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I TALK TO Mawaan Rizwan

He's an accomplished actor, writer and performer and having recently supported Simon Amstell on tour, Mawaan Rizwan is ready to return to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after a year away, with a brand new show, Juice.

© Rebecca Need-Menear

You took a year off from the Fringe, what did you get up to instead?


Oh it was great! It was amazing to be able to drink and not feel guilty about being hungover the next day. I went for a few days and I saw loads of shows and I reminded myself about why I want to do it.


So many people go up every single year and I had been doing that for four or five years and you get into this cycle and I was on tour with Simon Amstell last year and I got the impression with him that he writes a show when he has something to say.


It feels like the right thing to do as opposed to following some sort of timetable that's been assigned by the comedy gods.


What Edinburgh is a good model for is that you push yourself to write an hour every year. But I realised that I'm writing in other mediums as well, so creatively it feels right to not force myself to do a show every year. And this year I feel really ready, I know what I want to say and I've got the right kind of inspiration under my belt.


When did you decide that you were coming back this year?


I hear about people having a really clear idea of what they want to say and then writing a show and I wish I worked like that, but I don't. I just do gigs and things start emerging and topics start emerging and then I say to myself "I can't talk about that, that's a bit too exposing or vulnerable" and then usually they're the things that end up grouping together and I begin to see the overarching theme.


There's something I need to address here. As it turns out it's been whatever I've been thinking about and dealing with that year.


What is this year's show all about?


It's about a conversation that I had with my mum in Wahaca where I told her all the shocking things about my life that she didn't want to hear. It's about her reaction and how unexpected her reaction was.


I told her everything from sexuality to acid trips to what I'm doing with my life and it came out of a need to be more honest. My mum and dad don't really know who their parents are and their parents don't really know who they are and just generation after generation, there's this habit of people dying not really knowing what their offspring are about.


So I wanted to break that ancestral pattern and I decided to do that in the middle of a Mexican restaurant!


I wouldn't want you to spoil the show and reveal your mothers reaction. But does she know what the show is about and is she happy?


I don't know! I haven't asked her yet. She still needs to see the show. But it's really sad because I've been doing previews and I keep telling myself how it might not end up in the show.


I know now exactly what the show is and the heart of it is about her and fairly exposing stuff. So really I should invite her to a preview very soon and make that a priority. But I keep putting it off!


It's like a second coming out. Coming out to her about the show is quite scary. I don't want her to feel like I'm painting her in the wrong way.


Has it been difficult to write because it is so personal?


No, because what I do when I get too deep, I just write a song or a rap or a dance number so that's been quite therapeutic for me. There's a lot of silly stuff in the show as well as the real stuff.


Your style of comedy is rather unique. For anyone who hasn't seen you live before, how would you explain it?


It's like a weird clash of really honest confessional stories and really physical and absurd joyfulness. I dance a lot, I rap, I sing and there's even an outfit change!


How long have you been working on this year's show for?


Just over a year really. It started emerging when I was doing the tour support for Simon Amstell. I started trying out bits on the tour so they were like early previews really. The stuff about my mum has all been after the tour so in the last six months and the show is centred around that conversation.


Why have you called this year's show Juice?


It's always risky because when you submit that entry and that blurb, you hope the show will remain what you thought it was going to be. But it's based on a phrase that my mum used to use which was "When life gives you mangoes, make mango juice." so she just got the phrase a bit.


My mum loves reappropriating phrases but I always used to say that phrase and then my friends were like "Mawaan, what are you saying? That makes no sense! Mangoes are already nice, you don't have to do anything to them. Not like lemons." and then I'd explain that to my mum and she'd say "Don't be so negative Mawaan".


In a weird way it kind of ties in with what I tell her and what she tells me.


Do you enjoy having that Edinburgh hour to fill?


Yeah! I love it and I think about all the details. I think about the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells. They've come into my living room and it's like the party I never got to host as a kid. Because when I used to have birthday parties as a kid, my parents just used to invite family members and neighbours so it was always old people!


I'm not saying I don't want old people to come and see my show but the thing now is that I get to invite people to a thing that I've created and it's my baby. It's beautiful and an hour is a really good time to hold someone's attention and show them a good time.


Your YouTube background teaches you that the shorter the better, it must be nice for you then to be able to create something that is longer and that holds someone's attention without them being distracted?


Totally! I remember doing YouTube videos that were a minute-and-a-half. Sometimes I'd go to two minutes and I'll be like "Oh gosh! That's so long!" and now it's an hour, but that's so good because that's where you learn your real craft.


The reason I transferred from YouTube to live is because you start hitting your limits with short form sketches and videos. It's nice to go in depth and explore something a lot deeper and connecting with other humans. I think an hour is a substantial amount.


How have the previews been going?


The previews have been really different to each other. It feels like the show completely changes every time but I think that's really healthy because by the time you get to Edinburgh, if you've tried it out in all the different ways, you know what you don't want from the show.


It's really exciting seeing it all come together. I think this is the best I've felt about an Edinubrgh show in terms of the way the show's coming together. In previous years I've taken very hodgepodge material up there, stuff I loved doing but every year I would do something completely different.


I did a straight stand-up show once. Then I did a mime show. Then I did a dance show. It's called the Fringe so I always thought it was for the weirdos you know so I went and did the most outrageous stuff, probably confusing so many people. Now I think I've found a really great mix of weird and honest.


Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?


I'm looking forward to seeing Nina Conti's show. It's so exciting, it's the best next step for her. We were doing a preview at the same festival and I caught a glimpse of it and was really excited.


Catherine Bohart, I really like how honest she is. And she's got a warmth to her the I relate to. And this is a tradition for me every year, but every year I go and see a Paul Currie show. He's so good! I always feel liberated when I go and see his show. If I'm having a tough day I go and see his show and realise that everything will be alright.


I absolutely loved Murdered By My Father, where are you at with your acting?


I'm writing loads. There are a couple of sitcoms that I'm developing but I mean... isn't everyone?! I'm doing bits and bobs but you can never really say because you do stuff but you don't know when it's going to go out or how it's going to be received.


It feels quite separated at the moment. I do my comedy, I do my gigs, I do my acting, sometimes I go from being on the set of a serious drama to going on stage with a lampshade on my head. But somehow it works, I feel quite balanced.


To have a bit of clown training under your belt doesn't actually go amiss because in a weird way it all kind of relates. Since my last Edinburgh show I've been in a few more dramas and it forces you to read six-part series episodes and go deeper into that world and the narrative arcs they use in television. And that's actually informed my Edinburgh shows.


There's more of an undertone of honest, truthful and dramatic narrative arcs. It's subtle. but that wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been delving into other mediums.


Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?


Look mummy, I'm all liberated.


Mawaan Rizwan: Juice runs from 1st - 27th August (Not 13th) at 5:30pm at Pleasance Dome (JackDome). Book tickets here.

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