Andrew Maxwell says that a stand-up routine about The Duchess of Cambridge saved him from prison after he was arrested at gunpoint while at the secretive US military base Area 51.
The Irish comic and a documentary crew had snuck into the vast desert installation, believed by ufologists to contain remains of a flying saucer that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, to shoot a BBC show.
But guards armed with machine guns swooped, and ordered the group of 12 to lie face down on the floor for three hours while the FBI checked their credentials.
Maxwell claims that only the Intervention of a Lincoln County deputy sheriff, who had seen his Live at the Apollo routine about the Middleton sisters, prevented them from being thrown in a Nevada jail.
The group, containing four ufologists, had been trying to communicate with the aliens through dance.
‘It was all tongue-in-cheek’ Maxwell explains. ‘I’d convinced them that there was no way we were actually going to see any aliens, so we were forming these geometric shapes, getting so fucking giggly, so excited at being in Area 51.’
Initially the team, who were filming for an episode of episode of Maxwell’s Conspiracy Road Trip to air on Monday, found it surprisingly easy to breach the perimeter of the high-security base
‘We got to the barrier and I’m expecting some soldiers to come out and tell us to “piss off”,’ Maxwell said. ‘We’ll have that on camera, job done, that’s enough for British TV.
‘Surveillance cameras zoned in on us but nobody comes out. Nothing happens. We’re a bit deflated so I stick my hand under the barrier. Then I go into the base. We’re there for about half an hour, dancing. No one comes out.
‘The one of our group knocks on the guard hut door and all hell breaks loose, four soldiers rush out with M16s. ‘On the fucking floor! On the floor right now!’ We spent three, maybe four hours like that. Passports taken, all the footage and equipment.
‘Luckily, when the sheriffs turned up this deputy had a sense of humour. It had been rung through to him that I was an Irish comedian leading these UFO nutjobs, that I didn’t believe any of it and was there to debunk it for the BBC.
‘On the way, he’d seen my Live At The Apollo clip and found my Middleton routine funny. The sheriff was a hardarse who wanted to throw us in prison. But in the end we just got a $650 (Ł375) citation fine each.’
Eventually, after seven hours, they were released. Fortunately for the documentary, ufologist Darren Perks had been snapping photos with his smartphone.
He told the Daily Mail that: ‘We were told the incident was so serious that Washington had to call London to advise that 12 “Brits” had just breached security at America’s most top-secret military base and that we were at one point going to jail for six months.’
One of the guards allegedly confided that they could ‘make you disappear and your body will never be found.’
Area 51 doesn’t feature on any maps and the US government only publicly acknowledged its existence in 2003. Maxwell’s group arrived at the base via the town of Rachel, where sequences in the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost film Paul were set. The extra-terrestrial comedy was forbidden from shooting in parts of the town.
Conspiracy Road Trip had already provoked controversy by blowing up a London bus to demonstrate that the 7/7 bombings could have been accomplished with a homemade bomb. Yet the programme has been a popular draw for BBC Three and the format has been sold to other countries.
‘There’s been a weird symmetry to the experience’ says Maxwell. ‘All UFO encounters come down to first person testimony, which is worthless in court, and grainy footage. And the only proof I’ve got that I’ve been to Area 51 is first person testimony and grainy footage. That, and a letter from the American government telling us to fuck off and not come back.’
Maxwell was denied a US visa for the 2005 HBO Comedy Festival in Las Vegas after pledging to give President Bush a Chinese burn on stage in Singapore. But he was allowed back a fortnight ago to record an episode of Set List in Hollywood for Sky Atlantic.
Negotiations have already begun on more potential Conspiracy Road Trips, which have also covered the 9/11 attacks and creationism. Next week, Maxwell begins pre-production on a similar series for Radio 4.
The as-yet untitled show, to be broadcast in the spring, is ‘a mixture of stand-up and reportage. We’re looking to go into unusual sub-groups of society and then do a gig for them.’
The format has echoes of ITV’s axed 2007 stand-up challenge Tough Gig.
- by Jay Richardson