Mawaan Rizwan is one of the brightest comedy talents in the country. He also wears a tracksuit better than anyone since Brian Clough.
Rizwan’s debut television series Juice, which grew out of his hit Edinburgh show of the same name, blends surreal humour and confessional comedy in a genuinely groundbreaking and properly funny way.
It is, says Rizwan, the culmination of years of learning, growing and honing his craft. From roping his brother and, later, his mum in to his YouTube videos as a teenager to eight years of returning to the Edinburgh Fringe building a show, finding his voice, creating a style all his own.
Over the years in Edinburgh, he grew from playing in corridors where “people were only there to shelter from the rain” and would walk out – “they were offended by some of the experimental stuff I was doing, you’d think I was insulting their mum or something” – or would throw a Subway sandwich at him. “True story,” he sighs.
This all helped him, he says, when he eventually got into the room with TV executives.
“When you make a TV show, there’s a lot of hoops to jump through,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to make art from a place of joy and freedom, not by second guessing the most fearful audience member and pandering to them.
“So in order to be in those meetings saying ‘No, it needs to be like this’ you have to have a thick skin. And there is no shortcut. You need to have played in places like Edinburgh, where I’ve heard every heckle under the sun.”
Rizwan has already written for Netflix hit Sex Education, appeared on Channel 4’s Taskmaster, in Simon Amstell’s offbeat romcom Benjamin and futuristic vegan mockumentary Carnage, in BBC3’s Bafta-winning true life drama Murdered By My Father, fronted the BBC documentary How Gay Is Pakistan?, supported Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness on tour and even played at Glastonbury this summer – with a set including his viral hit song Are You Checking Me Out Or Are You Just a Racist? He’s building quite the eclectic resumé. But Juice is a major breakthrough – the one he has been working towards all these years.
“Comedy teaches you to be really resourceful. And with acting, the first thing you learn is that you can’t only act – you can’t just sit around waiting for an opportunity,” he says.
“So I thought I’d better learn how to write scripts, I’d better learn how to make the room full of people laugh, I’d better learn how to edit. I did everything. I’ve been on set as a runner, in the special effects department, in post-production.
“I’m having the most joyful time being able to implement the stuff I’ve learned over the years into something that’s got such a cohesive creative vision.
“At my stand-up shows, people don’t see the outfit changes coming or don’t expect me to go from confessional stand-up to a 10-minute bit with a lampshade on my head. Same with Juice. It’s experimental but there’s a lot of intentionality in the way we shot it, performed it and edited it.
“I want to take them on a ride and I want them to feel like the person in the driver’s seat knows what they’re doing. But at the same time, I don’t want them to feel safe. I want them to feel like this journey could go anywhere because that’s one of those exciting experiences as an audience.”
Juice is a bit of a family business. It features Rizwan’s brother, Nabhaan – star of Informer on BBC One, as well as Prime Video’s post-apocalyptic Station Eleven series – as Jamma’s attention-stealing brother. And their mother is played by… their mother, Shahnaz, who has become a major star in Bollywood, appearing in popular Indian TV show Yeh Hai Mohabbatein after being discovered in her son’s YouTube videos.
“I’ve always put them in my stuff,” says Rizwan. “That’s how we have grown up. It’s actually how we coped with a lot of difficult circumstances – it was our moment among all the stress and financial pressures and my mum holding so much together when we got to play.
“We made the YouTube videos or did sketches or plays and it was the only time I really had fun with my family. We never went on holidays. But somehow my mum and my brother putting on characters gave us a sense that it was going to be alright.
“So when I was writing Juice I didn’t even think about it. I was writing a mother character and a brother character and they’re gonna play them. But when it got to casting, I realised I can’t actually afford my mum’s fees. And she’s now signed with my agent. So that’s a very weird dynamic – I had to go through my own agent to get my own mum!
“But she is brilliant in it. I think it’s really important for art to be personal and at the same time shouldn’t be held back by needing to be autobiographical. So it goes into so many magical and fictional realms, but it is still based on truth. I was really blown away by them on set – they were way more professional than me.
“I’ve always been the one in the family saying, we are going to shoot this video. But on this, there is a whole team and structure and hierarchy. I had to step back and let my mum have a chat with the directors and find her own thing.
“I had to be careful not to get in the way. You know how you go home for Christmas or whatever and become the kid again? I had to not bring that to the set, basically.”
Juice starts on BBC Three this month
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