The Saint: Scott Agnew interview

Feature by Holly Callender | 03 Mar 2017

After a break from live performance Scott Agnew returned to the 2016 Fringe with his best show to date. He now brings I've Snapped My Banjo String, Let's Just Talk, and a brand new work-in-progress, to Glasgow Comedy Festival

“I’m conscious of the children running around my knees,” Scott Agnew warns. “None of them are mine, of course.”

The Rutherglen comedian with a penchant towards the outrageous and taboo is speaking to The Skinny from Leeds Botanical Gardens, and it is half-term. “I’m just taking some time out, and looking at the meerkats." Rest is required before the Glasgow Comedy Festival. This year, Agnew is organising and performing four separate shows: "I’ve hit 36 and finally found some motivation,” he says.

The festival is hosting the last performance of the stupendously successful, I’ve Snapped My Banjo String, Let’s Just Talk. Agnew wrote the admirably honest 2016 Fringe show after discovering his HIV positive status.

“The show was for me, not an audience,” he says. “I had been in the wilderness for a couple of years, just hanging on by my fingernails, professionally. The Fringe gave me a goal to work towards. I had to strike a balance between not looking for self pity, or making the topic a laughing stock,” he says. “It’s important to explain why people have a dead end view of HIV. They think you have it because you didn’t wear a condom. Well, there’s loads of other reasons.”

I’ve Snapped My Banjo String gained a slew of complimentary reviews and Agnew's honesty about his health status went national in an interview with The Daily Record. He received countless messages of support despite expecting the opposite. “I was bracing myself for nasty messages, and I didn’t get one."

This was mirrored during one tense Fringe performance. Two older guys in the front row stared blankly at Agnew the entire hour. “I thought they’d come to the wrong show, but they pulled me aside after. One was French and the other Brazilian, and they hadn’t understood a word, but just wanted to show their support. They sat through an hour of a Glaswegian shouting at them, and that’s the sweetest thing in the world.”

Scott ventured into stand-up comedy at the relatively late age of 26, with a background in journalism. "My first full time job was with the Rutherglen Reformer, and I got to the Scottish Sun at 24. Then I had my first breakdown, sold my house, walked out my job, went missing for two years, then came back as a stand-up."

“I then spent years schlepping around, getting lost in the world of drugs and sex, but it gets to a point when you just need to calm down. Now, one is living like a fucking Saint. It’s lovely, but boring as fuck.”

Plus, he’s writing this year’s Fringe show, an almost follow-up to I’ve Snapped My Banjo String..., currently titled Spunk On Our Lady’s Face. The work-in-progress show premieres at the tail end of the Glasgow festival.

“I find the best way to write is on stage by boxing yourself into a corner then finding a way out, rather than sitting in the house pondering about it. In the new show, I attempt to find out what did more harm – HIV or Catholicism. The latter wins hands down. The diagnoses of HIV had, excuse the pun, a much more positive effect on my life than any religious teaching.

“I tackle difficult topics without over intellectualising them, but the criticism I get is for going for the lowest common denominator. That’s the pay-off; I talk about topics other folk wouldn’t, but there’s a crude joke at the end of it.”

He adds: “We can’t all be Stewart Lee. And you can quote me on that.”

Scott Agnew: I've Snapped My Banjo String, Let's Just Talk, Blackfriars Basement, 10 Mar, 7.30pm, £8
Scott Agnew: NEW Work in Progress, The State Bar, 25 Mar, 7.30pm, £7
Scott Agnew's Afternoon Blether, Spoon Cafe, 12, 19 & 26 Mar, 2pm, £5/£4
Pick n Mix stand-up with Scott Agnew & Friends, Spoon Cafe, 17 & 24 Mar, 7.30pm, £7/£5