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Jamali Maddix is not quite thirty yet but after listening to him for an hour at the Hackney Empire on Saturday night, he struck me as a man who had lived many lives. Perhaps it is his mixed heritage, straddling two cultures of British whiteness and Jamaican blackness. Or just the many, many people around the world he has interviewed, listened to and tried desperately to find a way to understand where they were coming from. He is a natural storyteller, an observer of people, and as witnessed on his Hate Thy Neighbour series for Vice TV, he has an uncanny ability to get people to open up to him.
As a mixed race writer myself, I feel his duality. There is always this pressure to ‘pick one’, either be white or black, as though it is a mere choice he has to make rather than one that is often made for him by others, based on the way he looks. I’m South Korean and white American living in London, and everyone forms an idea of who I am, based on my appearance, ‘definitely Asian, possibly a cleaner or nanny, maybe Japanese’. In his show, Maddix has a bit about Muslims mistaking him for being a ‘follower of Allah’ because of his beard and light skin tone, and the laughs come in steadily because that story is funny when told the right way, especially when he says he’s not a terrorist yet looks like one.
Yes, there are some race related jokes in Maddix’s show, some heckling of the audience, a hippie who sat near the stage was the butt of a few jokes, but what stood out for me was the honesty behind Maddix’s stories. He shares with you personal experiences from his life, some tragic, some hilarious and some definitely awkward (ladies, never date a comedian without expecting your sexual exploits with him making it into the show).
The power of Maddix’s comedy is his ability to show us how messed up our world is and then give us the permission to laugh at it. Saturday night’s audience laughed a lot. It was a smart, funny, enjoyable show, which gets five stars from me. Maddix has launched a world tour starting in America. Check it out because he is on his way to becoming a global superstar, and you’ll leave with a smile—in a post-Brexit-Trumpian world, we all deserve these precious moments where we can forget ourselves and just laugh.