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Max and Ivan Are... Con Artists
In his own words, Max Olesker left the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe with “a gammy foot and an Edinburgh Comedy Award” after truly going the extra mile last August.
He and his comedy partner Ivan Gonzalez organised a comedians vs professionals wrestling match at the Pleasance, bringing together Olesker’s two worlds for the first time.
“I was trained at the best wrestling school in Portsmouth, the SWA Academy,” he reveals. “It had generated a whole stream of wrestlers for WWE and TNA. I was a teenage wrestler, between 13 and 21 I wrestled regularly around the world until I went to university and comedy consumed me.”
Joining him in the ring were the likes of fellow Comedy Awardwinner Humphrey Ker (as time-travelling Nazi The Vinyl Solution) Adam Riches, Russell Kane and Colin Hoult (as Thwor armed with a small sponge transfixed by a pin). Nick Helm acted as ringside MC, Brendon Burns and Andrew Maxwell in the commentary box and Pappy’s starMatt Crosby as a roving reporter.
Lined up against them were pro-wrestlers including The Man That Gravity Forgot Ben Satterly, and TNA’s Mark Haskins.
“The comedians aren’t as large, but they have an insatiable desire to perform in front of an audience,” says Olesker, who appeared under the name Max Voltage, his wrestling name while he worked for Real Quality Wrestling as part of the IPW:UK team.
“Russell Kane was hit by a chair, and Brendon Burns got kicked in the nuts, but if anybody had to get injured I was glad it was me.”
He broke his ankle while vaulting off the ropes to perform a somersault plancha (or dive) on The Vigilante Johnny Moss – meaning he had to complete the final weeks of his Edinburgh run with Ivan on crutches.
Now the pair, who met at university, are preparing to premiere the follow-up to Max And Ivan Are Holmes And Watson, at the Brighton Fringe.
“Holmes And Watson was a big, risky show for us,” he says.
“The first thing we had done since we were tax-paying human beings was a straight sketch show, but we had the idea to do more with a narrative format. We wrote the first 15 minutes in one frantic afternoon and performed it the next day at a sketch show in South London.”
Holmes And Watson relied solely on the two performers, with no props or sets, using only their voices and actions to recreate 1920s London.
“We wanted to take what we had learned from sketch comedy and create a narrative piece which we could do more things with,” he says. “We felt we were able to fit in as many ideas as we could in a sketch show, but streamline it so the whole was more than the sum of its parts.”
For the follow-up, the pair decided to move the clock forward to modern times for a heist thriller, which sees the pair play a cast of hundreds in a Vegas caper to rip-off a sinister oligarch.
“We like to take an idea, notion or concept that people are comfortable with and use it as a jumping-off point to do things that are completely unconnected,” says Olesker.
“This has recognisable characters and archetypes, things that are exciting, magical and bewildering. We’re in a strip world of casinos, hotels, conmen and criminals who have been drawn from all four corners of the world. We wanted to play around as much as we could with the notions of good and evil and the motivations for certain actions. The oligarch is seen by the public at large as a generous philanthropist, while, without giving too much away, in reality he’s a vicious, amoral scumbag.”
Following its Fringe debut the show is going to Buxton, where Holmes And Watson won an award last year, Latitude, Dublin and Edinburgh, as well as Sussex’s newest festival, Nova, in July.
Now all that’s left is to finish it off.
“We had the first draft written by the end of last week,” says Olesker. “We’ve got lots of sound design this year which we didn’t have before – we wanted to have a sweeping cinematic soundscape.
“It’s great to say it now, but we’ve got to make it a reality!”
Upstairs At Three And Ten, Steine Street, Brighton, Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26
Starts 10pm, tickets £8.50/£7. Call 01273 917272.