Mo recently joined our growing team at Hook. In his first blog, he shares his insights into the increasing popularity of what he terms ‘DIY Urban Comedy’.
‘‘All the suit wearing guys in cities can’t stand us. They don’t understand us. When we speak in slang like this. You get me; bredin; cuz; bredrin; bradda; bredin; safe; bredrin; you get me; bredrin; cuz; bredrin; bradda; bredrin; we speak in slang like this’’.
These are the lyrics of an infamous grime song made in 2010 (a long time before the Ed Sheerization of Grime occurred). The song was a clever celebration of London’s slang; and ultimately London’s urban culture which produced this language. Authentic urban culture is rarely seen on mainstream television; but within recent years millions of people have seen this urban culture online as a result of three London located shows – Chicken Connoisseur (2015); Hood Documentary (2015);and Somewhere in London (2017).
These shows were all self-made; and they all became viral sensations resulting in organic meme subcultures and cult followings around the protagonists in each show. This is an exciting media trend, but due to its infancy little has been written about it. This blog is an attempt to understand this trend, to give a name to it, a history, and practical consideration on what it means for mainstream media channels.
So, What Exactly Is This Ting and What Do We Call It?
I propose that we should understand all three shows as DIY Urban Themed Comedy.
- DIY: These shows were all self-produced, low-budget, social media distributed, and urban themed.
- Urban: By urban themed I am referring to how these shows all have the symbols, stories, characters, fashion, humour, music (Grime/Rap), and racial diversity seen in the urban dwelling of London.
- Comedy: Whether its subverting the rules of restaurant reviewing in Chicken Connoisseur, or offering up an urban David Brent for the grime generation in Roll Safe in the Hood Documentary, these shows have humour at their heart.
If you don’t want to go deep into deconstructing this phenomenon, then Michael Dappah’s words may be more explanatory. When asked about Somewhere in London he explained his inspiration for it was the ‘‘Different characters I’ve observed growing up in London’’.
Given the above, I would like to propose a second thing. We should name this DIY urban themed comedy as Mandem Media. The term ‘mandem’ is regularly uttered in the cosmopolitan multicultural world of Londonium; it means one’s ‘friends’/ ‘boys’/ ‘group of people’. As these comedies were made by urban mandem, most probably for urban mandem or mandem simply interested in urban stuff, the name is rather befitting.
Mandem Media Timeline
At first glance Mandem Media appears to be a ‘new’ and ‘exclusive’ media trend; but it’s actually not. Similar, but not as digitally seismic, content was being made when Hood Documentary, Chicken Connoisseur, and Somewhere in London emerged. 2014 had Chicken Shop Date; and 2015 had Michael Dappah’s urban comedy platformed on Instagram.
In fact, the 1st wave of Mandem Media actually began earlier than 2014. In 2011 Grime MC Big Narstie created a comedic You-Tube advice show called Uncle Pain (2011);and three young London actors around the same time created a comedy series called Mandem On the Wall (2011).
The obvious difference though between the 1st wave and the recent 2nd wave is Grime and technology. Grime music became a mainstream middle-class Waitrose phenomenon around 2015. This resulted in a commodification of London’s urban culture (its humour, fashion, slang, and music). This helped the 2nd wave of Mandem Media because around 2015 there was an explosion of interest amongst UK audiences in London’s urban culture. Smartphone culture also became more prominent around 2015; this empowered the 2nd wave because Mandem Media is largely consumed through smart phones. A detailed timeline of Mandem Media is available below.
What About the Big Mandem?
Channel 4 and BBC Three have demonstrated mainstream channels can enter the Mandem Media space. They have both commissioned new content from the original Mandem Media Muskateers: BBC Three commissioned a new series of the Hood Documentary, and a new series where Big Narstie offers life advice. Channel 4 has also, quite recently, created a new late-night chat show with Big Narstie. The results of this were promising: the shows all scored high viewing figures. And whether you’re a BA Media Studies student or an illiterate tourist from another country, you will see after watching these shows for five minutes that they are authentically cool.
Mainstream TV channels entry into this space is not always going to be easy though; there are going to be challenges. Firstly, how much Mandem Media like content is there on mainstream television? Thus, do big channels even know what they are doing when they engage with Mandem Media? No, they probably don’t! Secondly, these shows have an exciting digital DIY element to them, so when Mandem Media-like content goes onto mainstream channels there is a danger it will seem ‘in-authentic’.
If these words seem too theoretical or ‘GCSE Media Studiezey’, then here is a practical example. Channel 4 succeeded with The Big Narstie Show; whereas their adaptation of the Chicken Connoisseur into The Peng Life did not do that well. Clips of it on YouTube do rack up the views, but a close inspection of the show shows the Chicken Connoisseur’s value and coolness was diluted. Most urbanites understand slang, and they tend to like Chicken and Chips (unless your Vegan); few urbanites on the other hand can buy £500 kebabs or luxury cars (and if they do, they probably don’t speak slang). As one of the top liked comments on a YouTube trailer for Peng Life states:
‘‘The style is too different to what his original act was. The sidekicks aren’t what I watch him for. I also think the humour comes from him reviewing low quality products, it’s funny to watch him discuss nuances of a greasy / cheap takeaway after doing a crep check. I think someone has messed around with the formula too much. Either follow the chicken connoisseur character properly or make a few different characters, and do different things as them (like Sacha B C)’’.
You may find the name Mandem Media silly. You may disagree with my argument. You may even be a Vegan who doesn’t like Chicken and Chips (if so, apologies about all the Chicken). What ever your view though, no one can deny that Mandem Media is a serious business idea in the media content business, so let me conclude with some advice on how to do things properly.
1. Mandem Media only works if it’s useful, authentic, and entertaining to people in urban spaces (or people interested in urban spaces).
2. Digital is vital. The DIY element was pivotal to the first and second wave of Mandem Media. TV channels, paradoxically, can only do so much with digital, but they should do what they can. They should also consider if their content can enter the social media/meme culture bubble: Mandem Media characters must be meme worthy!
3. Consider new directions. Mandem Media content could work well on political content. Chicken Connoisseur could also work well on a Vegan premise.
* I may change this advice (hopefully for the better). I often have eureka brain waves in the toilet or during my lunch break.