‘The world is still full of stupid f**** - it’s solid gold every day’ - Andrew Maxwell talks Brexit, and why the Irish hate the English
Having lived in England for almost 25 years and fashioned himself an enduring career in political comedy, Dublin-born comedian Andrew Maxwell was perhaps the perfect companion for Al Murray on the English comedian’s quest to find out why the Irish traditionally hate the English.
Maxwell (43) and Murray (50) team up for the Irish episode of Murray’s new History channel series, Why Does Everyone Hate the English. They also happen to be good mates of 20 years, so when Maxwell was presented with the offer of the gig he says accepting it was a “piece of piss”.
Aside from drinking pints of Guinness together in the sun (it was filmed in Ireland in May and early June), the odd couple traverse a 400 year history of Irish/English relations over the course of 45 minutes from Cromwell to Oliver Plunkett to the Famine and the Jeanie Johnston to Michael Collins and the War of Independence, right up to Ireland vs England Six Nations clash in 2017 at Croke Park, the home of GAA. There are, of course, sobering moments, and there are jokes at Maxwell’s expense at the Leprechaun Museum.
The series title, Maxwell admits, is “provocative” and he bemoans the fact that Murray has been trolled for it online.
“We ended up at Croke Park. It was a great way to finish it,” he tells Independent.ie. “It’s something we wanted people to know – if they actually bothered to watch the programme – the fact that the giant change that came from the social liberalisation of the Republic, the Good Friday Agreement, the economic leaps the Republic of Ireland have made - in no small part thanks to the EU - all of these things have fed into, and mutually fed into, the relationship my generation and the people below me in Ireland, and some a little older, have towards England and the English and Great Britain and the UK.
“It’s massively altered, and for the better. Who the f*** wants to spend their whole life resenting something or somebody else?”
Early on in the programme Murray cites research conducted by producers online about why the Irish do actually hate the English, but the programme is not about pointing fingers and scoring points. That, says Maxwell, would be pointless.
“My central premise was, if we’re going to tot up scores about who was mean to who, we’d get nowhere. It’s literal whataboutery, which is pretty much what every dick does on the internet,” he says.
“It’s like a failing relationship. It’s what everybody does in the last six months of a relationship, ‘You did this!’, ‘Well, you did this!’. It’s just a justification for your own shit. There’s no point taking that angle.”
A programme with comedic leanings, about Irish English relations is pretty timely given the Brexit fiasco, a fiasco which provides Maxwell with plenty of material.
“The world is still full of stupid f****. Every day I wake up thinking the world will have been taken over by sensible leadership and I’ll have f*** all to joke about. But no, it’s solid gold every day!" he laughs.
In Britain Brexit is a “generational” thing, he says, “You’ll find it vanishingly hard to find anyone under a certain age who’s into it in any way or can even kind of follow what the f*** it’s about.”
For 50 per cent of Brits mostly, but not exclusively, younger, he says “it felt like coming in eight series into a box set and you were meant to know what the f*** was going on.
He quips, “’We can’t let them control our fish!’ Really? You live in Birmingham. You live 100 miles away from the coast. Do you eat fish? ‘No’. What the f*** has it to do with you? ‘We can’t let them dominate our fish’.”
He tells a Brexit-related story about meeting 60-something man in a local hotel steam room in England to illustrate his point. The man made a comment which Maxwell says he meant in a “genuinely nice way” and not “to be unwelcoming or undermining”, but it was a comment that “threw” him.
“He’d heard my Irish accent, I was there with another person and they’d left so I was just left there and he turned around and said, ‘Bet you’re delighted being Irish’. ‘Pardon? In what way?’ I said. ‘Well do you know what I mean now we’re out of Europe you’re next. Once Ireland is out of the EU you’re free to rejoin us’.
“He was dead serious. I was so thrown by it – and I’ve lived in a heavily affected by Brexit part of England for two and a half years now - and it just threw me so much all I could think to say was, ‘Who told you that? Who said that to you?’ in the same tone you’d use to a kid who says [unprintable expletive] on a bouncy castle; ‘Who told you that?’
“He was so shocked by my reaction he went all sheepish and said, ‘I dunno, I just thought you’d like it’ and his voice trailed off. And then I felt like I was bullying this older gentleman in a steam room.
“It goes back to Jacob Rees-Mogg and the ERG [European Research Group] idiots party within the Tory party, which is essentially the Brexit party. This is what they’ve been telling them through the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express and the Sun. This is what they’ve been told - this is the solution to Ireland. ‘They’ll be thanking us in five years time. It’s going to be f***ing amazing’.”
His best guess, “reading the tea leaves” is Brexit will simply be pushed back; “They’re kicking a whole house and the kitchen sink down the road. Literally democracy is completely on hold, they’re not going to do anything for a year. There’s no government. There’s literally no government.”
Despite such bleak protestations, Maxwell reckons he’s a “political realist” and even an "optimist".
“I’m fascinated to see how the world really is and the strengths and weaknesses in people and movements and ideologies is always fascinating to me. I‘m an optimist. If you look at the broad sweep of human history we’re always moving forward. There can be retrograde spasms but each century becomes more peaceful, human life has more value and that’s expanding out to the lives of other creatures on our planet. These are judders and shudders in the system,” he says.
He is not convinced we’re going to wipe out the planet through irreversible climate change either.
“The planet is ailing at the moment because of all the carbon and the plastic in the sea. I’m not a global bullshit denier. That’s all definitely happening but where there’s muck there’s brass,” he says.
“Twenty years ago, Ben Elton wrote a book about the environment, stating that the end of the world will be big business. A lot of money will be made eventually stripping carbon out of the air, amongst other things. Same with electric cars. It’s happening, and so will car sharing, all that will be happening. It’s all moving forward,” he says.
The developing world will be the “ones who will eat the sin of the last 100 years in the West,” he adds.
“Overall, number one, the planet will survive humanity anyway. There’s no doubt about that. The two ways things actually change are generationally and technologically and both of those are heading in the right direction.”
Al Murray’s 'Why does everyone hate the English?' continues on HISTORY Monday 22nd October at 9pm. Andrew Maxwell joins Al to put forward the Irish perspective in episode 3. HISTORY is on Sky 130 / Virgin 270 / BT 327 / TalkTalk 327. The series will be made available on all catch up and on demand services. www.HISTORY.co.uk