GET FAMILIAR: MUNYA CHAWAWA
We had a chat with London-based, online comedian - Munya Chawawa about his influences, creative process as well as his daily routine/motivation. Find the full interview below:
How did your relationship with comedy begin?
I grew up in Zimbabwe and my grandparents still lived in England. They’d always ask us to see home videos to see what we were doing and what we were up to. So, we’d film it on a camcorder and right after the whole family would sit down and watch it. I just used to love the moment where I would do something and the whole family would be cracking up laughing. So, from that day onwards that seed was planted in me – knowing that I liked the reaction of seeing people really enjoying something. I went through life, I tried my hand at being a presenter both on radio and TV, but I felt like nothing quite matched the reaction of when you’ve made someone laugh at something, because it’s such a good feeling! Also, since the world has been pretty dark and pretty tough, bringing people together with laughter has felt Like a bit of a superpower.
How and where did you start your career?
I’d say I started my satire career by responding to a new story about Jamie Oliver trying to release packets of Jerk rice in supermarkets. Basically, Jamie Oliver claimed to have come up with this groundbreaking new recipe for jerk rice and there was a huge backlash from the Caribbean and the black community. I thought to myself – look: instead of looking at this as a really offensive attack on black culture; let’s see if we can flip this around and show it for how ridiculous it is. That was when I created my parody chef - Jonny Oliver. Not only did he make jerk rice, but he made rum punch by punching actual rum. He would sterilize his chicken with anti-bacterial spray and chop up bananas, claiming they were actually plantain. When I realized how people’s emotions switched from anger to laughter, I thought that maybe – I could do this to any piece of bad news. If I flipped it well enough, I could make people laugh next time they see a similar headline. I think one step at a time, that’s how I could make the world a little less bitter and a little more enjoyable. When you understand that there is nothing you can’t joke about, all of a sudden you remove the power of letting things depress you.
Where did you grow up and how has that influenced your life at all?
I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I was born in England. I tell people I’m Zimbabwean because, you know when you just connect with a place so deeply? A place can feel like your spirit animal. You build a spiritual bond with that place almost. Growing up in Zimbabwe, people are so positive and so happy you really do believe you can do anything. You spend your days playing outside in the sun until darkness sets in. No one tells you what you can/can’t do, there is no health and safety. You’re just free to be a kid and free to let your mind expand as large as it wants to be.
So, I think coming to England where there are so many rules and there’s so much structure. The only thing that’s allowing me to think outside the box is remembering what it was like growing up in Zimbabwe and not having a box. I feel like if you cut me, I will bleed Zimbabwean, even though I’m from England. That’s the place that feels most welded to my heart. I owe a lot to the country in terms of how it shaped my character and taught me to have morals in a very reckless world.
Who were your main influences growing up?
I’m influenced a lot by 2 satirists who used to do a podcast together, they’re best friends and their names are John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. John Oliver went on to do a talk show in the US, a huge political talk show. He’s like the token funny British guy holding it down for the UK. You know Trevor Noah, a lot of people sometimes draw parallels because he’s quite a switched on man of colour with African roots. I feel like that’s a very nice comparison to have and I’d love to meet Trevor Noah. I’d love to replicate his formula in the UK.
I think that people anticipate a certain type of entertainment from black entertainers. They think of the Kevin Harts, Key & Peeles or the Lenny Henrys. I’d like to add a bit more variety to show an angle that British people haven’t seen before coming from black comedy. A kind of very sharp, political commentary that stands up to some bits of British culture that they don’t like to admit.
Please take us through your creative process
I usually go through different news websites and look for topics that are uniting people in certain emotions. Could be anger, could be happiness, being upset... Then I write the most obvious punchlines you could write about that subject and then move onto the more subtle things. If I’m going to talk about racism in the news, I might look at the clips that have been circulating on the internet and take them way out of context. Once I’ve got my 4 big hitting jokes that I know are gonna make people laugh out loud, I thread them together with tiny little jokes or Easter eggs that you have to watch the video more than once to find out. I try and make sure that people are laughing in the first 3-5 seconds of a video so that they stick around. The word I’d use to describe it is a very “breathless” style of comedy, where there are so many jokes in one minute that you have to watch it more than once to understand exactly what’s going on.
How would you describe your personal style?
My clothing style looks like someone got slam dunked into a fancy-dress treasure chest. I’ve always loved bold colours, when I moved back from Zimbabwe, I lived in Norwich which is a very small part of England. It’s a city the size of a town. Everyone wore the same thing! One time I saved up money to buy some shoes, I walked out of the shop with them and the guy walking into the shop had those exact shoes on! I used to wear a big yellow jacket and yellow shoes. I understand that I looked like a horror story in human form but I like to express my personality, you know? I love bright colours, I love big bold patterns and designs. I feel like there’s a simple pleasure in having a white t-shirt, but what does it tell a person about you? I’d much rather just wear my heart on my sleeve. Literally.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far?
The biggest problem that I overcame actually is negative thinking or comparative thinking. I’m not ashamed to say that my whole turning point in my career was reading The Secret, understanding the principle of what you think about is what you get.
If you cloned yourself and you chose to live your life thinking the worst could happen, but your clone chose to live life thinking the best could happen - anyone will tell you that your clone is going to live a happier life. So, I just had to stop and ask myself “Why am I not doing that?” Once I stopped focusing on how unfair the industry could be sometimes or why I wasn’t at the same position as another comedian or presenter and just focused on my dreams, day after day they started happening. Everything you could ever want for yourself is in your mind and you just have to unlock it by thinking about it more often than thinking about why you don’t have it.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
In my industry, which I guess now is comedy & entertainment, I would increase people’s patience and also their open-mindedness for content. So, for example, people use the phrase a lot “this guy doesn’t miss” and I think actually that’s a little bit of a dangerous philosophy because you have to miss in order to learn. Some of Michael Jordan’s best quotes are about how many times he missed in order for him to become the best. I feel like we need to allow people to have their misses sometimes. Let them learn from them and refine the formula. That should be an okay part of the process. Creating a world where people believe they have one shot to get it right and if they don’t that’s the end of their career, is quite dangerous. So many creatives wouldn’t exist if that principle was around in their time.
Do you have a dream goal/project?
Yes, for sure, a TV show would be amazing. Turning on Netflix and hearing that sound and then seeing my face come up would be pretty epic as well. Ultimately, I want to leave a body of work behind whereby whenever I retire, whenever that might be in my life; people can press play on whatever that thing is and it’ll bring them the best 60 or 30 minutes of their day. Meanwhile, I will be in Montenegro. Specifically, Montenegro because it’s my dream place to retire. I’ll be there with a cocktail and with the sea in front of me, probably on a boat. I’m the happiest guy in the world when I’m on any sort of boat trip! That for me is my life complete.
What motivates you on a daily basis?
I definitely want to be the best. But I also have my own vision board that I am trying to work towards and I’m motivated by the possibility that everything I could ever want I could have if I think about it. So that motivates me to dream big because once you dream it, you can achieve it; sorta thing. Ultimately what pushes me is knowing that I want to leave something on this earth you know? I find it crazy to think that you could go through life and no-one will ever know who you were or what you did. The world is so incredible that you want to leave something on its canvas. It might be a piece of artwork, it could be a piece of clothing or a quote. Something that stands the test of time so that even when you go there is some evidence that you existed. That’s what motivates me, trying to leave some sort of mark on this crazy, amazing world.
What’s your day-to-day like?
I wake up, say 3 gratitudes, I read my affirmations or I look at my vision board. After I’ve done some exercise I will go through the world, see what’s happening and try and make some creative angles. If not then I try and do some things that will inspire myself such as watching some old school classics, watching some great comedians and even playing video games.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I have a series called “Murking From Home” which features real UK MC’s working with Unknown P on song which we made from scratch during lockdown. So, I've had Big Zuu on there, Lady Leshurr, Capo Lee and Novelist to name a few. I’m working on developing my own TV show at the moment with different broadcasters. The next big move is definitely to enter the world of TV!