In Conversation With: Jamali Maddix

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Leave it to Vice to decide to send a comedian across the world to meet extremists and radicals. To have sit downs and attend marches with the hope to gain insights or even an understanding of their beliefs and agendas. The show is called Hate Thy Neighbour and its genius is the investigative journalism and documentary footage edited in with Jamali Maddix's own stand up routines. It’s almost like Seinfeld!

Following the recent release of the the second series we went to the Vice London office and spoke with Jamali about starting out in comedy, who inspired him and why the hell he decided to take the risk and do this crazy show in the first place.

Questions by Steven T. Hanley

Do you have a memory of the first thing that really made you laugh that stuck with you? A movie or stand up routine, or comedy sketch?

The first time I laughed with some kind of purpose was when I was about 14 and I was at my Dad’s house. I was probably high and I was watching 100 Greatest Stand Ups and Bill Hicks came on and I remember watching that and thinking 'this is some of the best shit I’ve ever seen'. I wasn't even able to understand half of what he was talking about but I knew there was some kind of meaning to it.

But I remember being 11 and crying with laughter when my uncle farted, literally crying. Because like in the middle of when my grandma was saying something and my uncle farted, like on purpose he’d say ‘yeah but’… and then fart. And I remember I just lost my mind. It was so funny, you know. That was like the first time that I knew that you could laugh that hard.

And then going into comedy who were your influences?

I mean everyone says Bill Hicks, and it’s not like Bill Hicks is the funniest, I mean I think he’s hilarious, but it’s not that punchline heavy stuff. But yeah I liked Patrice O'Neal, you know, that’s just the funniest.

Watching Patrice O'Neal and listening to the bootlegs and all of this and that, and I remember the first joke that I saw of Patrice that I fell in love with was his half hour special on Comedy Central and he had this joke about what would women do and he said ‘people say I’m misogynistic but I’m going to refer to the crowd’ and he goes: ‘If you had lost your pussy in an accident and you had to keep your man how would you do it?’  and he said you tell me and everyone said ‘anal, suck dick, whatever’. And he said you know you just showed yourself as hoes, no one said play PlayStation or anything you know. And he threw it to the crowd which is fearless as fuck because they could say anything…. It’s a harsh joke to say but I like that he is fearless without knowing what’s going to come back. I find that amazing. 

I like Richard Pryor Live And Smoking. I like Stewart Lee.

Stewart Lee is interesting because Stewart Lee will not break his tone or style even if he’s tanking. 

You know when he gets heckled in Brighton and he goes ‘Look I know you don’t like it but I can't change this now.’ He stuck to his guns, he stuck with it and I respect that a lot. And he’s like ‘listen this is what I do and I believe in it’ and he had his little cult following.

You know it’s one of these things. Even though comedy is meant to make you laugh it can also be other things and it can be other emotions and other sounds that you can try and make. You know like an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ahh’. Like all these other sounds are cool sounds as well and I don’t think you should limit it to being a punch per minute.

When did you decide you wanted to be a comedian?

I did my first show when I was about 16. It felt like forever! I think it was a five minute spot but I ended up doing about 3 and a half and I bombed. Horrible show, Horrible, horrible show. And I didn’t do it again until I was around maybe 17 or 18.

I started doing it in bits and pieces but I was giving it half arse. When I decided to make it a career I was at university for the second time. I was doing a course I didn’t want to do and I was living in Manchester. I remember just being in my room just miserable because I wanted to do comedy. Miserable. And I just said fuck it. I was 23 at the time. I just decided I was going to give it 100% from there. I dropped out of Uni and never looked back.

So how did you work your way up? What was the technique? Did you start doing open mics?

Yeah, then from open mics you go open spotting where you do like a club and get a 10 minute spot. Then you go to opener, then you go to closer. Then last year I was able to have enough material to do a tour in England and Europe. 

When I started open micing it was just as the big open mic boom happened. It was good for a bit then it got oversaturated. So when I left the open mic it was just getting to the point where it was hard to get off it there was so many comedians. Open mic got so big it kind of created its own circuit, so you know when you’re on the main comedy circuit it was be hard to get off it because it kind of goes round and round.

Do you think there’s a point where you have to take a jump to get to the next step?

Yeah, you gotta hustle, you gotta go to the clubs and email them and ask them for open spots, and then from the open spots you gotta go for 10, then hope they bring you back for the weekend.

I was lucky that I had a couple clubs that really took some faith in me and were like, you know what we see potential. Even when I wasn't ready. I remember I did a comedy club on Rivington Street. I won his (the owner's) competition and he brought me back for the weekend. I remember he said ‘do as long as you can’. I came back and he said to me you’re doing 20 minutes and I said to him I don’t have a 20. He said you better work it out because you’re on next. Get out there. That’s what he said. He really pushed me hard.

Is there a UK indie/alt comic scene like there is in America with people like Tim and Eric, Patton Osswalt, Hannibal Buress?

Yay and Nay. There’s smaller clubs that do more alt-y things. But then you get ones that are sort of a mixture. So there’s nights like Weirdos Comedy Night or the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society, and you’ve got great alternative comics. They might not think of themselves as alternative but you have Matt Ewins and Richard Gadd all these guys were amazing alternative comics and they do certain circuits or they do smaller gigs. There was a smaller gig circuit that was more experimental but there was a mainstream.

I don’t think it is as much as over in America but there definitely is a more experimental scene. They had Invisible Dot up in Kings Cross which closed but now it’s a new club called 2 North Down run by another guy Nick Mills now and that was considered an alternative club where you had guys doing more experimental comedy and people who are more comedy fans I say that with air quotations. So I think there is a different scene yeah. 

How did you begin presenting and working on your Hate Thy Neighbour show on Vice? Were you apprehensive about the concept of the show?

You know it's mad. My idea was never to do TV. I like doing comedy, I like stand up, so my aspirations were never like ‘I need to get a tv show and fuck off comedy’. I never used comedy as a stepping stone. I wanted to do comedy. And that’s why I was happy there was comedy in the show. I don't know about apprehensive I just went with the flow of it I guess.

The subject matter is intense. You’re going into situations with people with extreme views. Were you worried? You seem pretty chill on the show.

Yeah I’m a pretty relaxed person but when you’re talking about things, like me and you could talk about a subject and I don’t think you quite grasp or comprehend what you’re really doing or what you’re going to put yourself in because it’s just an idea so it’s only when you get there you go ‘oh fuck this is the thing’.

The weird thing is when you’re talking to the alt right guys in the neo nazi episode, when you put their ideals aside you kind of got along on a certain level.

It’s hard because when you spend so much time with someone and when you’re being immersive you kind of get sucked into the world a bit and to keep yourself sane, you try as a human being to work out a common ground. We both liked some of the same movies and shit like that. It is a weird thing, and that’s why I liked that episode the most.

There’s a scene where he’s reading a book with his kids and I’m sitting with his kid, and his kid’s sitting next to me, I think he’s sitting next to my leg or on my lap and he didn’t seem weirded out by it, so it’s a weird situation to be in.

When you come away from a series so you feel jaded, does your outlook change?

You involve yourself in that world for so long that you kind of have to not look at that shit any more. There was a time where all of my YouTube suggested pages were extreme right wing speeches, because you have to research it. You have to lock off from that because it consumes your world, with targeted marketing and YouTube suggested videos and it's easy just to click. But there has to be a strong understanding that the whole world isn’t like that.

When you’re in that situation where someone says something really offensive, do you think ‘that could be a good bit’?

No I do it back home, because when you’re there you’re focused. I mean your brain is always ticking like that but you can’t think too much.

Your source material or references are so extremist it’s kind of a good challenge for yourself as a comedian.

It’s weird because I never wanted to laugh, I made a purposeful effort never to be like ‘and this toothless bastard and this fat bitch’ or you know, just talk about them. But for me their ideas are up for grabs. Because they knew what the show was they would say to me, ‘are you just going to take the piss out of us’ and I’d say ‘listen I won’t take the piss out of you but I will take the piss out of your ideas. Because you know I don’t agree with you.’

How do you manage to stay calm when someone has such ridiculous extreme views?

If you’re going to make a documentary about people with views you don’t agree with and you’re going to be offended every time you hear something you don’t agree with you shouldn’t be making that show, do you know what I mean?

There are times when you lose it and you tell them and it gets into a weird situation, it happens because you’re a human but at the same time, he exists he has his view and I didn’t want to make a show where I go round the world and say ‘you're wrong’, even though I do think they’re wrong. 

There is a moral quandary in the show itself. Are we just sort of giving platforms for mad shit? I do question myself and I think that’s ok, I question what I make and I try to have some kind of moral compass while making it and I try to be fair. People are giving you their time, even though they’re mad cunts, they give me their time and you do think to yourself what am I making, is there a point of making this?

That’s another thing I’ve learnt from this show, I try not to say anything that I haven’t thought about definitely for myself, and I think its easy to see shit and then look at the world differently but you have to look at yourself differently. And there’s things I regret and there’s things I’m happy with and its ok doing that.

I think sometimes we go through life just saying things, someone’s asked me an opinion about something and I just say a thing and I haven’t really thought about that thing, it’s just a subconscious opinion which you sort of amalgamate from other opinions like ‘well I’m this so this is in line with my views, but when you actually sit down and think about it you’re like well I don’t know’

What do you want to do next?

Good question. I’m doing a stand up tour, so I’m doing England and Europe, I'm assuming next year. In terms of TV there’s a couple of things maybe but I’m looking forward to doing stand up again and trying to get back into that and do that art form again because I really enjoyed that.

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