Max & Ivan Rachel Sherlock

Max & Ivan: Life, Choices review | Edinburgh’s golden boys are back

Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez return to the Fringe with a narrative sketch show which can’t quite live up to the duo’s legacy. Here’s our Max & Ivan: Life, Choices review.


Ask a comedian in the street (in Edinburgh in August, they shouldn’t be hard to find) who their favourite sketch acts are, and chances are Max & Ivan will come up pretty quickly.

In a way, that’s pretty surprising – for a while now, the duo have moved pretty far from the character-based sketch comedy which made their name, and their shows now tend to resemble two-man-stand-up more than anything particularly sketchy.

Their last Fringe show, 2019’s Commitment, received well-deserved plaudits from across the board. A narrative retelling of Olesker’s attempt to reconvene Gonzalez’s teenage band for the world’s greatest stag-do, that show felt like a worthy culmination of everything the duo had done together over a 12-year career.

Life, Choices, for better and for worse, offers more of the same. A touching and well-performed celebration of the pair’s friendship and the fathers they have to thank for it, their 2023 show might have no shortage of heart, but lacks a lot of the structural precision which made the rest of the oeuvre so entertaining.

READ MORE: John Kearns: The Varnishing Days review | A master at work

Delivered as a duologue with the assistance of a very pleasant-looking PowerPoint, Olesker and Gonzalez take it upon themselves to get us up to speed with their lives over the last year or so. Beginning with a 15-20-minute reflection on their comedy career, the show runs a real risk of coming across as excessively insular. Where Commitment served as a poignant display of the pair’s close friendship, the attempt to repeat the trick falls slightly flat without the compelling narrative through-line of their last journey.

Somewhere in the writing process, too, the double-act schtick seems to have come slightly unstuck. Where Olesker’s over-organised straight man ordinarily works as a great foil for Gonzalez’s free-spirited goofball and gets plenty of laughs on his own, here he almost exclusively gets relegated to the set-up guy. There’s only so many times he can respond to Gonzalez’s quirky delivery with a wry “well THAT happened”-style glance at the audience before things start to get grating.

Still, more than their previous work, Life, Choices feels like a show built for the duo’s fans. For anyone with a long-standing investment in Max & Ivan’s career, it serves as a sweet examination of an undoubtedly popular pair. For more casual Fringe-goers, however, it might not have so much to offer.

Max & Ivan: Life, Choices is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard at 17:20 until 27 August. You can view our comprehensive guide to the entire Fringe here.


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