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Can Mawaan Rizwan export his BAFTA-winning ‘Juice’ to America?




Can Mawaan Rizwan export his BAFTA-winning 'Juice' to America?

In his recent acceptance speech at the BAFTA TV Awards for Best Male Performance in a Comedy, British comedian Mawaan Rizwan recalled a conversation with his therapist earlier that week about how he “needed to stop relying on external forms of validation… so, bad timing !”

But about a month after he took home the award (over David Tennant) for his BBC sitcom ‘Juice’, it seems that validation is here to stay. Rizwan is currently in New York, where the first episode of the wild, cartoonish series screened to a sold-out — and by all accounts, wildly enthusiastic — audience at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday. There will be another sold-out screening on Wednesday, while a third has been hastily scheduled for next Sunday to meet demand.

Created and written by the 31-year-old – who himself admits it’s ‘crazy’ – ‘Juice’ sees him in the role of Jamma, a sporty, colorful tracksuit-wearing millennial who encounters chaos while navigating his work and relationships. It’s awash with slapstick, Buster Keaton-style physical comedy and Boots Riley-inspired surrealism, with Rizwan falling, walking crazy and spinning in and out of sets that often have a mind of their own. When Jamma feels anxious, things around him begin to shake. When he climaxes in a cafe toilet, confetti bursts from his ears.

But for all the madness, the show is also deeply personal, centered around Rizwan’s own sexuality (he came out as gay to his Muslim parents when he was 24) and his family. Much of the story in the six episodes revolves around how his mother and brother (played by his real mother and brother: Shahnaz Rizwan, who recently became a household name on Indian TV, and Nabhaan Rizwan, who appeared in ‘ Industry” and “1917” continue to steal the spotlight Jamma craves.

‘Juice’ – which stands out as much as ‘Fleabag’ for its fresh originality – is the culmination of more than a decade of Rizwan honing his comedic craft across an eclectic range of styles and platforms, from creating ‘silly’ amateur YouTube videos in his bedroom as a teenager, to stand-up shows, to performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, to writing stints for series such as ‘Sex Education’ (‘Laurie Nunn taught me everything,’ he says) to increasingly frequent appearances on British TV (also as a guest in the cult show “Taskmaster”).

While this may have become a standard career path for many contemporary comedians in Britain before starting their own series, Rizwan admits that this is not a route typically made available to performers like himself – a working-class man who was born in Pakistan (his parents moved when he was 3), without any connection to the somewhat elitist British entertainment industry. There has been a lot of hard work and fighting along the way.

Rizwan’s first paid job came in 2010 after a lecture from a Pinewood Studios producer about a film course he had signed up for, which led to him taking up 12-hour shifts after “firing off endless emails” work as a special employee. effects runner on the Halle Berry box office bomb “Dark Tide.” His role: making the all-important titular tide by dumping a barrel into a water tank while Berry clung to a sinking ship (not that he could look – he was strictly told not to “look at her”). He loved it.

But now, some fourteen years later, and having since climbed the lofty heights of British TV with the recent BAFTA honor, Rizwan is hoping to break through in America. “Juice” – which has already been commissioned for a second season by the BBC and is now busy developing – is joining Tribeca as part of an effort by BBC Studios to find a home in the US. Despite the madness on screen, Rizwan hopes, judging by the reaction in New York and what he says is the universality of the story, that it won’t be a major problem.

How did the first Tribeca screening go?

It was so much fun! I just love the American atmosphere. Everyone was so excited about it that they kept coming up to me and quoting lines and moments. It was so much fun. If people here like something, they will really let you know. It made me realize that I’m done with Britain!

It sounds like there’s a distinctly American audience for the show?

Yeah, if that was some kind of litmus test. I had people saying that there was nothing like it on American television and that there was an appetite for it, that there is a very recognizable family character and a universal story, but wrapped in a very original and surreal package.

Do you think there is something that needs to be explained to non-Brits?

No, there’s nothing in there that doesn’t make any sense. I guess I don’t make many British references. I also feel like there is some kind of relatability for many people of color in the diaspora around the world. And even with many strange stories you cross national borders, so to speak. It permeates everywhere, especially when people are desperate to be seen on screen. They don’t care what accent is used. For Season 2: Jamma is American! And we don’t refer to it.

Where does ‘Sap’ come from? In your BAFTA speech you said you had been trying to get it up and running for ten years.

I mean, it’s a crazy show. I first wanted to make a show where I could visualize a panic attack, but make it fun. That was the starting point. And believe it or not, that’s a really hard sell! And I said I didn’t want special effects, I wanted the art department to be dirty. I want the audience to feel like they are in the theme park of their emotions. But that is expensive to make and requires a lot of resources. So I think that’s why it took a while.

But it started as a show in Edinburgh?

Yes, it was a live show. But it was my seventh or eighth Edinburgh Fringe. Every year I used it as an experiment. I come from the generation where Edinburgh was so expensive to do, but a lot of people thought if you do Edinburgh you get your TV show. And then it was really torture for them. But I saw it as an opportunity to go on stage every day for thirty days and just try batshit stuff. So it took me so many years to figure out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. And it just so happened that this was the show that really took off.

How were your other shows in Edinburgh?

The first year I did a real hack stand-up, like man and microphone. The next year I wanted to reinvent myself, so I made a non-verbal comedy. I did a comedy dance show one year. I was in a clown doublehander and a sketch trio. I did every genre of comedy and basically just tried all the costumes and realized what I didn’t want to do. It was a very long-winded, trial-and-error way of finding my voice. But now I feel a lot more bulletproof because I took the scenic route.

Mawaan Rizwan accepts the 2024 BAFTA TV Award for Best Male Performance in a Comedy

And “Juice” was the culmination of it all?

Yes, it was the first time I brought all those clownish, physical, surreal things together and connected it with quite emotional and confessional stories. And I don’t think people had seen this way of telling these types of stories before. So it struck a chord. So when we turned it into a TV show, I wanted it to have the same feeling that people had in the live show, which was, ‘I don’t know where this is taking me. But I am emotionally invested. I’m confused too. And I love it.”

How did you get your mother and brother to star? You’ve involved them in your YouTube videos, but a very personal TV series on the BBC is something completely different.

Actually, my mother said, “Sorry, my schedule is very busy.” She’s now signed with my agent! But no, I told her the story and it made her very emotional. There’s a lot of our family and our ethos as a family and our relationship in there. I remember the first day we arrived in our trailers, which were next to each other, and I thought, “Oh my God, my mother is on set, it’s going to be chaos.” But actually, we all had a bit of a tear in our eye when we thought about where we started. It is really not self-evident where we come from that you can ultimately make a living from art. All obstacles are against you. So that day we were like, we’re not doing this alone, we’re doing it together.

I’ve seen your stand-up routine about how you made your mother famous – before you – through your YouTube shows. Is that actually true?

Yes, my mother actually got a role in a Bollywood show! And my brother has done great things. But we all started making these crazy videos in our little house. So the journey was crazy. I put my mom in my YouTube videos because I was afraid she would say, “No, you can’t make a living from comedy, that’s ridiculous.” I thought, if I involve her, she won’t be able to say no. I am the mass manipulator!

How does it feel to now be recognized by the British Academy?

It’s a nice little boost. It’s very validating. And what I like is that it has brought in a whole new audience. There’s so much buzz around it now, which is so nice. The speech is also doing the rounds. I think my publicist said it’s one of BAFTA’s most watched speeches. But it has gone viral.

It was a great speech. I especially liked how you described the award as “literally the least humiliating thing that has ever happened to me.” But was it all rehearsed and written down?

To be honest, I blacked out. I don’t know what I said. I filled the silence. I really didn’t think I would win. I mean David Tennant, come on!

Shahnaz Rizwan and Mawaan Rizwan in ‘Juice’ (L), Nabhaan Rizwan in ‘Juice’ (R)

Did the conversation with your therapist actually take place or was it written for laughs?

It did! Literally, BAFTA aside, I had a conversation with my therapist about not relying on external forms of validation. And then that happened. And it’s really bad timing, because I’m really trying to make art in a place that isn’t for that. For the shiny bit. Just make it because I want to make art. But it’s all downhill from here! The BAFTA felt so good that I am now a terrible person and only work for external forms of validation.

Should “Juice” be picked up for the US, do you have any hopes and dreams for where this could lead? Is there an endgame?

I try to dream big, but have no expectations. My partner is full of these beautiful sound bites that have helped me in my life, and he says, “Just show up, speak your truth, but don’t stay attached to the outcome.” There’s such a thing as just enjoying the journey. I try not to think about it too much because I think a lot of people in our industry get a little resentful and bitter when the dreams they’ve planned don’t come true. It’s a strange mix of having a five-year plan while remaining very loose. I don’t want to say, “Why don’t I host ‘SNL’ yet?” But hosting “SNL” is a big dream.