As of March 2023, Munya Chawawa had done eight stand-up gigs. Ever. And now, the British-Zimbabwean content creator is embarking on a nationwide tour. The most recent have been intimate, work-in-progress shows. But Chawawa’s first two gigs were unusually massive. Comedian Ed Gamble mentored him for a crash course in live performance, after Chawawa had managed to ‘trick a producer’ into letting him perform his first ever televised set. To Chawawa, this would be a win-win situation: good telly either way.
The second gig? Opening for Grammy award-winning artist Thundercat at Brixton’s O2 Academy. ‘[Thundercat] had said: When I come to London, we should meet up. What he actually meant was: Do half an hour of stand-up comedy. I don’t know why I said yes.’ But Chawawa went home, wrote the set across three days, and smashed the gig. ‘Everything I’ve done has been a baptism of fire,’ he says. ‘D’you know what I mean?’
Absolutely. Let me just read you a list of the venues for your upcoming tour: O2 Academy Leicester; O2 Academy Bournemouth; Glasgow; Edinburgh. To go from barely having performed, to this, must feel huge.
It feels amazing. And what feels more amazing is to have sold out so many of the dates. Ultimately what I’m really excited for is just being able to show people that you can start online, but you can be so much more than that. You know, maybe some people think that if somebody’s working online, they won’t have legs when it comes to the real world. But I’m really treating this like a craft. The goal I’ve set myself is I want to do 80 gigs before I do my first tour show. I’m not talking about shiny floor, red carpet venues. We’re talking about your pubs and your clubs, just basically going through all the motions, I’m prepared to have tomatoes thrown at me. I’m also prepared to have gigs where I come out exhilarated and then gigs where I’m questioning my whole sense of self.
But I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure I get this audience to go, ‘Oh my god. He’s great online but he’s also a great stand-up.’ So it feels like that Idris Elba documentary where he learned to become a Thai kickboxer in like six weeks, except no one’s going to be elbowing me in the face, I hope. Unless any politicians turn up.
You’re quite vocal about being an introvert, but you have ways of hiding it. How do you feel about taking those techniques and broadening them out for such large rooms of people?
I feel quite excited about it. I did crowd work for the first time recently and, you know, it felt great. I just like to connect with people. I wanted to be a psychologist: the real dream for me was to have people on the couch telling me about how much they hate their uncle.
You were a beloved contestant on Taskmaster season 14. Have you found yourself propelled into another level of fame since being on that show?
I’ve definitely found my audience to have expanded massively. A lot of older fans. In the past, if an old lady was staring at me for more than 30 seconds, I’d think it was because she thought I was going to rob her. Now, it’s because she just loved how I handled the laser task. So that’s been really cool.
I think about when I first moved to London – I remember being in this tiny room, assembling my desk with a kitchen knife, thinking, ‘How is it possible that I could go from this to doing anything remotely significant? And so when I was doing Taskmaster, I looked around and there were all these incredible comedians. It was a moment where I actually had to just give myself a little pat on the back and go, ‘I don’t know how you did it, but this is pretty great.’ People always seem to go, ‘Oh, you must be used to it.’ But I’m constantly pinching myself.
I can’t blame people for thinking you must be used to it. After all, at the time of this interview you’ve done Charlie Sloth’s Fire In The Booth, the Channel 4 documentary How to Survive a Dictator about Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, and the first YouTube show to be nominated for a BAFTA. You’re spoken about your drive, but those are milestones for which you must reward yourself with five minutes of rest, no?
The blessing and the curse of being a creative person is that in some ways, the world is never enough. But you are right, sometimes it’s important to reward yourself. Last week, the documentary you mentioned was nominated for a BAFTA, alongside [one featuring] David Attenborough, which is insane. And so yeah, I will admit I let loose a little bit and I went to play crazy golf followed by a game of Scrabble. I like to think that’s how all the big Oscar winners celebrate.
Yep, I can picture Paul Mescal with the Scrabble board out. One of the most emotional parts of your documentary is your reunion with your childhood friend Simba. It made me wonder if there’s anyone who you’d particularly love to come and see you on tour.
Great question. I think I would love for my grandma to come and see me. When we moved to Zimbabwe [before returning to the UK], my mother’s parents remained in England. And I know that they were all really heartbroken. They just felt like we would never come back. My grandma always said, ‘You can do whatever’, so even if I’d said, ‘I’m going to ride a camel to space’, she’d have said, ‘Yeah, you are. You really are.’
So when I started saying, ‘Grandma, I’m going to be a presenter, I’m going to do comedy’, she [was the same]. To be able to walk out to a sold-out venue, and for my grandma to be there watching it, would mean the most to her. She’s been my number one cheerleader from day one.