thoughts on max turner

I woke up this morning to find out that Max Turner is dead. This news is shit.

I first saw Max perform – at the Lion’s Den I think – just under a year ago, but didn’t really get to know him until we both signed up for a writing group that Logan Murray ran in the summer. He was brilliant: wry, warm, charming, with a wonderfully distasteful, biting kind of humour that ran through his voice even when he wasn’t actually telling a joke.

His act, too, was awesome. For those of you who saw him, I apologise if I have misremembered any of this (I didn’t gig with him anywhere near as many times as I’d have liked to); but for those reading this who never knew or saw Max, this is him:

So you’ll notice he has something of a physical deformity.

But as Nietzsche says somewhere (I forget where), the great periods of our lives come to us when we take our weaknesses and turn them into our strengths.

And Max did this with aplomb in his act.

He’d come on stage, fully and deeply aware of what everyone in the audience was thinking, and go into what could perhaps best be described as a ‘playground’ cripple impression – once I saw him play it up so much you could hardly make out what he was supposed to saying. The audience didn’t know what to do, whether it was real or whether it wasn’t, whether they were supposed to be laughing to humour him, like he was only there because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation had put him there, or whether to be shocked that anyone was laughing at all. Appalled audience members would look round at the back of the room to see the other comedians pissing themselves.

And then, just when it seemed that the tension in the room was reaching breaking point, he’d stop and say with cut-glass RP precision, something like “but I don’t really talk like that, obviously.” Cue huge laugh, often applause, a slightly distasteful relief all round, and Max would go on with the rest of his act.

It was fucking genius. In one move, Max was saying, ‘I know what you think, I know how I look, I know you think you’re not prejudiced but you are, and I am going to create a situation which forces us all to be honest about this and laugh at ourselves. And then I will do some of my very well-written jokes.’

(And it should be said that his jokes were well-written, which was helped by the fact that he was so charming that he could almost get away with saying pretty much anything).

I’ve seen a few people describe him – even today on his facebook page – as ‘brave’ for doing stand-up. I haven’t decided yet whether that’s insulting or just wrong, but I think it is wrong – I don’t think it was bravery as much as necessity that drove Max into stand-up. He had to be a comic because – as it is with all of us – laughing at himself and the world every day and every night was the best and most authentic way to cope.

For my part, I know that what makes me a stand-up is the sublimation of perfectionist anger – my weakness is that I grew up priveleged, thinking the world would be perfect, and now I’m grown up I’m angry that it isn’t. So I make jokes about little stupid things people do or say because I have had so few real challenges in my life, apart from the tragedy that life isn’t quite as wonderful and utopian as I was brought up believing it could be. Things are only a little bit less than perfect for me, so I get angry at tiny idiocies and I transform that anger and frustration into jokes.

That attitude would have made no sense for Max. For him, his disability meant that life could never have been normal or perfect – but his attitude to it was genuinely sublime (which I mean in both the aesthetic-philosophical sense and the everyday sense); for him, it just meant he had so much more to joke about; more to laugh about; and as a result had, I think, so much more to say. I’m ashamed to admit I was slightly – I hate to say it – jealous, even, that he had so much to be joked about while I had so little. (Perhaps that makes me the sick one.)

I don’t think even this made things exactly easy for him – I remember talking to him after a writing group session about how he was worried about being seen as a ‘novelty’. Should he maybe just come on, he wondered, not reference the way he looked, and just go straight into jokes? I told him no, he should be who he is and reference it.

And who Max is – was – was a funny, deformed, lovely, gifted, black-humoured, big-hearted, brilliant comedian. He was a man who genuinely turned his weaknesses into strengths, and in that he found so much more to laugh at than my pathetic whinging.

And as a result, he was a greater kind of comedian I will ever be.

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you for a really warm, heartfelt and fitting tribute to Max. Like you, I only got to gig with him a couple of times. I always found him really good company, and I loved his material. I saw via Facebook that he had died (although have no idea how), and it came as quite a shock. You see people on the circuit, and then you don’t see them for a few months, then you see them again. I’d seen Max not that long ago … and now suddenly will never see him again. It’s sad.

  2. We only found out on tuesday night when one of the guys worked with Max at the Living channel dropped into Comedy Virgins and gave us the news. He touched many people’s lives there as well as here on the comedy circuit.

    It was sad to think that we will never hear from Max again. Hes progressed alot for the last year on the circuit and I am sure if he was given the time he will become big in the future. He was a good friend to us all and he will be missed.

    I will try to find out more about funeral arangement and stuff and do a general posting on facebook to keep everyone else inform.

    Take care mate.

  3. I’m so sad to hear this news. I knew Max in an earlier time and are so proud to learn that he got into stand-up comedy. Well done Max. You will be missed.

  4. Hey Charlie,

    A beautifully written piece that truly reflects what Max was about.

    I must say though that references to Max being ‘Brave’ aren’t saying he was brave to do stand up. More they are a reflection of the choices Max made on stage.

    Far too many comedians will pamper to the needs of the crowd, tell them what they want to hear and ensure their act is laugh based.

    In the latter half of his comedy career, Max seemed to have a different agenda on stage. He became less concerned as to whether the audience laughed and more involved with writing clever observations. His recent Youtube video from the Cavendish arms shows him laying into the crowd at the Cavendish as being the ‘brown class’ compared with the gold class audiences at other venues.

    Hope this is making sense….Max was brave as he chose to do material that he knew would divide an audience or that was not his strongest stuff but was what He wanted to say.

    Either way, the World is a sadder place without him.
    Cheers,
    Stevie

  5. Lovely post.

    I’m a long time friend of Max’s (knew him from school days). You’ve captured the sense of his comedy with aplomb.

    Re your brave comment. I take your point. Max had a deliciously dark view of the world which I loved. But it did take courage for him to start doing standup, to start writing and performing. And to keep doing it when he felt discouraged.

    As a mate it was inspiring to watch him on stage. He just took his life and changed it. He was an excellent performer to boot. I’m only sad he didn’t get to take it further.

    JimF


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