Jamali Maddix has brought this comedy show to the Fringe, Vape Lord, to cover some quite sombre and sobering topics. It is loosely about his experiences with racism, depression and sex as he talks a lot about his presenting of VICE’s Hate Thy Neighbour, which is a TV show that squarely tackles the sweeping issues of American Neo-Nazism.
There’s no arguing with the validity of Maddix’s diatribes against institutional hatred, but unfortunately when this is fused with the show’s looseness and its moments of breakneck acceleration into disturbing material, it makes for uncomfortable viewing.
A fantastic example of a Fringe show that successfully mines a grave subject for comic material is Luisa Omielan’s Politics for Bitches. It feels more structured than Maddix’s show, blending comic insight with harrowing vignettes about her mother’s maltreatment and late cancer diagnosis while going through the NHS. Luisa turns this experience into fuel for her righteous attack against Tory budget cuts and bureaucratic red tape. She debunks myths and demystifies how exactly how taxpayer money is used by reeling off up-to-date statistics. Her NHS narrative is peppered with hilarious comic events, always building towards a climax, so that the emotional impact surrounding her mother’s potentially avoidable death is such a strong gut punch.
If Omielan’s show is a gut punch, then Maddix’s is more of a sucker punch. Where Omielan’s show displayed a good gradient of material, with comedy and tragedy sandwiched together and working towards a shocking revelation about institutional failures, Maddix darts about everywhere in a puzzling jumble that doesn’t feel interconnected; the sucker punches come from jerking towards heavy material after light conversational pieces.
Some parts work more as spoken word, like his mimicry of a massive crowd ‘Sieg Hiel’ chant at a Neo-Nazi festival, and other parts were just simply confessional, like when he talks through his stressful consideration of closing his career in stand-up comedy. These are fine parts of a show to have, and he’s totally justified in decrying the idiocy of white supremacists, but it shouldn’t all be billed as comedy – a lot of it makes you wince and feel ashamed of hateful global trends, so it’s more of a dose of political angst than anything comic.
There’s no real issue with the material that Jamali presents except his awkward ad hominem attacks on members of the audience. He picks on an elderly couple and goes through rather raunchy suppositions about their private life. He accuses people of not having a good time and garners this kind of pitiable act where he blames us for not responding correctly to his humour. This device is quite tiring, especially when he gets screechy and complacent about it. It serves very little purpose other than to single out people for guilt and finger-pointing. Someone like Stewart Lee can make this sort of admonishing work to the advantage of his jaded stage persona, but here it’s just excessive and unfunny.
Jamali discusses the psychology of comedians and the connection between humour and depression. Are great comedians actually sad clowns? It’s certainly a hot topic after Hannah Gadsby’s swansong stand-up gig Nanette, which was broadcast on Netflix, about finishing her comedy career because of the pain in self-deprecating comedy. Yet playing the sympathy card isn’t enough on its own to deserve the four stars Jamali says he desires. You have to organise and deploy pity strategically – timing and structure is what makes a great comedian, and unfortunately Jamali’s show is skittish. In lacking build-up it feels staccato.
There are no segways in Vape Lord – Jamali will just drastically change direction, appearing flustered by the sheer volume of his own material. In fact, the show has very little to do with vaping – there’s about two minutes on it, although he does vape onstage and humorously concedes that indoor vaping is a legal grey area – and then he’s back to bouncing around the place on politics, sex, racism and America. When he does gain momentum he’s great, such as his bit talking about sexual kinks and his bizarre discovery of identity-confusing choking fantasies, but it’s too sporadic to carry Vape Lord through to amazing success. There’s potential in this show if only it was collated and delivered in a more controlled way.