Andrew Maxwell interview
He produced the funniest material about the riots just hours after they started. Andrew Maxwell tells Ben Williams why he keeps things topical
Topical comedy is relatively rare on today’s circuit. Sure, a comic might bring up a recent event that ties in nicely with their pre-written material, but in front of the tough weekend crowds most choose to stick to a 20-minute set that’s guaranteed to produce laughs. So when a major incident suddenly kicks off – such as last year’s riots – it’s interesting to see how a stand-up will address the elephant in the room.
At last August’s Edinburgh Fringe, practically every comic referenced the riots in some form or another; whether it was a quick opinion, a couple of barbed one-liners, or just a fleeting reference. But no one tackled the subject as head-on as Andrew Maxwell.
The Dublin-born comic – who has long been a fringe favourite – ditched a large chunk of his storming hour and wrote 20 minutes of fresh, fiercely intelligent material on the hot topic. ‘I was so surprised at the reaction the media had to the riots,’ he tells me. ‘I remember sitting up watching the riots the night before I re-jigged the show to include them: two hours of watching a carpet warehouse burn down. What the fuck is that about? The British media, straight away, goes “ahhhh!” to fucking everything. I understand a tabloid doing that because they have to get that 20 or 30 pence off you right there in the newsagent. But the BBC was doing it. What’s their reason to be panicking us?’
There was no such shock or outrage in Maxwell’s riots material. The 38-year-old, who has lived in London for the last 18 years, had a refreshingly different and laid back approach to the situation, even calling the ‘cleany-uppy’ people ‘creepy’. ‘My local high street is Wood Green, where the looting started,’ he says. ‘This is just the London I know. It’s not an abstract to me. You could only sincerely have been shocked if you’ve never lived in London. If you’ve lived here you’ll know that the minute the sun comes out everybody turns into a cunt. If you drive in London, you’ll normally let a pretty girl who flashes a smile at you, or struggling mums with kids, or old ladies in cars, in front of you in traffic, yeah? On a hot summer’s day, it’s every man for himself: “Fuck you, I want to drink beer in my back garden! You can bat your eyelids at me all you want, I don’t fucking care!”.’
Maxwell’s topicality didn’t stop at the riots. Almost his entire show was based on the big events of last year – the royal wedding, the Queen’s visit to Ireland, the phone-hacking scandal – and it was constantly being re-written to keep up-to-date with further news. Now touring the show, nearly a year later, he’s still keeping the material fresh. ‘As long as they’re still pertinent, many of the “hits”, as it were, of last year’s show stay in. But you’ve got to keep rolling along, you know? I can’t wait to talk about the big jamboree of royalism and the Olympics. It’ll be like throwing a pub dart at the arse of an elephant, comedy-wise.’ But as he explains, when it comes to current affairs, ‘or even large social narratives, you can only joke about it if they’ve heard about it. No matter how good you are, if you need to say an extra line to educate or remind the audience about what the fuck you’re talking about, the punchline either suffers or is out for the count altogether.’
He takes a similar view of the occasionally smug reputation of political comedy: ‘There’s no point being clever or smart if you can’t relate to the thickest fucker in your audience,’ he says. ‘If everybody already gets it because we all read The Guardian, what’s the fucking point? Why don’t we just get in a circle and pull off the one to the right of us?’
It’s obvious, then, that Maxwell enjoys a challenge. He doesn’t preach to the converted and he’s always open to new experiences. In fact, the Irish raconteur has found himself in some terrifying situations: he’s been to an illegal gay rave in the Middle East, gigged in a maximum security prison in Dublin, and performed for both the UDA on Shankill Road and the IRA on the Falls Road. ‘If someone puts something forward to me and my first reaction is raw terror, then I know I’m on the right path,’ he explains. ‘I’m interested in any chance to engage with people that might open my eyes or illuminate me on a topic or issue. If you only know of other people secondhand, through the TV or through print, you’ll only know so much, you won’t necessarily know the emotional undertones to it. Somebody’s always going to have a more interesting angle than you and it’s all too easy to just dismiss other people’s delusions. When people shut down and retreat into their own corners, that’s when the social tectonic plates build up. And that’s when shit goes boom on a hot summer’s night.’