When it comes to telling one’s own story, the default method is writing a memoir. In Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains), Felonious Munk has done something a hell of a lot more interesting.
Munk is the writer and lead performer behind a new stand-up/sketch comedy show that tells the story of how he was not put up for adoption by his 19-year-old mother, was abandoned by his father, started selling drugs, wound up in prison, sold used cars (“just like selling drugs, except people hate car dealers more”), and eventually came to stand on the stage where he is today, a happily married father using comedy to make bigots uncomfortable. The show is funny, moving, and occasionally unsettling, and each of those qualities allow its themes of racial and social justice to resonate all the more deeply.
It’s a lot to do in under two hours with a cast of five, which is likely part of the reason Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) moves so quickly. Most of the scenes, sketches or monologue are shorter than a couple of minutes, and the cast is in perpetual motion. With no sets and no costume changes, the movement is also key to visual engagement. Occasionally, the show moves at such a breakneck pace that it’s a little hard to follow, and the timeline is a little slippery, but Munk seems to know when he wants to slow things down and really give his words time to land and settle, so if the comedy is a little frantic at times, it’s likely intentional.
The writing is also notably self-reflective. It’s one thing to try to do some personal analysis and take some responsibility; it’s a whole other thing to write a song directed at your character-self that includes lyrics like, “You thought you were cool but now you’re just another asshole in prison…fuck you, you’re a waste of space.” Munk is able to both acknowledge the lack of a level playing field that put him at a disadvantage while also claiming responsibility for his mistakes. One of the most effective means of doing it, and one of the funniest aspects of the show, involves the regular reappearance of Munk’s conscience, played by Odinaka Ezeokoli. Munk’s conscience is the frenemy he can’t quite rid himself of – in part because he doesn’t entirely want to.
The second half of Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) pivots, focusing less on the specific events of Munk’s life and a bit more on his life in a larger social context. One of the key issues is institutional racism, including the story of Munk’s experience surrounding Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO. More unexpectedly, the show also offers a nuanced critique of sexism and misogyny in the United States. Munk’s writing throughout is actively feminist, and he goes so far as to cede the last word – really, the whole last scene – to a monologue about the perception and reality of being a Black woman. Delivered by McKenzie Chinn, it brought down the house at the show I attended.
There’s a lot to absorb in Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains), from quick jokes to larger commentary on race and life in the United States and Munk’s experience with it. But when a show is this smart and entertaining, even if it moves too quickly or brings too much for you to be able to capture everything, you’ll almost certainly walk away having gotten a whole lot out if it.