Interview

Punch Lines: Comedy Duo Max & Ivan on Their Funny Fight Show The Wrestling

19 Aug 2022 | 4 MINS READ
Michael Curle

With acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe show The Wrestling being livestreamed at Curzon Soho, Michael Curle speaks to the comedians about body slams, brass knuckles and budding friendships. 

‘At one of our first shows, he punched me in the face with some brass knuckles,’ says Max Olesker. ‘That was after I took a steel chair to his back and joined the evil side,’ adds Ivan Gonzalez, the other half of comedy double act Max and Ivan. It’s hard to square this tale of brutality with the two men joining me for a cosy Zoom chat. I mean, steel chairs to the back, brass knuckles to the face… it’s not exactly Morecambe and Wise. But, then again, Max and Ivan are no ordinary double act.  

The pair’s unique blend of comedy and wrestling – complete with ringside commentary, roving reporters and scheming managers – is about to land on the Fringe with the force of a perfectly executed body slam. Back after a Covid hiatus (and raising money for Comic Relief), The Wrestling has been downing protein shakes and adding some serious muscle. The line-up is bigger, the venue is bigger, and – with the addition of a livestream broadcast from Curzon Soho (giant foam hands optional) – the audience will be bigger too. 

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

It's a far cry from the show’s 2011 debut. Back then, the queue of comics willing to squeeze into questionable lycra didn’t stretch as far, and Max and Ivan were forced to take more chances with their safety (though never, they’re quick to point out, with the safety of their comedy pals, who are licked into shape by south-London wrestling school, PlayFight). ‘I had to hire a new wrestler at the last minute after a cancellation,’ remembers Max. ‘I was expecting to land on a big meaty pillow of a man. Instead, I jumped on a short, wiry Scottish-Israeli gentleman, and landed on my ankle, which promptly broke.’ Ouch. 

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

The injury did little to discourage Max, who even a decade ago was no stranger to the ring. At school, he fell in love with the ‘theatrical, athletic, larger-than-life performances’ of The Rock, The Undertaker and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. He dreamt of one day plunging himself into the sweaty madness. ‘I fell so far down the rabbit hole I came out the other side clad in pleather as Max Voltage, the Human Dynamo. I was briefly the UK’s youngest professional wrestler until comedy took over. But I kept the pleather in a drawer and got it out again and at the earliest available opportunity.’ 

‘And that drawer smells,’ adds Ivan, the pair dissolving into laughter.  

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

So what makes comedy and wrestling the perfect tag team? ‘Wrestlers and comedians just get each other as people,’ says Max. ‘They meet in this showbiz hinterland: travelling long distances to perform for a few minutes, and then psychoanalysing what they do later. It’s a type of performance that reacts off a crowd, and the crowd reaction informs what you do on stage or in the ring. We’ve seen firm friendships formed.’ Ivan agrees: ‘We put the show on at the Melbourne Comedy Festival a few years ago. Ronny Chieng, who is now on The Daily Show, became friends with The Cremator. They still meet up. It’s beautiful to see.’

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

The talk soon turns to past bouts and the surprising physical prowess of modern comedians. ‘Aisling Bea was utterly fearless,’ says Ivan. ‘She wrestled as “Revenge for the Famine Aisling Bea”. She was led to the ring by Katherine Ryan, in her true form as a nun, and Katherine’s daughter, who was a child bride.’ 

Max and Ivan, who have been performing narrative sketch comedy since 2007, are excited by the prospect of being back among their peers at the Edinburgh Fringe as comedy’s capital city welcomes a fresh crop of novice grapplers. According to Max, ‘the streets crackle with electricity and extraordinary creativity… and, er, lots of student improv groups’.   

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

The talk soon turns to past bouts and the surprising physical prowess of modern comedians. ‘Aisling Bea was utterly fearless,’ says Ivan. ‘She wrestled as “Revenge for the Famine Aisling Bea”. She was led to the ring by Katherine Ryan, in her true form as a nun, and Katherine’s daughter, who was a child bride.’ 

Max and Ivan, who have been performing narrative sketch comedy since 2007, are excited by the prospect of being back among their peers at the Edinburgh Fringe as comedy’s capital city welcomes a fresh crop of novice grapplers. According to Max, ‘the streets crackle with electricity and extraordinary creativity… and, er, lots of student improv groups’.   

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

Among the talent heading up to Scotland are Mock the Week star Ivo ‘The Head Boy’ Graham and ‘Mr Dawkins’, who the duo assure me was Ivo’s wrestling teacher at Eton – before he was banished to the state-school system for ‘unspecified crimes’. Elsewhere, Taskmaster champion ‘Kween Bee’ Sophie Duker goes head-to-head with pro wrestler Rhia O’Reilly; while Rosie ‘Daddy’ Jones, ‘The Henchwoman’ Jessica Fostekew, ‘The Welsh Dragon’ Kiri Pritchard-McLean and more duke it out in the main event to decide who will take home the coveted championship belt. Attempting to commentate on the ‘six-way chaos’ are Phil Wang and Starstruck’s Rose Matafeo (winner of the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Award). 

The Wrestling

The Wrestling

As we wrap up, I have to ask… as Fringe veterans, have they ever had to introduce an unknowing heckler to their special set of skills? ‘Happily, there aren’t many heckles for sketch acts,’ says Max. ‘It’s been known to happen, and we’ve never quite come to blows. But hecklers be ready, ’cause you may well get powerslammed.’

WATCH THE WRESTLING AT CURZON SOHO

   

Michael Curle

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