“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Wise words from the late civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King there – driving out hate from our society and our souls is certainly a goal worth striving for. And gaining some understanding of where the opposition is coming from is generally regarded as a wise opening move in such a battle.
After all, to quote another great source of philosophy – pop-punk trio Green Day: “You’ve got to know your enemy”.
That’s exactly what UK comedian Jamali Maddix is doing with Hate Thy Neighbour, a six-part documentary series for SBS Viceland that sees the twentysomething travelling around the world in an attempt to get a handle on the renewed rise of extreme right-wing beliefs.
Maddix didn’t enter into the process, which saw him mixing with right-leaning radicals in Sweden, Ukraine, Israel, the United States and his own United Kingdom, with the intention of providing probing, ground-breaking reportage on the topic.
Instead, he goes into Hate Thy Neighbour with the kind of natural and somewhat bemused curiosity that you or I may have about the seemingly rapid resurgence of a mindset that would appear to have been dormant for decades.
It’s also a bit of a brave move on Maddix’s part – he admits he’s often mistaken for a Muslim, even though his ethnicity is a combination of English, Italian and Jamaican. (He also admits that mistaking him for Muslim would be inaccurate, given he’s a “committed drinker, smoker, and fornicator”.)
So just who is Jamali Maddix? Where did he come from? And what made him want to explore the revival of right-wing beliefs, racism and hatred?
The Gospel According to Bill
Like many a comedian, Maddix was inspired by the late, great firebrand Bill Hicks, whose brief but meteoric career motivated would-be stand-ups the world over to grab a mic and rage against the machine.
Unhappy and unmotivated at school, teenaged Maddix was watching a TV special on stand-ups when Hicks made an appearance.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck is this, man?’,” he recalled. “Like, ‘This shit is mental’. I love the people I grew up with, I do, but every conversation was about money or clothes or just nothing. I always felt that there was more to this, but I didn’t know what it was. And I watched Bill Hicks and I thought, ‘There’s someone who has the same ideas as me’”.
After Motivation Comes Validation
Maddix first tried at his hand at stand-up comedy soon afterwards at the age of 16 but soon found himself discouraged and disenchanted. It wasn’t until he started studying theatre at uni that he received the kind of advice that hit home.
When stand-up comedian Jason Manford ran a class on comedy, he invited students to perform any material they may have had prepared.
After Maddix did a couple of bits, he says Manford told him higher education was teaching him nothing.
“He looked at me and went, ‘The only advice I can give you is just to leave uni, mate – you don’t need to be here’. He went ‘Be a comic, that’s what you are’.”
Maddix took it to heart, writing comedy all day and performing three or four sets a night.
“You know, I don’t blame a lot of people for giving up, because it’s a hard game, man,” he said. “You go onstage and no one laughs, it’s shit. It’s disappointment, disappointment and it’s hard to carry on. But you have to make the decision yourself and go, ‘I’m going to have to keep on trucking’. And I did; I kept on trucking and I done all right.”
Gazing into the Abyss
Just in case he needed a reminder to stay the comedic course, Maddix got an elaborate tattoo on his left forearm of a man looking into an abyss.
“It’s that idea of me actually doing what I want to do and fuck the corporate shit,” he said. “That’s why I put it on my forearm – so I can’t work in a bank. I don’t want to be a bank teller; I want to be a comedian.”
(It actually had the desired effect – he got blood poisoning from the inking and dropped out of uni to recuperate, giving him time to focus on finding his comedy voice. And by 2014, he’d won the student comedy award presented by UK website Chortle.)
Reasons to be Fearful
Maddix had been refining the idea behind Hate Thy Neighbour for a few years, but whenever he pitched it to a UK network they’d suggest changes that took it further and further from the comedian’s intention. VICELAND, however, did not.
Hate Thy Neighbour has seen Maddix compared to the likes of Louis Theroux, with his genuinely curious approach to extreme situations and personalities resulting in a dynamic that’s genuinely eye-opening.
“There were some times where I went back to the hotel and I thought about what I did that day and I’m like, ‘Oh, that was a sticky situation’,” he said.
“It’s probably stupid of me but when you’re filming, you’re so engrossed in your work that you don’t think about it that much.”
Hate Thy Neighbour airs 10pm Monday on SBS Viceland. Catch up on the show from the first episode on SBS On Demand: