Stand up, Speak up


Stand-up comedian Stephen Catling will be performing in Wanstead this April as part of the Laugh-Able Comedy Night to mark Autism Awareness Month. He believes people with autism need to speak up 

I am autistic and came from the North to live in London in 2016. I have been a comedian performing regularly on the London and general UK circuit since 2017. I am known for being an alternative act, who uses clowning and inventiveness on stage on the mainstream circuit. I’ve achieved several accolades including at the Stand-up for Cider comedy competition (finalist, 2023) and from both the South Coast Comedy Awards and the Student Comedy Awards (semi-finalist, 2022).

My earliest pathway into comedy was through watching Monty Python in high school, where friends and I wrote our own Pythonesque parodies of biblical stories, such as Noah’s Tardis. But I didn’t start performing solo until I joined the Lancaster University Comedy Institute during my studies in biomedical science and psychology. There I discovered a particular aptitude for surrealism. When I started performing in London, I began to hone my craft by incorporating other forms of comedy, such as clowning. I am now taking my solo show Beehavioural Problems: Something Something Autism to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I will be headlining the award-winning Laugh-Able Comedy Night at Wanstead Library this month, where the wonderful Mark Nicholas (promoter, comic, host and fellow autistic) has curated a line-up of comedians with autism spectrum disorder as part of Autism Awareness Month. Mark has hosted many amazing comedians at Laugh-Able over the years, some being very established on the scene, such Joe Wells, Andrew O’Neil and even Rosie Jones. While the commonality of the comedians is having a disability or being neurodivergent, the comics who perform are quite an eclectic mix.

How has autism made my life harder? As a child, I was bullied a lot for being weird and sensitive, but even as an adult I have found many employers (or would-be employers) make mistakes, usually out of blatant ignorance, but the result is the same and many have caused a great deal of harm (even when they’ve tried to do right). One research company did send a particularly problematic manager on an autism training course, but this was an exception in my career.

Many people get information about autism from inaccurate stereotypes in the media. Even today, Rain Man is people’s go-to idea of autism, but Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 film had savant syndrome, which is very specific and very rare. And there are also issues with characters like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, who perpetuate the common stereotypes. So, my advice for other autistic people is to speak up and tell people more about our condition. The more diverse they see it, the less they treat us with misunderstanding and ignorance.

Stephen will perform at Wanstead Library on 5 April from 7.30pm (tickets: £3). Visit wnstd.com/laughapril

Author: Editor