Well-known for his series about right-wing extremism, Hate Thy Neighbour – currently airing its second season on SBS VICELAND – award-winning comedian Jamali Maddix is on his way to Australia, bringing his brand of stand-up to the Sydney Comedy Festival later this month. Before his arrival, we spoke to Maddix in a café in Shoreditch, East London, his sunny and cheerful disposition a marked contrast to the typically grey skies of the UK.
How did Hate Thy Neighbour come about? Was Vice the natural choice to air it?
So I had this rough idea for this show, where I just went around the world and spoke to racists, and then did stand-up in between. It was very simple and then we developed it, which turned into Hate Thy Neighbour. I would have pitched it to anyone, but it naturally came together under Vice.
The second season is quite different to the first. In season one, you’re following sectarians around the world, while in season two, it’s strictly just the US. What prompted that change?
Because Vice just wanted it to be the US and I’m fine with that! And with season two, I didn’t just want to do another show about racist people, because even in season one, it became the same story six times. Having the same themes, I think it can get boring and I wanted to lighten it a little bit. You can’t do another 10 episodes of hard-core Nazi s*** – it’s too much for people to watch or even to make.
When we decided to open it up a little bit, I wanted more of a grey area, because many people watch it and are like, "Nazis are wrong, bang." So having a little more of a grey area and going from what they are saying to why they are saying it. The best episodes for me are the curve balls like "Brat Camp", which is my favourite. Another favourite is "Sovereign Citizens", because it’s not like they are bad people, it’s just that they have ideas that you haven’t considered. If I was carrying on making films, that’s the kind of film I want to make as opposed to a lot more of the fascism stories that were seen in season one.
Making Hate Thy Neighbour, you’ve no doubt come across some interesting characters and situations, like the episode with Reuben Israel and his mates yelling out to a crowd, “Move to London with all the Muslims” and “Get the f*** out.” How do you keep calm in that sort of situation and not burst into laughter or punch someone in the face?
I do laugh, like I laugh all the time. Everyone asks me, "How do you stay calm?" So I see it as, number one, they are just words and words aren’t hurting me. Two, if I’m going to get upset by these words, I shouldn’t make this show. I have to tell myself, "Look, you’re going to hear stuff that you hate, but that’s just the show," and I tell it to their face what they’re doing is wrong, or I laugh and I make jokes out of it. Sometimes it’s just so ridiculous that it’s not even in reality – I see it almost like a cartoon sometimes. I have thick skin. I mean, I’ve been in comedy since I was 16 and people don’t always say the nicest things to me, so doing this show, it’s a bit like that.
What’s the most interesting group you’ve interviewed from either season?
I liked the group in "Sovereign Citizens" because I’ve always been interested in conspiracy theories. I don’t believe in them, but I’m interested in it. A lot of people are into conspiracy theories, but living a conspiracy theory and taking that next step – that’s rare. People watch something like the Obama deception and won’t do anything about it, but these guys are saying, "We ain’t giving tax, we ain’t doing none of this," and that’s a real depth into your belief. But they were really cool guys to hang out with and it made you question things a bit more.
Someone on Twitter said Ernie from that episode needs a spin-off, which definitely needs to happen.
So we were thinking about what to do after the "Sovereign Citizens" episode. It was only a quick idea – we thought of doing a party with different members of the cast, but then we found Louis Theroux did the same and we couldn’t do it. I just wanted to take Ernie to New York City, but it never became anything. I thought it would be great – just me and Ernie in New York City. It would be fun, you know, just a half an hour. He was a really nice guy, funny, great qualities. I don’t think he was a bad person and I think that’s what I liked about making that film, because it wasn’t like, "Look at these evil people," it’s just people that live a bit differently. People think I have a fascination with the hate – I don’t. I have a fascination with the strange and weird. I think the show, though, has its own course.
What’s the craziest conspiracy theory you’ve heard?
One I heard from this Nazi was that in evolution, certain animals made certain people. Dolphins were white people, wolves were Armenians, Chinese were cats – then he pulled his eyes back and said, "Well, they eat fish. Cats eat fish." And of course, black people come from monkeys.
Do you find it conflicting giving these people a spotlight?
Oh yeah, I’m fully aware and fully take it into appreciation – I do think about it. I don’t think everything we did was right sometimes, and there are things we could have changed, I definitely do think about that. I try to justify it or I try to think about it clearly. How I see it is those people exist. We didn’t create them just to make this show and I think not showing them doesn’t stop them. At the same time, you are just putting these people on TV and that’s why I don’t make it just about them anymore.
We’re excited to see you coming down to Australia for the Sydney Comedy Festival. Have you been to Australia before? What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Australia?
No, I haven’t been to Australia, it’s my first time. When I think about Australia, I think that it’s f***ing far. It’s so far I never thought I’d actually go. I expect it to be hot, I expect it to see a lot of flip-flops and it seems spread out like LA – you can’t really walk in LA. I heard the weed is terrible. Beaches, Sydney Opera House, Neighbours, the outback – the outback is what I really envision, but I know it’s not like that.
I don’t have a lot of time to go around Australia as I’m only there for nine days doing the Sydney shows; this is more just a preview. I’ll be back, though, with [the] Vape Lord [show] and go to some of the other capital cities.
I do think about British comedy, actually, when I think about Australia because I know you guys watch a lot if British comedy – Stephen K Amos is big over there, you’re watching Live at the Apollo. Some of my favourite comedians are from Australia. Steve Hughes, Jim Jefferies, Brendon Burns. Brendon is a good mate of mine, and I’ve met Jefferies a few times but I’ve always wanted to meet Steve Hughes. There’s some great comedy coming out of Australia.
Also, there are a lot of you here in the UK. Australians were the only white guys that would live in the 'hood and not give a f***. Before gentrification, there was some Aussie dudes and you wouldn’t f*** with them, either, you’d just leave them alone. Walk around in their flip-flops and s*** and would not give a f***.
What do you think of Australian politics? Do you have an opinion?
I don’t know a lot about it. Did you vote for Abbott? He’s a mad c***. I’ve only heard little bits and pieces Abbott says and you go, "That’s mad," but I’m only hearing snippets and seeing clickbait. He’s not prime minister anymore, is he? You would think that a country that’s hot with beaches would be more liberal.
Comedy is something I know you prefer, but after Vape Lord do you still want to be doing documentary projects?
Yeah, I do love comedy. Comedy is in my bones, comedy is in me and that’s what I love. I like doing documentaries. What I like about comedy is that it’s free. When I do a show, I say what I want to say. I like the art form of docos, but working in television ain’t easy. There are a lot of mechanics and people, and I just enjoy doing comedy and I don’t mind just doing that.
How do you find living on the road?
You get used to it; it becomes normal. Especially when I was younger and I was going away to Europe every month, and I became very tired and sick of it until you have to slap yourself and say, "Mate, I’m a kid with no qualifications and I’m getting paid to go to f***ing Lithuania." You’ve got to appreciate that, and it’s all just to tell jokes and talk s*** for an hour. I’m here saying, "Oh, I don’t want to be here." Shut up, I’ve been to Dubai, America, Poland – I’ve been all over the world and here I am complaining, so you really have to check yourself.
When I travel, I make sure I go out because I can’t talk or do a gig properly otherwise. I try to go and do the local thing, even if it’s just to grab a coffee. There was one time when I was in Norway, and I went from the airport to the hotel room and then straight to the gig, but in my head, I’m talking to Manchester. I wasn’t there with them and wasn’t present. If you don’t live around them, you can’t engage and be like, "What the f*** is up with this cheese?" I’m looking forward to eating some of that Coon cheese I’ve been hearing about.
With your show Work in Progress being in Australia, is there anything in particular we can expect?
Besides jokes and doing my usual thing, I’m actually really interested to see what the sensibilities are in Australia, because I say some dank s*** sometimes. I want to see what the line is over there and how far I can go over it. It’s weird, especially with this show, people think I’m more woke than I am and it’s more like I just don’t eat bacon sometimes. I still say some really bad things, but people think, "Oh, he’s woke!" but nah mate, you’ll come to the show and end up being disappointed because I’m just doing the usual comedy.
Jamali Maddix is in Australia this month, appearing at the Enmore Theatre 26-29 April.
Watch Hate Thy Neighbour on Tuesday 10 April at 9:40pm on SBS VICELAND and catch previous episodes anytime at SBS On Demand: