These days we’re used to seeing stand-up comedians appearing on stage solo. The current comedy landscape seems to be more about the confessional torrid realities of our everyday life and less about slapstick and surrealism. Enter Max Olekser and Ivan Gonzalez, a pair of character comedians following in the comedic duo footsteps of Laurel and Hardy and The Two Ronnies. With their endless talent for impersonations they bring an array of colourful characters to the stage, and their work has seen them pack out theatres at the Edinburgh Fringe and appear on their own Radio Four show, The Casebook of Max and Ivan. You might even recognise them as the almost mute executives Ben Rosenstern and Jerry Guildencrantz on BBC1’s acclaimed W1A. Max and Ivan have spread themselves far and wide and their rise to the top of the comedy circuit is apparently unstoppable, which makes it all the more exciting that their latest show, Our Story, takes a significant turn away from their previous comedic creations.
Max and Ivan have become well known on the comedy scene for flawlessly shifting between multiple characters played by just the two of them, and fitting them into a wider story. Their last show at The Soho Theatre, The End, focused on the residents of a fictional small town Sudley-On-Sea, a doomed and downtrodden English seaside town with some sinister and eccentric residents. But with their latest show at the Soho Theatre Our Story, Max and Ivan will be focusing on playing themselves rather than other people for the first time. In Our Story, Max and Ivan will relive the bizarre stories from their respective childhoods – Max was a teenage professional wrestler whilst Ivan confesses that he was ‘heavily involved in the cub scouting community’ – an absurd combination indeed. ‘We’ve never delved into our own personal lives before!’ Max admits, ‘we had very different childhoods, and this show looks at the beginnings of our friendship and our childhood ambition.’
It’s undoubtedly a bit of a departure from Max and Ivan’s previous surrealist comedy depictions. ‘It certainly wasn’t something we did lightly!’ Max says on making the decision to focus on themselves this time round, ‘but we were thinking about how we could push forward the type of shows we want to make.’ It seems like it would be a scary thing to veer so far away from the recognisable characters we know Max and Ivan for, but the duo are absolutely confident that rather than brutal realism, this new show will be just as comedic and ridiculous as their last. ‘We decided that our own lives were far more ridiculous than most other stories out there’ Max reasons, ‘the truth is ridiculous, in this case stranger than fiction!’
Unpacking their respective childhoods for the show, the duo admitted that it was a pretty strange experience even compared to their usual performances. ‘It all became slightly meta and strange, working out the childhood versions of ourselves’ Max says. Their introspection consisted of delving through their family archives and embarrassing photo albums, ‘really I’m thankful that digital cameras weren’t more prevalent back in the day!’ Max jokes.
Writing material alone can be enough of a struggle, but working alongside someone else all the time must have its difficulties and plenty of creative differences. For Max and Ivan however, it’s a process of experimentation that seems to flow pretty fluidly. ‘It’s messing about, improvising and having a brilliant laugh’ Max says optimistically, ‘and twenty five percent tears, blood and pain of course.’ Their dynamic partnership has seen them work across many different formats, from their Radio Four show through to their television appearances. ‘Each different medium gives us something new to play with’ Ivan says ‘we’re excited about every single one!’ They’re a duo that aren’t afraid to push themselves to create yet more exciting work, and there’s even talk of writing a play together. ‘We’re in the process of developing a play for the Soho Theatre, which is very exciting indeed! And what’s different is we’re writing this for a cast, not just the two of us.’
Acting out and experimenting with wacky characters certainly seems like a fun way to spend an evening (Ivan even describes how he has just noticed that there is a ‘slightly camp German guy in everything we do’) and their passion for creating stories and new worlds is evident: ‘One of the things we love about being character comedians is the theatricality of it all’ Max says ‘and all the ridiculous ideas that come with it.’ Ridiculous is a recurring word with Max and Ivan, who are clearly ready to see the ridiculousness and hilarity in every situation – even their own.