> Interview - Joe Wells on King of the Autistics - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview – Joe Wells on King of the Autistics

The stand-up comedian stormed Edinburgh with a show about neurodiversity. Catch it again this month as part of his UK-wide tour.

When stand-up comedian Joe Wells’ clip about his ‘non-autistic brother’ went unexpectedly viral, he found himself being asked about autism more than ever. His new show, King of the Autistics, plays on the absurdity of speaking on behalf of such a vast, varied community. That didn’t stop us from asking him to take the throne once more as he prepares to take the 2023 Fringe show on a 2024 UK tour.

Hi, Joe. Could you explain your show’s title in your own words?

Well, I guess the takeaway I want people to have from the show is that we shouldn’t feel like there’s only space for one or a few people to be representatives of autistic people.  I’m someone who is talking about this a lot because I’m interested in it and I have lots of things to say about it, but I think that we [autistic people] can all actively be autistic representation in the world. So King of the Autistics is a sort of jokey title. You know: how silly would it be to just have one person in charge of all autistic people? We can all collectively speak for autistic people rather than having individual spokespeople.

Since a specific routine of yours went viral, which was a sort of play on how neurotypicals speak about neurodivergent folk, is that what people expect all of your comedy to be like?

Yeah, I guess so. Things are going quite well for me, career-wise, but it does mean that lots of people want different things for me. There are people who want me to do comedy that’s for children, and then TV producers often want really edgy, sort of controversial comedy. So the tour show is sort of about being pulled in different directions.

Do you come up against a lot of misconceptions, then?

Sometimes. One of my biggest influences is a writer called Polly Samuel and she wrote a lot about those misconceptions [like missing social cues or an ability to relate]. She didn’t coin the term ‘double empathy’ but she paved the way for it to be discussed: how autistic people have only been talked about from one perspective, from the outside. So it’s not so much that those are all misconceptions, because I do struggle with reading people, but it’s more about a new angle on it. Obviously, there are some completely poor stereotypes, but some of those things about social cues are true. But it’s only one bit of the picture.


Photo Credit: Ed Moore

The relationships in stand-up comedy, between audience and performer, are quite strictly defined. Did that draw you to it?

Yeah, definitely. I like comedy because I know when a joke’s gone well and when it hasn’t. There are very unambiguous social cues. Everything about comedy really works for my access needs, for want of a better term. A quiet room when I get to the gig, a shared interest with people, being able to work on my own and have control over how I work. And then the actual performance itself, where the parameters of the conversation are very clear. I know it’s my turn to talk.

Also, I think all the things I used to do socially, where I would run over things I had said in a way that wasn’t helpful, became helpful when I did comedy. ‘I came across weird there,’ or, ‘I said the wrong thing,’ became, ‘Oh, that joke didn’t work tonight. Why didn’t it work?’. It makes you a bit more analytical because those conversational things aren’t innate.

That makes sense. And doing a show thirty times at the Edinburgh Fringe must give you a lot of opportunity to fine-tune those interactions.

Yeah. I can listen back to the recordings and say, ‘Why didn’t they laugh at that? I thought people would understand what I was saying.’ I can [even] show it to someone else.

Is there a difference between doing that at the Fringe and taking the show on tour?

Lots of the people coming to the tour show are autistic and not necessarily the comedy fans that go and see it at the Fringe. It’s a really nice atmosphere and I’m always quite excited by it, because I don’t want to be the guy that’s just for the comedy connoisseurs. The comics I admire are the ones who can do stuff that’s interesting but also really accessible.


Catch King of the Autistics at The Stand, Edinburgh, on 12th March & at The Stand, Glasgow, on 13th March. Tickets here.

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