Jamali Maddix: “Social media has created a whole new layer of celebrity – one that craves fame”

The Essex-born stand-up comedian on the evolving sociology of the internet.

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Jamali Maddix doesn’t like “regimes”. The 27-year-old comedian-turned-broadcaster “bombed out” of London Metropolitan University, but not before winning the Chortle Student Comedy Award in 2014. “I didn’t like school, I’ve never liked routine,” he explains, “yet I found myself a reason to go. Other people were going, and at 18, I hadn’t worked out my own path yet. If winning the Chortle Award was something good that came out of it, then fine, but I later realised that I could have a career without a degree.”

Maddix’s indifference towards higher education, though, should not be confused with ignorance. “I love learning,” he clarifies. Expletives withstanding, the tall, bearded, bespectacled comic book aficionado is gaining a reputation as an engaging and erudite television presenter. Think Bill Hicks – incidentally, one of Maddix’s “heroes” – meets Louis Theroux. “You’re very kind,” he says, smirking as he smokes, but insists: “Theroux is still the man. He’s the master.”

Maddix, who previously fronted Vice’s Hate Thy Neighbour documentary series, where he interviewed a variety of extremist religious and political pressure groups, has recently finished a forthcoming project with Channel 4, Adventures in Futureland, which explores the evolving sociology of the internet. “They had me travelling America, meeting all sorts of interesting and weird people, man – bitcoin billionaires, virtual sex performers, Instagram celebrities.”

Is Maddix more focused on filmmaking or comedy these days? “It’s always comedy. I enjoy the filmmaking, it’s something different, but there’s no need to make it sound so either or. I actually think the two things can complement each other… where there is a joke to be made [in a documentary], I’ll make it. And my [stand-up] material benefits from the new experiences.”

As for comic books, which he is very keen to discuss, Maddix says he’s “cool with” superhero films being the dominant Hollywood trend. He points to Logan, the most recent X-Men spin-off revolving around Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, as “the best” film based on comics to date.

“I really like anti-heroes; I’m not into the white meat, all-American, holier-than-thou types. I need my characters to be flawed.” So, what super power would Maddix have if he could, and why? “I’d go for super speed,” he says, “and I’d use it for selfish gains. Make no mistake.”  

Social media features prominently in both Maddix’s comedy and documentary interests. “It’s definitely a significant human phenomenon…that urge to chronicle your life online and that sense of competition that platforms like Instagram or Facebook thrive on is strange.” 

Maddix’s view of fame, he says, is “incidental”. He wanted to make a living out of comedy and is “very grateful” that he has had the chance to do that. “But nah, the ambition wasn’t to be famous. I don’t personally consider myself to be famous. The idea of doing Live at the Apollo was cool, when I was starting out, because it was a sort of benchmark that I could set for myself. But when I got to do that slot, it wasn’t about being on TV, it was getting that validation that enough people found me funny to give me that slot in the first place. If people enjoy my work, that’s as much as I can ask for.”

Social media, Maddix suggests, “has created a whole new layer of celebrity – one that actively craves fame”. He adds: “This idea of having followers, likes or whatever, is all about competition. It almost encourages it. So now social media gives people, who in the past didn’t have the talents required to be famous, a chance to be widely known. They can’t sing, they can’t act, they can’t run, jump or swim, but they can select a cracking filter on Instagram.”

In addition to fame-checking, social media has also provided a catalyst for censure. The politics of offence is aggravated by rows over what someone shouldn’t have posted online on an almost daily basis. What does Maddix, then, make of people facing trial by Twitter? “There’s something to be said about people using social media to post harmful shit, but ultimately, you can’t get angry over every single opinion. Context is crucial. There are some cases where, maybe it was a different time, when you thought or felt differently, and I don’t know if I’m in favour of mobbing on someone because of a mistake they made ten years ago.”

Still, Maddix doesn’t believe political correctness has gone mad. He’s “fine with people calling out shitty behaviour” if it needs to be called out. “There’s a difference between people being too easily offended,” he says, “and actually people just accepting that times have changed, and you can’t say or do certain things now. The world just needs its own ‘no dickhead’ policy.”

Jamali Maddix has come a long way since the Chortle Student Comedy Award. For all the baggy clothes, beanie hats and raging against the machine, he is, in fact, a consummate professional. As fun as he finds his work, he takes it very seriously. “I’m on the lime and soda,” he says, raising his glass. “I’ve quit drinking for the time being. I can get free drinks from my place of work, because it’s usually in a theatre or a bar, but I’d rather not lose my focus.”

Is he bucking the millennial stereotype, then, of being financially reckless? “Nah, come on. I think that’s a load of shit, to be honest. I’ve quit drinking for a few months. I don’t own a house. The UK had years of excess, of banks giving out loans and that, and then there was a global recession. I think that’s probably a more legitimate explanation of millennial austerity than the fact we are partial to a pint.”

Adventures in Futureland will air on Channel 4 later this year. 

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman