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In Conversation With: Munya Chawawa | Interview



Courtesy of Munya Chawawa Press


by Isabelle Hampton-Zabotti


‘Unknown P’, the UK’s first posh drill rapper, ‘Johnny Oliver’, Jamie Oliver’s long-lost “Caribbean cousin”, and sensationally racist newsreader ‘Barty Crease’ are all characters born from the ever-churning creative mind of Munya Chawawa. The 30-year-old comedian from Norwich kept us entertained on YouTube and TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now has big plans for the stage with his upcoming stand-up tour across the UK. This Q&A with Gaudie Arts will give the inside details on the content creator’s journey from online skits to documentary-making, Taskmaster, and even meeting The Rock—who perhaps owes him money.


So, first things first, what have you been working on lately?


Obviously my tour, in that my experience with stand-up until this year has been quite

unconventional. So, my first gig was opening for Thundercat, this Grammy award-winning artist.

He came down to London and he asked me to open his headline show by doing half an hour of

stand-up. I just had to throw together a set in three days, walk out in front of five thousand

people and just pray that they were gonna laugh—and they did.


Now I've my own tour in October. So there's no running. There's no hiding. And to prepare for

that, I'm giving myself a proper karate kid crash course. I want to do 80 gigs, before I even start

my tour, all different pubs and clubs.


I'm not talking about any shiny floor red carpet gigs. I'm talking about the proper get stuck in,

guy called Darren here, heckling at the back of the room. I wanna learn as much as I can as

quickly as I can and get out there in October and really surprise people.


In Scotland, it’ll be a Finlay here, instead of a Darren.


Yes, you want to be ready for the Finlays.


Can you give us any teases about what we can expect?


I would like to think that there's going to be a lot of my characters that people are familiar with.

I'm just figuring out which ones work best on stage and how physically fit I am to be able to pull

them off. The first time I performed Johnny Oliver in a sketch, I did like seven cartwheels, and

I'm just thinking, if I need to not have an asthma attack over the course of this hour, I have to

strategically place the cartwheels.


Is there anyone in your family that inspired your sense of humour?


My grandad’s really funny, I think he's inspired a lot of my wit. I definitely got my sense of

humour from him. I just wish that I got my height from him, because this guy was like, six foot

two. And, for some reason, I still managed to come out five foot seven.


I know that also you've done a lot of collaborations with people you could have been

inspired by along the way, as well. You've collaborated with Uncle Roger, Alex Horne,

even The Rock, recently. Has there been a particularly memorable one?


Meeting The Rock was pretty cool, because of the amount of furniture I have broken thanks to

that man growing up. You see him do one move on TV and you're like, sure, I think I can slam

my sister through a table and it should break. So yeah, I owe him—I think he owes me a lot of

money for damages. But yeah, meeting him was pretty insane and it was just nice to meet

someone with the exact same physique I have.


You're known for your quick wit and your political satire. Was there a point where you

decided that that was the turn that you were going to take for your comedy, or was that

always the plan from the start?


I think I realised that the world was getting quite interesting around the time that I started. The

first sketch I made was Johnny Oliver as a parody in response to Jamie Oliver, you know,

cooking Caribbean food in a packet and then selling it in supermarkets. I was really interested in the kind of discussion that was happening around that, because, in Norwich, we didn't really feel tapped into those countrywide conversations. So if I added in my two pence to this situation, will it strike up more of a conversation?


So yeah, I enjoy satire. I enjoy basically taking the sting out of stuff that should be serious and helping people to cope with those things through laughter.

I know that this isn't your first tour round the UK either. You've had your

(Bafta-nominated) show, ‘Race around Britain’, which saw you in Manchester, Kent,

Wales, talking about the black experience. What was your biggest takeaway from the

series?


My biggest takeaway was...that I think it would be overly pessimistic to assume that people are

mean or racist. In a lot of instances, people are just unsure. And that's why the show worked as

well as it did, because a lot of people didn't speak up or speak out, or if they did, said the wrong

thing, purely because they just had never had a warm guide to knowing the right thing to say. So

that was the thing I took away from it. That most people are good, and with a little bit of a nudge, you can show people a point of view they've never considered before.


Also, I found out that three Karens—three middle-aged white ladies named Karen—can make a

pretty iconic drill song.


Do you ever feel a little bit exhausted speaking about these topics, and how do you take

some time for yourself, if you have?


I don't really have a problem with having those conversations. I know that there's an element to

it which is, you know, we shouldn't have to. But the situation is that, sometimes we do, and

some people are going to feel more at ease doing that than others.


And I feel like I'm in a position where I don't mind guiding people through conversations or

difficult topic areas because I feel like it's for the greater good. So, if that's the one contribution I

can make to living in a better world, it doesn't feel like a lot to do, you know?


Do you have any other projects on at the moment?


I was in the film, Rye Lane, which is a very British Romcom, even a South London Romcom. So

yeah, I’m just looking to transform myself beyond what people might expect from somebody

who blew up online, you know?


I was going to say also that some of your content does seem quite elaborate, even the

small skits as well. What is the general process for making them?


Well, I sit down. I basically do a big mind map of stuff that I think is funny and then try and

weave it into a narrative. I think about whether I can create a character off the back of that.

A lot of the time it's just basically filming what's in my imagination and then some stuff you find is also in other people's imagination. And that's the stuff that really resonates.

Just a final question. What's the song that you've had on repeat recently or an artist you've been obsessed with?


It's this guy in America called Mack Keane. He’s like a really, really under the radar artist I found

on this mix from Soulection, and yeah, man, I'm just in love with this stuff. I like any R&B where

they go crazy with the runs and the riffs and stuff. That’s basically the majority of what my

neighbour hears every time I take a shower.

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