Fringe Interview: comedian Andrew Maxwell on playing the Aussie Fringe Circuit

Andrew Maxwell. PIC: Ian Georgeson
Andrew Maxwell. PIC: Ian Georgeson
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Promoted by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In a regular series of interviews to mark World Fringe Day, acts performing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe share their experiences of other Fringes around the world. This week: Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell on the Australian Fringe circuit

Pity the political comic struggling to keep their cutting edge over the last two years. “Material-wise, the world is spinning so fast” Andrew Maxwell marvels. The recent general election will have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences, but for the opinionated Irishman it’s already reshaped his Edinburgh Fringe hour. He’s just performed four low-key preview gigs and now, he chuckles, “it all needs to be ripped up and started again. Every one of my Corbyn jokes is out of date.”

One routine that seems likely to remain in Maxwell’s show, however, is about a nation that’s just gone a record-breaking 26 years without recession, and is routinely cited as a blueprint for Britain’s future.

“One of the many models that various Tories have spewed out about how Britain will look post-Brexit is that it’ll be like Australia,” he explains. However, after playing fringe festivals in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, as well as Melbourne three times, he has decidedly mixed feelings about this, not least because Australian society is more conservative than people in the UK tend to assume.

Reflecting on the so-called Larrikin-Wowser nexus, he ventures that there are two sides to the Aussie character.

“The Larrikin is the fun Aussie essentially, a bit wayward, a bit of a naughty scamp, kind of a scally - pretty much every Aussie abroad, unless they’re an investment banker who’s been sent directly from headquarters,” he says.

“Then there are the Wowsers, essentially jobsworths and fun sponges. Aussies are very rule-based people, they love a rule. Because Australia is essentially a Victorian English project - they basically took Hampshire and put it in the desert on the other side of the planet.”

Having only met Larrikins in Edinburgh and beyond, Maxwell belatedly realised that he’d been afforded only a partial picture of the former colony. Taking the example of swearing, he cites Barry Humphries’ characters and Kevin Bloody Wilson as stoking these misconceptions. “You just make assumptions” he says. “But even now in Australia, you can get a bit of an ‘ahhhh’ if you drop the c-bomb on stage.”

Unlike Edinburgh’s proliferation of beer gardens in festival season, Maxwell says Perth’s affluent gentility makes for “very quiet, reticent but still appreciative audiences” and a more low-key drinking culture. He recalls performing there last year with Daniel Sloss and asking a barman where to go when the city centre bars shut. To which he replied: “the other side of the railway station, it’s pretty edgy over there.”

“We literally walked across the railway tracks to the North Bridge district” Maxwell recalls. “And I swear to God, if it was in Ireland, it would be where you put the embassies. There was graffiti but you could see it had been paid for by the council. These weren’t gangsters tagging buildings, they were beautiful murals.”

Melbourne’s population is almost ten times that of Edinburgh, and the festival is more diffused across the city. You can walk out of an Edinburgh show, remain on foot and be in hundreds of other shows within 20 minutes, whereas Melbourne’s urban sprawl necessitates the use of transport between performances. But it’s the creative correspondence between the fringes that’s more striking than the differences. Maxwell maintains that the cultural conversation between Edinburgh and the fringes Down Under has been “really fruitful.”

“Every year there seems to be some new Aussie talent that none of us knew was on the radar comes over and wows us. And it also happens in reverse, there’s guys who’ve become colossal Down Under. Steve K Amos is huge down there, Jason Byrne, Danny Bhoy. There’s this back and forward. Sammy J and Randy, Flight of the Conchords - they could establish themselves in Australia before cracking it over here. Acts wise, we’re just constantly learning from each other.”

*Andrew Maxwell is at the Assembly George Square Theatre from 2-27 August, www.edfringe.com

*The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was the world’s first Fringe back in 1947. Seventy years later, there are now more than 200 Fringes worldwide. World Fringe Day, on 11 July, marks 70 years since the birth of the Fringe concept, www.worldfringeday.com