhaps the Edinburgh Fringe crowd can forgive him that?
Come for the insight. Stay for the laugh-out-loud moments. Get your heavily accented coats on and go see this.