Glasgow Comedy Festival
March 30th, 2019
Having seen Agnew headlining the fellow Glasgow Comedy Festival show Commissioned earlier that same week, I was delighted to be able to get tickets to his “Work in Progress” show at the State Bar. Throughout an hour of Agnew exploring the minutiae of Grindr dates and gay male culture in Glasgow, I was really impressed with the dynamism Agnew brought to the stage, and it reminded me why he is so highly-rated within the Scottish stand-up circuit.
Much like his performance that I covered in my review of Commissioned, as he balanced precariously on the tiny stool in the venue room of the State Bar, Agnew launched into a filthily funny take on life as a HIV-positive, self-described “poof” living and dating in Glasgow. Standing at an impressive six-foot, 5-inches with a heavy Glaswegian accent, Agnew’s insights into these areas of gay male culture were mesmerising, from his graphic description of getting laid in city centre alleyways, to chasing hook-ups on online dating apps. In one brilliant segment, he described how, after being enticed by a particularly impressive dick pic on Grinder, he took a taxi to sixty miles away in the hope of a hook-up, before revealing the inevitable, and absolutely hilarious comedown that followed.
Agnew took command of the room as he led the audience through these hilarious tales in revolting, delicious detail. His use of hand gestures was a clever element of his performance, moving his fingers cheekily like a sloppy pianist as he detailed the fleshly delights of an alley-way next to McDonalds. I couldn’t help but feel that some sections of the audience were a little taken aback by his openness, but I found the unabashed nature of his stories absolutely enchanting, and of course hysterical. Very quickly into his performance, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in some kind of corrupted fairy tale, in which I was being effortlessly transported to the back-alleys and sex parties of Central Scotland, a demonstration of Agnew’s story-telling chops.
As a comic who has spoken publicly about his own struggles with mental health and how this relates to his identity as a gay man, I felt that this is where the real magic of his stand-up lay. While managing to avoid leading the show into overt political or social commentary, the intensely honest nature of Agnew’s stand-up nonetheless felt subversive. Without being on the nose about it, his material at times suggested to me that he was clearly not just wanting to gain laughs out of his past sexual escapades, but intended to play a part in normalising his own personal experiences and struggles as a gay man to wider audiences by making a contribution to the incremental, progressive cultural and social transformations that stand-up plays a significant part in promoting. Overall, I found it to be easily one of the most polished and funny stand-up shows I’ve seen in years. As expected of a work in progress, the junctures between his bits were a little inelegant at times, but his commanding, confident style more than compensated for this between segues. Twenty minutes into the show, I genuinely did not want Agnew to get off the stage.
At one point in his performance, Agnew referenced the Billy Connolly murals that look over certain streets of Glasgow. Watching him, I couldn’t help but be reminded of just how impressively Connolly has transformed the nature of British stand-up into story-based monologues, and how comics such as Agnew have adopted and continued this lineage in the modern circuit. It also reminded me, like the Big Yin pioneered decades ago, how stand-up works best when it hits all the right notes between raw, painful honesty, balanced social and political exposition, pristine delivery, and of course, being fucking hysterical, a rare, comic stratagem. Agnew’s work is a beautiful testament to this; filthy without being derogatory, self-deprecating but not punitive, hedonistic but ethical. While at this point it’s a work in progress, I’m fascinated to see how Agnew transforms this material into an even more polished set. Having seen what he has to offer already however, I don’t doubt that it will be one of the best comic performances of any upcoming venue.