Munah and Hirzi: The face of Singapore’s Gen Y?

They tell it like it is and for that reason, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Wacky and controversial YouTube stars Munah, 25, and Hirzi, 24, have been doing their thang for the last five years: shoot-from-the-hip video commentary of social issues that is incisive, brutal and laced with evil humour. Their street cred is there for all to see: their Youtube channel, Munah Hirzi Official (MHO) has over 36 thousand channel subscribers. Together, their more than 200 videos have amassed a total of over 11 million views. So how exactly did they become the voice of a new generation? Yahoo! Singapore reporter Nurul Azliah finds out.

Things are looking up for YouTube stars Munah and Hirzi.

Not satisfied with producing content for their own MHO channel, the pair now have their own television show.

Signed to Fly Entertainment since last September, Hirzi also turned scriptwriter for “The Hossan Leong Show – Flying Solo” production last September.

So how did it all begin for Munah and Hirzi?

Maimunah Bagharib and Ahmad Hirzi Zulkiflie first became friends while pursuing a diploma in Communications and Media Management in Temasek Polytechnic. Together, they discovered a love for comedy and were itching to document their interest as well as showcase their talents. But it was only when they graduated that they had more time to produce and finally launch their first video in 2008.

Their first series of videos was called “10 Dares” and featured the duo performing random dares with total strangers. Totally frivolous, yet compellingly addictive, their fresh brand of “MHO” video content quickly gained them a following.

Along the way, they found their true calling. “Entertainment with a social cause”, as Hirzi put it during a recent interview with Yahoo! Singapore at the Ngee Ann Poly campus.

Dressed in a crisp red checkered shirt with fitting denim shorts and classy loafers, Hirzi said they then started broadening MHO’s content by combining humour with social and political issues. The result? Popular series “Sex Appeal & Jokes”, as well as parodies such as “Press For Sticker Girl”, which poked fun at the arrest of the 25-year-old Sticker Lady for vandalism.

At the same time, the pair also began expanding their presence off video. Late last year, they starred in a 2012 stage production called, “Happy Ever Laughter” alongside comedy greats such as Moses Lim and Kumar. Now, they have their own television series “Munah & Hirzi: Action!” with Mediacorp.

But even though the past year has been one filled with new opportunities, the journey to stardom was not always so smooth.

Just as their success was taking flight in late 2012, a group of conservative Muslims complained to Mediacorp’s Suria Channel for allowing Munah and Hirzi to appear on television because they were “inappropriate” role models. Things got worse when the news made it to print in Malay newspaper, “Berita Harian”. They were promptly accusing them of anti-Islam behaviour and “toying” with the religion. (For a snapshot of the commentaries published, click here).

"Sex Appeal & Jokes: Bedok Reservoir", one of their popular episodes in the talkshow - parody series, earning up to 100, 000 views.

Public and parental pressures

For both Munah and Hirzi, who are now pursuing their degrees in Communication Studies at National University of Singapore and Creative Producing at Chapman University respectively, the controversy is still fresh in their minds.

“We huddled over ‘Whatsapp’ and shared our thoughts on the situation. I felt like I had the responsibility to make sure we were okay and that we could stay strong through what happened because the rest of us, including the new members I pulled in, Hubab and Nadia, were greatly affected by it,” said Hirzi.

Quitting and pulling the plug on their YouTube show was never an option, said Hirzi.

“We cannot end when we are being trashed and talked about. If we wanted to end, it will happen in a glorious note,” he said.

But while Hirzi was grateful for his family support during the controversy, it was an uphill battle for Munah.

“I thought my dad would send me off to a madrasah in Egypt. But surprisingly, he told my mum that I should just do what I do and believe in my faith because nobody can judge me but God,” said a relieved Munah with a faint smile.

Their parents are yet to be fully convinced but of the two, Munah’s parents have found it harder to cope with their daughter’s new-found, notorious fame.

“There is always a question of ‘What would Munah’s father say?’” and ‘What would the future of MHO be once he finds out?’,” said Hirzi.

Recently, her father finally showed signs of approval; Munah was starting to hear from her mother about how he spoke proudly of Munah to his friends. Till today, the father and daughter never really speak to each other about her fame, but Munah knows she can count on his support.

“I know when he speaks of me to his friends. He doesn’t tell me about it but my mom does, and that’s how I know that I have his support,” she said with great contentment, and then revealing that her mother, in contrary, is a big fan of hers.

"Girls - Run The World Parody (Singapore)" is their most popular music video parody for the Beyonce track, used to spoof on the rising Filipino maid population with views shooting up to about 400, 000.

Juggling work and studies

So how are the wacky duo in real life?

Serious, dedicated and nowhere as crazy as you see in videos.

“When it comes to serious work behind the scenes, of course we’re serious. There are a lot of things to decide on with our videos: Is this funny enough? Can everybody enjoy this? Can they relate to this?” explains Hirzi, who added, “and it is a big challenge when you have people as young as five-year-old and people in their mid-30s watching your videos, you need to find a median and consider everybody while deciding on the content.

Munah, who’s dressed in a black figure-hugging top for this interview said excitedly, “But when we’re in front of the camera, that’s when we feel relief and carefree again – like a child.”

These days, Munah and Hirzi only meet when they are working on their videos because they are too busy with their respective hectic schedules, mainly due to school.

“Hirzi will plan everything in advance so we can record a month’s worth of content within a day, and then I don’t have to think about it anymore,” said Munah with glee.

To which Hirzi rolled his eyes and barked, “You lah don’t have to think about it when I have to edit the videos each week.”

Say what you will but judging by the numerous comments on their Youtube channel, loyal subscribers love the duo because they are “brave”, “gutsy” and “hilarious”.

“It’s precisely because they’re so rude and confrontational that makes their videos so hilarious… some people just don’t understand,” wrote one of their fans, Adrian Lim.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t just ignore them.

Stay tuned for part two of the interview.