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Luke Poulton "You Don't Look Autistic"
Etcetera Theatre
13th August 2018


Publicity image for You Don't Look Autistic

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

There aren't that many rules when it comes to standup, other than "be funny." However, there are definitely things that most successful comedians do, such as have a bit of a chat with their audience, generally work the room and always make tons of eye contact. None of these things come particularly easy to Luke Poulton, who is both a fledgeling standup and an autistic person. Although that may sound like the set up to a really bad joke (did you hear the one about the comedian who couldn't talk to strangers?), Poulton does manage to work around these limitations, mainly owing to his excellent deadpan delivery and willingness to address the elephant in the room. There's a valid reason why he finds it hard to look at us, and rather than make it awkward, he follows that time-honoured British tradition of laughing at himself and allowing us to join in. Indeed, the opening to his set You Don't Look Autistic is witty, well-executed, and gets the audience on board with him from the very start. Nicely played, that man. Nicely played.

Poulton's 'skill' with a keyboard brings some early justified belly laughs and also prepares us for one of the recurring themes of his show: he really doesn't like film sequels. Initially, this attack on bad films goes down a treat, with his Disney Pixar rants and dissections of film flops winning a warm reception. He even brings us into his tirade with a little game. The trouble is, whilst Poulton can be very amusing, he has a tendency to over-labour the point somewhat. The first time, a joke is well-written and delivered with good timing. The second time, it's still entertaining, but a little less so. Keep going - and well, the humour does start to fade somewhat. We get the distinct impression that rather than write brand new material for a longer set, Poulton has instead extended existing jokes, and this doesn't quite have the impact he's after.

References to Coronation Street are amusing if you know what Poulton is talking about (a guilty hands up here). However, he does go on about mild-mannered Roy Cropper and Deirdre Many Surnames Barlow for long enough that if you've never watched the show, the joke will be completely lost on you. And with Anne Kirkbride sadly having made her last appearance four years ago, these aren't current references either. If you're going to be niche, be brief.

Condensing Poulton's set to 45 minutes by cutting out some of the repetition would tighten up the show - alternatively, he could make these same cuts and write more material about himself to make the 60 minutes more substantial. He declares himself wary about bringing down the mood of the audience by potentially bringing in some heavier themes and is reluctant to attract pity, but these fears feel unwarranted. After all, if he's capable of so brilliantly levelling the playing field in his opening five minutes, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be able to come up with something else that would help him keep that even footing he creates. It's not actually the autism that makes Poulton interesting - it's his sarcastic take on life, which is relatable in itself.

Poulton seems determined to keep making comedy, which is a jolly good thing, because he's funny and we like him. There's a sharper, more biting show in him and with more experience, that will come. For now, though, You Don't Look Autistic is a funny hour-long rant about film, combined with an insight into what it's really like being autistic. Turns out it's less Rain Man and more snowman. Who'd have thunk it?

Luke Poulton "You Don't Look Autistic" ran from 13th to 14th August and next runs on 18th August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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