George Mnguni just wants to make people laugh. “My first love has always been comedy. Everything I do — the music, parodies and skits — is just an extension of that,” says the 25-year-old comedian better known as Okay Wasabi.
And he’s damn good at it too.
Earlier this month, the Vosloorus-based comedian was named as one of the directors of this season’s You Got Got on MTV. The move felt like Mnguni had come full circle. Just a few years back, he was shooting and editing his sketches on his Samsung.
“I would say my career started in 2011. I had this tablet I would use to shoot and edit my work, and I was mostly posting on Instagram. I made the move to YouTube because I could post longer videos there. It was a bit of a risk because I didn’t know if people would sit through three-minute videos that would burn through all their data but so far it has been good.”
Well, actually, let’s take that back. “Good” is probably a modest way of putting it.
Since his first YouTube upload three years ago, Mnguni has racked up more than 230 000 views with his parodies of township life (that number goes well past 400 000 if you count the views on his second YouTube page, Sushi with Wasabi). His most popular video, Sdudla, is a parody of DJ Citi Lyts’s popular street-anthem Vura.
The former features musician Sjava and Saudi and sees them rapping about picking up women and unknowingly moving drugs with their Golf VR6. Mnguni’s version is about eating yourself close to cardiac arrest and scouring the ’hood for a bit of juice to wash down a plate of scones. To date, the video has had more than 27 000 views.
“It’s actually funny how I write my parodies. I usually mishear a lyric and then I’ll start building my parody around that. With Vura, I misheard that as Sdudla and took it from there. Even my stage name, Okay Wasabi, is a misheard lyric. I heard Lil Wayne mispronounce kimosabe in Ace Hood’s Hustle Hard remix and I just ran with it.”
The animating force in Mnguni’s self-contained universe of YouTube videos is authenticity. Everything from his settings to his dialogue screams kasi or represents kasi culture in one way or another. In Sishebo Bling, a parody of Drake’s Hotline Bling, he leaves his fictional girlfriend, Lesedi, for a new lover, who has a hard time around the kitchen. Shot in Vosloorus, the video is a four-minute piss take that also highlights the ridiculousness of grown men who would much sooner starve than learn how to cook.
Similarly, Gym Up (a parody of Emtee’s Roll Up) is a hilarious video that parodies overeager fitness trainers in the ’hood.
Let’s Call a Sangoma, a parody of Future’s F*ck Up Some Commas, starts with Mnguni in bed. A visit from his uncle reveals he has been sick for two months and has had little help from doctors. His uncle eventually suggests that Mnguni is bewitched and needs to see a sangoma. The video is hilarious if not only for the fact that Mnguni turned Future’s refrain of “let’s f*ck up some commas” into a plea to visit a sangoma instead of a general practitioner.
Spaza, though, which borrows its flow and beat from AKA’s and Anatii’s The Saga broaches a heavy subject matter. Released during a wave of xenophobic violence in 2015, the video opens at a spaza shop. After an uneasy encounter with the Indian owner, Mnguni’s character launches into a xenophobic tirade (“these people should leave”, “they’re taking our jobs” and what have you). A second character comes out of the spaza and rubbishes his xenophobic jabs, quipping: “All these people are [our brothers] but you treat them like they’re beggars.”
“It was important for me to make that video,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m a rap fan and some of my videos highlight just how varied my subject matter is. If I had to pick a favourite video, Spaza would be in the top two, purely because of the subject matter.”
On the matter of how he writes his sketches, Mnguni, who grew up watching Saturday Night Live and Dube on Monday, says he never really has to think that hard. Most of his material draws on his surroundings. It’s what gives it its authenticity.
“That’s about as much as I can say about my process. It’s like Kota Past Nine [his web series in which he reviews kotas], I didn’t have to break my head thinking about that concept. I genuinely love kotas. I eat one every other day and I figured why not just make that part of what I talk about online?”
Popular literary wisdom suggests that writers should always “write about what they know”. This isn’t just limited to subject matter but extends to emotion and setting. It’s a piece of advice Mnguni seems more than happy to follow.
Watching his sketches and listening to his parodies is like listening to that cousin of yours who always seems to have some witty comeback to every joke you throw at him. His work takes from his surroundings, trims the fat off and makes you feel like you’re in on an inside joke. And he would have it no other way.
“If people are laughing, I’m happy. That’s the work at the end of the day.”