Fresh off the back of his acclaimed Vice series, Hate Thy Neighbour, Jamali Maddix is back at the Fringe with his trademark blend of blunt and brazen comedy.
At 16 years old, young Jamali Maddix wasn’t having the best time of his life. He was struggling at school and lacking direction, until late one night watching 100 Greatest Comedians on Channel 4 he saw a brief burst of a Bill Hicks routine.
“That style – the black clothes, the cigarette, the ‘fuck-the-government’ attitude – I’d never saw anything like that… there were no cats like that in east London,” he recalls with an affectionate smile. “That angry indignation – that was watching someone talk the way I thought.”
Jamali Maddix set about building his stand-up career almost instantly, mixing Hicks-style outraged anger – fuelled by his outsider, mixed-race standpoint (dad black, mum Italian-British) – with daft, goofy physical comedy. One skit during his TV debut on Comedy Central saw him riffing on being white for a day, ending with asking a woman for the time after dark. “Which is why black people are always late,” he deadpans. “We gotta tell time by the moon…” and he slips into a pantomime squint, gazing up at the sky and shrugging, “I think it’s 10 o’clock…”
He’s back at the Fringe with Vape Lord, a whole new show after spending the last few years touring the world filming his Vice TV show, Hate Thy Neighbour, where he travelled the planet meeting the likes of neo-Nazis, black nationalists and the English Defence League. His teasing of the Nordic Aryan Youth may be a masterpiece of gotcha journalism, but he’s worried that the two seasons of the show pushed away his funny.
“One of the problems with the Vice show is I got too righteous,” he explains. “It changed me. I saw everything from the Calais jungle burning down to kids in prison. That’s why I had to kick it up a gear in stand-up so that I was saying more silly, funny, messed up stuff – like, I still smoke weed, I still go to strip clubs, I still do fucked up shit. Just because I don’t think you should be a Nazi doesn’t mean the rest of my life is pure and perfect.”
The Edinburgh run is the first leg in his debut world tour, which includes gigs in Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Lithuania and the USA. “You’d be amazed at how many places watch Vice,” he shrugs.'Just because I don’t think you should be a Nazi doesn’t mean the rest of my life is pure and perfect.”Click To Tweet
To be fair, he’s been gigging in Europe since he was 24. That’s surprising, I say – you seem so rooted in your Ilford upbringing, London chat and British sensibilities that I wouldn’t have thought your material would translate.
He laughs. “I had to change my accent and slow down a little, but any experience can be universal if you say it right – sometimes it’s as simple as talking about trains rather than tubes. As long as you’ve got the emotion, it translates.”
Jamali Maddix still seems faintly bemused by his success – we speak on FaceTime as he’s in Las Vegas filming a new show for Channel 4 – mainly because he was convinced he’d never escape Ilford. He was kicked out of his first university and headed to the University of Salford – Peter Kay and Jason Manford’s alma mater – to spruce up his performing. In his first year, Manford came to watch the final year students deliver stand-up routines. At the end, Jamali Maddix went on – “I had a good set… as good as you can in a classroom.” Manford told him to quit the course: “you’re a comic and there’s nothing they can teach you.”
He’s pleased to see the slow increase in non-white comics playing the Fringe. “Edinburgh is still pretty white – on stage and in the crowd,” he nods. “A lot of non-white comedians get disheartened and don’t want to go, thinking we’re going to be overlooked and marginalized – and it’s expensive to play which makes it hard for working class voices. It’s good to see Dane Baptiste, Funbi, Darren Harriot breaking through that.”
He’s keen to keep his material fresh, and although there’s a few references to his Vice show, there’s just as many about his fear of cats and his scorn for vaping. “The main thing is, I don’t want chin rubbers in my show,” he gives a little smile. “There’s still sections of this country that think the British Empire was a good thing, but younger people are mixing it up so we’re not holding on to dead people’s baggage so much. There’s just two things that I hate: maybe you don’t understand what I’m saying but don’t tell me I’m wrong for saying it, and don’t sit there nodding earnestly. All I want you to do is laugh.
WHERE & WHEN
Jamali Maddix: Vape Lord Monkey Barrel, 2-26 August (not 13), 6pm, from £6