Words by Mercia Tucker
“The first time I met Sphaka I was like ‘Who’s this drunk – super drunk – guy?” Sipho’s relationship with his co-host has been special since day the day they met in a club, months before their working relationship. The three – Larry Nhlane, Sipho Muchindu, and Sphakamiso Ngonyama – are the Microwave Boys; hosts of a YouTube show focused on pop culture commentary and entertainment that have held the country captive with their witticisms and sparkling personalities.
An entertainment veteran, Larry had the idea for the internet-based show and, together with Menzi ‘Anarchadium’ Mzimela, conceptualised the viral sensation. Larry Nqaba-Ncube-Nhlane aka Larryngitis has been a part of shows like Vuzu’s Running with the Reps and The V-Table. Sipho aka Muchi For The Babies has a background in advertising and travel before he did a stint on internet radio station Touch Central with DJ Sliqe. His 7 year friendship with Larry and natural wit made him an obvious choice for running mate. Sphaka? “Me I’m from Cape Town.”
“I was an on-air personality on an online radio show, on the online”, he did fairly well before he moved up to Joburg, started working for Don’t Look Down Productions (that handles V-Entertainment, Turn Up, and V-Table) and met Larry. “He was doing autocue but he was the funniest person in the room and he had a lot of energy to him and so I was like ‘You know what bro, why don’t you just try this [Microwave Boys] thing out?’ and he really didn’t like the idea – I could see it in his face – he wasn’t about it, but eventually we linked up and yeah… That’s the beginning of the journey.”
After calling Yanga ‘AKA’s +1’ on the first episode, Sphaka was worried about pissing industry folk of. “He pissed me off so much! I was like ‘Larry, you see this guy that I met when I was drunk? He’s a problem, his gonna get us into trouble, and I don’t know if he’s the right guy for us to continue the show with. This guy, this friend of yours…’ I didn’t know Sphaka at all; I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. I was like ‘if you tell me we can cut him off today, we can cut him off today’” Sipho reminisces through a barrage of laughs.
The team behind the scenes consists of Menzi (the co-founder and director) of Broke Niggaz fame; an equally compelling vlog, Lesang Tshoke (the producer), Lebohang ‘Sydeezy’ Tsolanku (executive producer), and Lehlohonolo ‘Kyoto Indie’ Radebe (the editor).
“Broke Niggaz was originally mine from the jump and my friends supported it with full force. Trying to contain a show like that was a bit difficult. There’s too many people; people are growing, people are graduating, people are getting jobs, so the show kinda fizzled out. And then Larry approached me because of Broke Niggaz. He was like ‘I like this.’ He was the first famous guy to actually mess with my work. I had a feeling a lot of people would watch Broke Niggaz but wouldn’t say anything and he was the first guy to be like ‘you guys should be watching this’ and that’s what created the conversation that started Guide to Groove and Confessions, all those shows started from Broke Niggaz. Larry was like ‘we need to work, we need to start something’ cos he kinda saw that wave the same time I saw the YouTube wave and it was like ‘we should try something out.’”
On expecting the show to have the popularity it’s gained, Lesang says “I’ve known Larry for probably 10 years and Larry’s always got these ideas like ‘Let’s do this, let’s do this’ and I’d always just brush it off like ‘It’s cool, ya we’ll watch this, it’s cool’. When Microwave Boys came about – he’ll also tell you – he was shocked when I said I’m in. I knew from get-go that this was so brilliant that it was gonna pop off immediately. The great thing about the structure of Microwave Boys and how we set up the content, the whole structure, the idea of Microwave Boys, it’s got elements of longevity to it, you can’t get bored of it.”
Larry’s lost out on a management deal because of his belief in the success of the show. “I had a management team behind me at that point. I had just started V-Table and V-Table was seen as that thing that was gonna be the longevity and Microwave Boys came in at about episode 4 of V-Table and my management team was literally like ‘you know what bro, we are not gonna mess with you if you’re gonna continue doing this Microwave Boys thing.’ They sent me a long paragraph and I sent it to the guys. I’m like ‘this is what everyone is saying, this is why it’s not gonna work’ so I lost a whole management [team] because they didn’t believe in the idea but we still stuck with it. It was chilled. It was like these were the people I’d been working with for a long time as well so for them to not have seen the potential in it, it was like ‘you know what Larry, we’ve been with you for long and we don’t see it. If you are here and you are wasting your time with this then clearly your focus isn’t right. So we don’t think we wanna work with you at this point anymore.’ So that management was done, I don’t work with that management anymore.”
We’ve seen the likes of Trending SA move from flighting five nights a week to just two, and V-Entertainment being pulled off air to return in August with just one weekly show. Traditional media shows focused on pop-culture seemed to have downscaled and I wonder if they feel that there’s space to grow in non-traditional media.
Sipho says “Anywhere else around the world there’s so many great shows on YouTube and [shows] that exist just on people’s websites. There’s a lot of South Africans that are still tryna catch up, even in Africa, to the YouTube wave in terms of where visual media is moving to right now. And I feel like we’re one of the shows that are ahead of that wave or are moving along with it. And right now we can’t afford to slow down or switch up and say ‘OK we’re taking it to TV’. It’s almost too late, it wouldn’t make any sense. It would literally be someone just buying us out at this stage of the game. It wouldn’t help our creativity for any sort of TV channel to offer us that sort of deal. But we believe that sooner rather than later, just like with social media happened slowly in the country, now everyone is on it, and now YouTube is that social media platform that’s still lagging in the back but when it bursts…”
“The problem with traditional media is that even if the three of them had to be put on a show on traditional media, it’ll never be the same. It won’t be Microwave Boys. It’ll be so limited, there’ll be so many people screaming in your ear ‘Don’t say this, say this, say this this way,’ it just takes away the entire creativity and organicness of what happens on Microwave Boys on the internet. TV is too streamlined and you have to be in a certain box for it to be accepted as ‘Ok this is television’ and that’s not great television.” says Lesang.
Menzi adds “People always assume that we’re trying to be on TV when they approach us. They’ll come through and say ‘Yo man, your show needs this, it needs that, I can talk to somebody’ and we’re not even tryna be there. There’s this arrogance with TV where people assume that we want to be there and we have a full appreciation of the internet to a point where we’re like OK we’ll take it but it better be very sweet for us to jump on TV. But right now we’re very happy on the net and we feel like that’s a wave on its own cos even though people see the internet wave, they’re still undermining it and we’re not undermining it at all and I feel like that’s why we’re excelling.”
On longevity, Menzi says “We’re still at a beginner phase, everything is still very new and you have to push through it. Ten years from now, YouTube will be… I know my little brother is gonna live on YouTube and we’re gonna be dinosaurs. So as much as we’re having fun, we’re gonna take a big hit in that we’re not gonna benefit from what we’re contributing.”
The sheer popularity of the show has taken them by surprise. “I was shocked because a girl asked me ‘Can I take a picture?’ and I was like ‘For what?’” God bless Sphaka.
The success of the show “is because nobody really is themselves. People wonder why everything we do works [and] it’s simply because people are literally being themselves, it’s the most organic thing ever.” Menzi says.
Collaborations between other YouTubers is “number one on the priority list” says Larry. “LOVE Pap Culture, a lot, love them, love them a lot,” Sipho adds. “Those guys [Sibu Mpanza, Pap Culture, A1Tv] have been on YouTube longer than us but they’ve welcomed us in and always wanted to collaborate with us and shown us love and we’re tryna do the same for anybody else that we’re seeing coming up now.”
Stand-up comedy seems to be the natural progression for the guys, with Sipho being told that he has a knack for it for years. “I have gotten that my whole life. I’ve never felt like I love being in the comedic environment and something like this works better for me and maybe other shows. I’ve never done a day of stand up in my life even though I’ve always been told to do that. Some guy came up to me like ‘Sipho, you’re my favourite comedian,’ I said ‘Whoa!” he said. ‘I can’t wait! If you just drop a stand up [show] I’m right there behind you supporting’ and I’m like ‘Easy there buddy!’”
Larry, Sipho and Sphaka have injected the local online content landscape with incredible vigour. Their growing success with Microwave Boys, electrifying personalities and infectious humour have resulted in them being announced as the hosts for Capsule Fest, an urban street culture festival which will be headlined by American platinum-selling hip hop artist A$AP Ferg and SA superstar Nasty C later this year. They’ve also been named as part of The Plug 100, a list of the most influential people within local urban culture, highlighting their enthralling impact as entertainers and pioneers in a niche medium which is set to lay the blueprint which many future online content creators are set to adopt.