Interview with Andrew Maxwell
One of Ireland’s most popular comedians Andrew Maxwell is returning to Vicar Street on the 8th March. Maxwell will be appearing in Sky Atlantic’s Set List which is due to broadcast in autumn, and once more will be curating the comedy festival Altitude in the Alps! Here Maxwell talks to Aoife Ryan about his many projects, the viewpoint of a comedian and further plans he has down the line.
What is your upcoming live stand up show about? How would you describe it?
My upcoming live show will be about a whole host of things really. My experience at my last Edinburgh show, that material and the year since then will be included. I went around America making a programme about conspiracy theories and some of that will be in there. Current events over the last eighteen months will be in there too. As well as that I like to work with the audience.
You’ve done a lot of small gigs in colleges and low key venues. Do you ever get any crazed fans or weird audience reactions?
No. hecklers are just optimists. They often think they can do your job and be the comedian of the night. The best heckle is too hard to pick out, and wouldn't be broadcast material anyway.
Have you ever had any large negative reactions to any taboo subjects you brought up before?
You won’t get it from the public; you'll get it from somebody in the media who wants to stir the pot against you. The public isn't taking what a comedian says seriously, for obvious reasons. It's called comedy. It does happen from time to time, like with Frankie Boyle. Or look at Tommy (Tiernan). That was just crazy.
Would you ever go into politics, as your material is quite political?
No I wouldn't get into that because the thing about politics is it's about compromise isn't it? It's also a skill set I simply don’t have. I'm passionate about what happens in the world around me and if there’s particular nonsense or a vested interested for a political party then that’s going to be worthy joke material. Also, the life of an Irish TD has far too many funerals in it, and I'm not doing that.
Can comedy change the society around it?
It’s a philosophical question really isn't it? Which came first, the horse or the cart, chicken or the egg? Do the things I joke about change society or can I only start joking about them when people’s attitudes have already changed anyway? Because of the shame the church has brought upon itself, with its crimes against women and children, it's well and truly gloves off with that topic. Change occurs slowly but surely. Writers started thinking about these types of issues maybe twenty, thirty years ago and comedy follows. I don't think it was Father Ted that brought light to the Magdalene laundries.
You often talk about class and race and you've been in England and America for long periods. What do you think of Ireland’s growing multiculturalism in comparison to them? Why do they make such good topics for comedy do you think?
You can joke about it loads in Ireland. I think it’s like 12-15% of Ireland are foreign and unlike any other European country there is no dedicated right wing party. Maybe deep down in the Irish psyche there is a sense of victim hood and we can empathise with others in that way. Our far right nationalist movement is actually really left. There are also a lot of white immigrants in Ireland like the Eastern Europeans and a lot of the non-white immigrants such as the Africans and Asians already have a connection with Ireland, like they may be married to an Irish person for example. They aren't an abstract block settling in. I grew up with a foster brother from Sierra Leone and the church I grew up in was 50/50 black and white so I'm well used to multiculturalism. It’s a topic that’s on people’s minds and that’s what makes it good material for comedians. Multiculturalism is all about compromise and finding away to get along so there’s a growing curve. Comedians can look at that subject and push it in a way that others in the public or spotlight can’t do as easily. Being on the road as a comedian also means you’re seeing a lot of the culture and changes. It was comedians that picked up on the weird tricolour movement in taxis and questioned what it was about.
What was it like creating material on the spot for Set List, the Sky Atlantic show?
We recorded two episodes of set list last year. For those who don’t know it’s a stand up show where the comedian goes on stage not knowing what they’re going to do. You go to the microphone and a word appears behind you, you turn around and start to improv right away drawing in the word given. You have to own those words; pretend it is your regular material. Whatever is on there you just have to go for it. You could try and wedge in your own pre-existing material but it would look clunky. Everybody does have different ways of playing the game though. Rich Hall weaves an entire story around the word. We’ll be doing Set List at Altitude, the comedy Festival in the Alps I do, this year.
What has been the standout moment/s in your career so far?
We started the comedy festival Altitude, out in the Alps six years ago. We had no idea we were even going to get to the second year, let alone the third, fourth, fifth or sixth. I’m definitely pretty proud of that. Actually with that festival we’ve brought a lot of comedians out to snowboard. Jimmy Carr came out but he had an injury so we couldn’t push him out on the snow. We brought Tim Minchin out, but being an Australian it was more like surfing for him.
If you couldn't be a comedian what would you be or is that the only job imaginable for you?
There have been many times backstage when me and a group of comedians have talked about what would happen if the rug was pulled out from underneath us....we’d be unemployable! I only learned how to use words a couple of months ago. The idea of having to not only get up in the morning, but every morning? No.
What about writing or something down that avenue?
I suppose I would try something else in the arts if possible. The thing is that I've done a few things, filming and bits of other things, writing and filming on the road and nothing is as easy as stand up. The others are more time consuming mainly. Whether it’s TV or a Hollywood film, anything you've seen on film no matter what time it is set in, it was more than likely shot at five in the morning. So there’ll be a big family dinner at Christmas time and the whole family is sitting around eating turkey. In reality those actors are falling asleep while their make up is being re-done.
Do comedians need serious affirmation as the old adage says or would you keep going on even if you weren't recognised for your work?
Definitely more than grown-ups who have real jobs but there’s no way that comedians are needier than actors. With comedy you are getting your affirmation every thirty seconds with the punch line, and if you’re not you’re not in a very good position. There is no hiding in stand up. Say even with a comedy actor, there are at least two other creative forces behind you like the writer and director that also take responsibility. So in stand up you do need that affirmation straight way, or otherwise it’s not going well.
Who is your favourite comedian?
A lot of the Americans are really good. Across the Atlantic a guy called Louis C.K.’s career is really starting to snowball. There was a whole group of comedians that came out of Boston over ten years ago that are very funny like Louis C.K. and Patrice O’Neal for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Irish and British guys, I hang around with them sure. I'm very close to them though so it’s nice to see someone outside of that group and enjoy comedy as a punter as well.
What are your plans for after Vicar Street?
After Vicar Street I'm doing a gig the next night in Newry. I'm going to do some warm up gigs in the French Alps and then Altitude will be on the 18th - 22nd March and one of our big headliners will be John Bishop and a comedian whose surname may sound like Skinners. I’ll then be going into pre-production for Radio 4 and then more documentaries along the lines of the Conspiracy Theory one I've done before, although it won’t be about the same topic for British TV.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 8th February 2013 | Comedy
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