Smackdown: Max & Ivan on new sitcom Deep Heat

Fringe darling sketch duo Max & Ivan make the leap to the small screen with Deep Heat, a sitcom set in the world of British Pro Wrestling

Feature by Polly Glynn | 17 Mar 2022
  • Max and Ivan

“Live comedy and live wrestling have so much in common. There's so much overlap that we've found that wrestlers and comedians almost always understood each other on a very deep level,” says Max Olesker, one half of the duo behind Fringe-famous The Wrestling. For those new to The Wrestling, it’s the definition of event comedy – training a rag-tag bunch of comedians to jump in the ring with the stars of the British professional wrestling scene, replete with behind-the-scenes storylines, villains and champions.

Despite Olesker once being the UK’s youngest pro wrestler, wrestling was never previously a thought for Ivan Gonzalez. “Was I interested or even aware of it before I met Max? No. In university, Max put on a wrestling show at the Union. Just a straight-up wrestling show for non-wrestling fans and it was amazing.” Since then, Gonzalez has performed with some of the greats of the wrestling world and has duly become enamoured. “You can't help but admire how spectacular professional wrestlers are once you actually know how difficult it is to make one move look decent-ish. It's almost like you pick up a guitar and you have one guitar lesson and then you see a virtuoso playing and you can't help but admire it, even if you're not necessarily into the music.”

Since their university days, the pair have myriad successes to their name, including winning the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Panel Prize for the first round of The Wrestling in 2011, and a Best Show nomination in 2013 for The Reunion, a multi-character narrative comedy about a high school reunion. 

Now they return to the ring, bringing Deep Heat, a sitcom set in the lycra-clad world of pro wrestling, to our screens. From day one of production, the cast and series director, Matt Lipsey (Inside No. 9, Ted Lasso), stepped behind the ropes to get into the wrestling mindset. “It isn't about hurting each other, it's about making each other look amazing and it's just as much 'the sell' as it is the action. Once that clicked, we were allowed to properly train our actors and they really threw themselves in. Literally.” The team were soon engrossed: “Once you're in a wrestling ring, bouncing off ropes and leaping off the top and slamming onto the mat, it infuses you with excitement, so they were all incredibly keen to go and see live wrestling which is still a kind of school trip that's on the agenda.”

The six-part series is a classic underdog tale of a down-on-its-luck wrestling company in the Northwest, spurned by its top performers for a newer, flashier opportunity. The duo created and wrote the series (alongside Detectorists and Chewing Gum’s script editor Andrew Ellard), as well as playing Jack and Woodhouse, two of Boss Pro Wrestling’s most hapless trainees. Jack is “incredibly uptight and neurotic and nervous. He has the athletic ability and potential to wrestle very well but is far too highly strung to even step into the ring because he can't bear to be looked at”, while Gonzalez describes Woodhouse as “the roadie that's just stuck around forever. He's not even trusted to sell the merch, he's just about trusted to unload it without fucking it up hopefully.” Unluckily for the show’s protagonist Holly (actor and presenter Jahannah James), Jack and Woodhouse are the “closest allies that Holly has in her quest to keep the company alive.”

“I'm just a massive fan of the underdog story,” Gonzalez explains. “It doesn't even have to be an underdog sports story although there are plenty of those around." Pitch Perfect is about a group of underdog a capella singers who are trying to show the people what they're made of, and Deep Heat has a similar trajectory ahead of it. But it’s not just the fictional world of Boss which follows this path. Real world pro wrestling is the same, Olesker points out: “It genuinely does attract an array of eccentrics, outsiders. From the people who follow it to the people within it, it's a welcoming space for people who often don't find what they're looking for elsewhere in the world”. Akin to the comedy sphere, wrestling, he concludes, is “an alternative universe populated by people who are able to come up with their own alter-egos and superheroes, and to a certain extent tell their own story.”

Deep Heat screens on ITV2 and ITV Hub from 28 Mar