Video Site Mamahuhu Captures Modern Shanghai at its Absurdist Best

0 0
6:30 PM HKT, Tue March 27, 2018 4 mins read

At first glance, the output of Shanghai-based video production unit Mamahuhu might seem pretty targeted at the China expat experience. Some recent cuts tackle the frustrations of trying to get a Didi (the Uber of China), the particular melancholy of the solo Christmas abroad, and — my favorite — an IRL staging of the social dynamics at play in large groups on WeChat, China’s primary social messaging app:

But as the “XYZ of China” tag above indicates, there is also something universal about how technology is restructuring urban experience today that Mamahuhu touches on, and the specifically local elements it drips in tell the casual viewer much more about how something like WeChat or Didi shapes life in 2018 Shanghai than most think pieces will.

Mamahuhu was born as the side project of Italian/Scottish filmmaker Alessio Avezzano (pictured up top), who has lived in Shanghai for six years and initiated the project along with co-creators Johnny and Matt. His background in creating branded video content shows in Mamahuhu’s slick editing. His knack for narrative storytelling was something that he built through earlier stints working with viral video series Donnie Does, and by shooting some truly exceptional music videos for Shanghai bands like Round Eye.

After a promising launch, Mamahuhu changed in vibe for a few years as Avezzano and his crew faced some restrictions on the use of the property. They regained control on that front last year, and have since unleashed a torrent of new work, stepping outside their comedy-short comfort zone for more sustained projects including series (the recent Laowai Park) and short features (their first, Zei Wei, premiered at a film festival in Los Angeles last week).

On the heels of that, I caught up with Alessio to talk about the recent past and future moves of his niche comedy channel, which now has over 144,000 subscribers on YouTube, and has added collaborators from Shanghai standup troupe Kung Fu Komedy to beef up their ranks.

Can you give a brief self-intro? Who are you, where are you from, and how’d you find yourself in Shanghai?

I’m Alessio. Half Italian, mostly Scottish. I am a filmmaker who has been based in Shanghai for the last six years. I mostly work creating branded content for the internets. After visiting and discovering Shanghai, I made the moves to move permanently, and have loved living here ever since.

How did Mamahuhu first get started? Who was involved?

A few years ago I had a job where one of the things I was tasked with making was a prank/social experiment show, along with Zach of Donnie Does, my brother Matt, and [Mamahuhu collaborator/actor] Johnny. They were fun to watch, but I hated making them. I think we were all getting gradually unhappy making them. So through that frustration we started talking about doing a sketch show instead. We gave it a shot and it turned out more popular. Thus Mamahuhu was born.

When I moved on from that job, I couldn’t take the channel with me, to my disappointment. Three years after that company dissolved, I managed to get the rights back, and we got back to making funny content! The core team is now myself, Matt, Xi, Andy, Jorge, Adam and Charlie. A lot of them are stand up comedians from Kung Fu Komedy Club in Shanghai.

These days Mamahuhu seems to have come back with a refreshed energy and concept. What is Mamahuhu’s focus or game plan in its current incarnation?

During that three-year gap other people tried to make content under the Mamahuhu name, which was beyond our control. We call these the dark years. The “refreshed energy” is just the original crew back in control, a little older and a little more skilled and happy to be back!

The goal is to be consistent, grow and get better. I think we have a unique perspective on everyday life, which people like to see. But mostly it’s a great excuse to hang out with friends and laugh.

Personally, I want Mamahuhu to be a training ground for us as comedians and filmmakers, so that the gap between our channel and perhaps a TV show or film becomes less and less.

One of Mamahuhu’s consistent themes has been to introduce lesser-known aspects of contemporary Shanghai to overseas audiences, and you often nail this through humor and skillful editing. How have you seen your audience’s perception of China/Shanghai change in reaction to the videos you’ve put out? Have some resonated more than others?

I don’t see a lot of comments that say something like “wow this has changed my perspective.” But I have noticed more affectionate comments recently. A lot more love is going around, which can only be a good thing.

Our recent video about trying to get a Didi seems to have resonated with a lot of people. We also get comments from people saying how they relate to a video even though they have never been to China. I think the channel can be a cultural bridge for sure.

I saw that you traveled around LA recently and visited YouTube’s office/studio. Can you talk a bit about how online streaming platforms enable or empower a video project like Mamahuhu? Are there any overseas streaming channels you’re looking to work with?

I am open to all opportunities! As far as empowerment goes, we wouldn’t be here without them, and nowadays it seems if you can grow and engage consistently on these channels, people take notice and opportunities arise. If you have over 100,000 subscribers, you get to use YouTube Studios around the world for free, so when we were in LA of course we went and shot something there, as well as enjoying some free coffee and sightings of Ludacris.

One of Mamahuhu’s recent shorts, Zei Wei, just got a big-screen premiere at a film festival in LA. How did this come together? Are you interested in pursuing more of this kind of thing — longer-form content made for bigger screens?

Yes, 100%. We made Zei Wei during the “dark years” but had never released it. Once we were running the channel again, I decided to put the short out under Mamahuhu, which I was really hesitant about. I thought it would get rejected by the audience, but it had the opposite effect, and seemed to resonate with a lot of people living in transient circles.

I put it forward to a few festivals after that. We’ve gotten into one so far, and are waiting to hear about one more. What it taught me is that we do have room to play with genre on our channel, and I definitely want to do some more longform content in future.

What’s next on Mamahuhu’s agenda?

Keep making funny videos online until we can also make it on your TV and cinema! We also have our first music video in the works.

Follow Mamahuhu’s YouTube for more. All photos courtesy Alessio Avezzano/Mamahuhu.

Join the Conversation
Write comment

Frustrated? Maybe stop looking at a screen and go outside