Munya Chawawa: Sitting down with a stand up

Just a week into his breakout stand-up tour Boyz II Mun, comedian Munya Chawawa can be found chatting with his friend and stylist, Lewis Munro at the rooftop lounge of One Hundred Shoreditch. Having risen to fame with his real-time internet skits, which can parody anyone from celebrity chefs (think Caribbean chef Jonny Oliver) to rappers, the comic is a dab hand at moulding socio-political commentary into viral hits. Now, he's stepping out of the screen. Here, the pair sit down to discuss Chawawa's comedy crash course, VR ping pong obsession and questionable fashion journey, from Worst Crime Against Fashion awardee to designing his own tour looks.

Jacket by Diesel, top by Eckhaus Latta

MUNYA: I’m ready to be interviewed the hell out of!


LEWIS: Hi Munya. You’ve known me for a long time, so it’s nice to see you. First off, let’s talk about your tour. Can you explain what it is you’re doing and how you began creating a comedy tour?


MUNYA: Well, the tour is called Boyz II Mun. When I finally got to the end of writing it, I realised that it was kind of the story of my life - from when I was a boy in Zimbabwe, as free and adventurous as you could imagine, and then moving to England and feeling like my wings had been clipped by how brutal and individualistic British culture could sometimes be. It’s basically about the man behind the videos and the characters that people know, who I often shield because I don’t always want people to know that person. I’m bringing it all out to the surface. Basically the challenge was trying to capture the magic of those online videos, but on a stage. I honestly think that we’ve managed to create something that pushes the boundaries of stand-up to the absolute limit. If you’re expecting to come along and see a guy with a microphone standing on stage for an hour, it’s the opposite of that.

“It’s like a crash course… You know when you’re younger and are desperate to get your driver’s license because all your mates are zipping around in their FIAT Puntos? I thought I’d do the equivalent in stand-up”.

LEWIS: What were the challenges from creating online content, to creating a full, hour-long stand-up show, with nothing in front of you to go off?

MUNYA: So when I started writing the tour, I used to sit and watch other comedians and did not have a clue how they’d managed to write those jokes. People around me told me that I needed to talk about me, and my life. So I was like, “Right, I grew up in Zimbabwe, my dad banned me from watching Harry Potter, then I moved to a village called Framingham Pigot in Norfolk…”. And that’s what the tour became! I love making online videos, and I’ll never stop doing that, but I think one thing that people don’t get from social media is who you actually are. This tour is that version. Some people think that I made it overnight, or that I’m the guy that never sleeps, or that I don’t have a soul and that I exist in a political time chamber. But like, no, this is Munya! I’m an actual dude who’s had a crazy life and ended up in comedy, and here’s the backstory.


LEWIS: So your online stuff is obviously based around satire, and this is like the BTS to how you got there?

MUNYA: Exactly. This is the making of Munya. It’s like a live BTS documentary where you actually laugh. I know that people come into my work expecting something topical, funny, energetic. Even though it’s about my life, it’s still pulling from the three core areas that people love about my work.

Sweater & jeans by Eckhaus Latta
Top by Eckhaus Latta, trousers by GmbH, necklace by Hatton Labs

LEWIS: Is there any material that you’ve considered putting out, and decided is way too far? Either online or offline.

MUNYA: Look, I’m what old ladies would describe as a ‘nice young man’. I’m a very inoffensive person; a very simple guy. I remember when things finally started going well and I had some momentum behind me, everyone was asking me, “What’s the first thing you’re going to buy? Are you going to buy a Mercedes, a Rolex?”. I just wanted a Nutribullet, man. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about! People’s motives for comedy are obviously very different person to person. I write comedy because I want to make people feel good. So, before I even get to the point of putting the video out, I’d know if it was getting the message that I wanted across. I care more about people's feelings than making the next viral hit. So I test my videos out on my friends. I’ve even sent you some of my videos…

LEWIS: Exclusives!

MUNYA: [Laughs] Yes, exclusives! And that always gives me the feeling of what’s too far, whether it makes people feel good and whether it’s funny. Ultimately, I think that’s why I have longevity, because I put the people before the joke.

“I remember when things finally started going well… Everyone was asking me, “What’s the first thing you’re going to buy? Are you going to buy a Mercedes, a Rolex?”. I just wanted a Nutribullet, man!”.

LEWIS: Can you talk about the lead up to doing your comedy show. You challenged yourself to do 80 gigs in 6 months…

MUNYA: So, when the tour was announced I hadn’t written a word of the show. I don’t know how normal that is for stand-ups. For me, it was very scary.

LEWIS: So you learn on the job basically?

MUNYA: Pretty much. You’re selling something to people, and people are buying tickets, but you’re thinking, “I don’t know what this is yet”. I was having a conversation with my promoter and she’d heard stand-ups say that it takes 30 times to nail a joke. So I thought, I better do 80 gigs then! It’s like a crash course… You know when you’re younger and are desperate to get your driver’s license because all your mates are zipping around in their FIAT Puntos? I thought I’d do the equivalent in stand-up.

Top by Eckhaus Latta, necklace by Hatton Labs

MUNYA: One other thing that I’m really excited about with this tour is the fusion of fashion into it. The uniform for a lot of stand-ups seems to be black jeans, black shirt - which makes a lot of sense to keep the attention on the jokes - but I tried that for a couple of gigs and felt that I was restricting myself. You know me, I like to wear really colourful, bold stuff. So having worked with you on the looks for the tour, I’d like to think we’re bringing a new fusion between stand-up comedy and fashion.


LEWIS: Definitely. There aren’t many other comics out there that build their character based on their outfits.


MUNYA:  Everytime I walk out on stage, I’m so excited about what the canvas of my outfit is communicating to people. I think that’s part of it - when you’re a stand-up, you’re really trying to get people to like you across your set. I want to introduce people to myself and I think it starts with how I dress. So we’ve got some really exciting stuff planned for the outfits on tour.


LEWIS: Including your custom outfit?


MUNYA: Yeah! So we’ve ended up designing a one-of-one custom piece with Levi’s. I was banging on about Zimbabwe, and we thought we’d try to build this into the outfit. So we include the Jacaranda tree, which is very spiritual and grounding. It’s a beautiful gem within Zimbabwean agriculture. Then you’ve got an incredible mountain range, the local women who will walk for miles with stuff balanced on their heads, and the huts, which represent a village that you might come from. We call that your ‘home home’, or ‘musha.’ We worked with an incredible design team and embroiderer and built this tapestry onto the piece. It’s really a fusion of two homes: my British home and my Zimbabwean roots. I’m really looking forward to you seeing it!

“I’d like to think we’re bringing a new fusion between stand-up comedy and fashion”.

LEWIS: Okay, we’ve spoken about all the good fashion moments, now let’s get onto the bad stuff. I know the story - what was your most embarrassing fashion era?


MUNYA: It’ll have to be between sixth form and uni because I just wore… First of all, I had a mohawk. I knew what I wanted - the Brazilian footballer Afro one. There were no barbers who could facilitate that. We only had Turkish barbers so I just said, “Can I have a mohawk?”. He googled it and saw the Sex Pistols and next thing I knew, he’d gelled it into spikes. I walked out of the barbers in a rural village in Norwich, a mixed race guy with this spiky mohawk and a No Fear hoodie. A Lot of Fear is what the hoodie should have said. I remember, I won [the award for] ‘Worst Crime Against Fashion’ at university because I used to walk around in bright yellow Reebok boots with a yellow Superdry jacket. In my defense, I do have slight colour blindness, so I thought I was rocking a nice grey cardigan and black trousers.


LEWIS: [Laughs]


MUNYA: Meanwhile I’m wearing the Smurfs printed jeans with a green Diadora hoodie! Sometimes Lewis has to reign me in.


LEWIS: I think we tend to blame it on your colourblindness… How would you say you’ve evolved into the style that you wear now?


MUNYA: I think we’ve now got the perfect balance. It’s about harnessing it into something more cohesive; basically pacing myself with how much wow factor I’m putting into every look. People will still see me and think that I dress like Munya, but I’m less of a crime to fashion now.

Shirt by Our Legacy, jeans by EYTYS

LEWIS: What sort of brands are you loving right now?


MUNYA: I really love Ahluwalia. I’ve spent a lot of time with Priya [Ahluwalia]. We bumped into each other in Paris and literally chatted for about 3 hours: about our parents, the tour, learning all about the brand. My perception of fashion prior to that was of very standoffish and aloof designers who wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with anyone who isn’t Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour. In that moment, I got it. She’s built something in the same way that I have built my comedy career; just two creatives learning as we go. Also, Foday from Labrum. I went to his workshop in Shoreditch - I feel like he’s having a real moment and I love that for him. I’m very brought in by the colour and how gregarious Casablanca sometimes feels. Aries… obviously htown! A lot of the brands that I love have people behind them who also show a lot of love. They’re people who want to know you beyond your work. I also really love Lorenz - I think it's one of the only brands that can put a jam sandwich on a shirt and make it look fashion.

“I only ever have one sock on, but can never remember how the other one came off. At the end of every day, there’s always only one sock!”.

LEWIS: What does relaxation look like for you?


MUNYA: Realistically, it’s got to be video games. I’ve always been in love with them. My first memory of video games was when my grandparents came to visit us in Zimbabwe with this big suitcase and they told us to play in the garden. I walked in and they’d installed the SEGA Mega Drive, you know, the one that you had to slam the cartridges into? I played it so much that weekend without stopping, that when I turned off the console and walked outside, I could only see black and white for two hours.


LEWIS: What about your social life - what’s it like to live with Munya?


MUNYA: Very chilled out I think. I’m a very strange guy, I know that. I talk a lot out loud. I have very strange habits. Like I only ever have one sock on, but can never remember how the other one came off. I only like eating toast when it’s cold, because I like the butter to be a solid layer on top. I play a lot of video games - a lot of VR pingpong. Just like the billionaire PlayBoy lifestyle that people think I lead.


LEWIS: One thing that I’ll say, as I’ve been to your house, is you have a lot of interesting things in there. What would you say the weirdest collectors item is that you have in your house?


MUNYA: It’s probably an ornament. I have a huge Mortal Combat figurine. I’ve also got a head that someone knitted of me and they tried to sell it for £100. I had to buy it, it’s the most repulsive thing you’ve ever seen. My hairline is back in 1975, my teeth look like corn on the cob. If you poked it in the head with a knife, I would probably feel something…

Jeans by Eckhaus Latta, shoes by Martine Rose

Photography - Luca Brown

Styling - Lewis Munro

Words - Ella Aldersey-Williams