I’ve always felt that any topic, no matter how extreme, should be fair game in comedy as long as the subject matter is handled in the right way. It was this which drew me towards the recent Viceland TV series Hate Thy Neighbour. The show is spread over 5 episodes in which stand-up Jamali Maddix meets a different group of extremists, ranging from the Black Israelites to the National Socialist Movement in America.
Racism and religious bigotry are difficult subjects to tackle and even more so to get a laugh out of, but Maddix manages it by splicing in clips of his stand-up show discussing his various dalliances with the extremist groups – starting with the Jewish far-right Lehava group in Israel.
The Lehava group is run by public hate figure Ben-Zion Gopstein, a man who is anti-assimilation (doesn’t believe in race mixing) and who Maddix finds himself attending the Gay Pride march in Jerusalem, only 12 months after a teenager was tragically murdered by an extremist at the event in a homophobic motivated attack. So not exactly easy subject matter! But Maddix manages to use it to great comic effect, poking fun more at the absurdity of the extremists beliefs rather than the situation in which he finds himself in.
Throughout the series, Maddix finds himself in similar situation, also encountering extremist Nationalist groups in Ukraine, The Nationalist Social Movement in America (they prefer this term to Neo-Nazis, but have no problem burning Swastikas, calling for another Jewish Holocaust or calling their dogs ‘Adolf’!) and The Black Israelite group in America. Closer to home, he spends sometime with the Leamington Spa division of the English Defence league.
Although claiming not to be a journalist, he has a great knack of putting people at ease and allowing them to talk openly without judgement, partly due to him playing dumb on the subject and allowing them to ‘educate him’. He questions their views when needed, but without conflict. Well until ‘Tommy’ from the EDL takes umbrage with him questioning some of the derogatory words he chooses to use and decides he’d rather punch his head in than have a debate.
With great comedy timing (although with no sense of irony), we hear National Socialist Commander Jeff Schoep addressing a crowd and saying ‘If you come to this country you will speak English! Seig Heil!’. This is almost as comical as his group’s attempt to burn a giant Swastika in a field. Couldn’t organise a Putsch in a Beer hall this lot.
Overall, the episodes are well paced. The cut-aways to Maddix’s stand-up show break up the episode nicely, displaying his talent for storytelling and allowing for an honest critique of the groups he has encountered with a comical twist.
The show is currently still available on Sky catch up or shown on the new Viceland channel (Sky TV 153). Jamali Maddix will also be launching his European tour from 4th January, details of which can be found on his website www.jamalimaddix.com.