Munya Chawawa: “I loved psychology and helping people — but I also loved Batman…”

The BAFTA-nominated comedian talks Zimbabwean schooling, Matt Hancock and his ‘66 day challenge’…

When Munya Chawawa realised he needed an agent, he decided he’d tell people he was Idris Elba’s son. “Hopefully you’ve been tricked by my promise of being the next tall, dark and handsome instalment of presenting talent,” he wrote. “Though I’m actually slightly below average height with all the sexual appeal of Boris Johnson at a Magic Mike audition…” 

It didn’t always work  — but it did show off Chawawa’s unusual comedic viewpoint; the satirical, playful mind that would later so brilliantly skewer the likes of former health secretary Matt Hancock (just after his handsy indiscretions were caught on CCTV, if you remember) with a brilliant parody of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. 

Now BAFTA-nominated with over a million followers to his name, Chawawa is perhaps the hardest working man in British entertainment — and probably the nicest, too…

I grew up in Zimbabwe. School there was a little bit less forgiving than English school, from my experience. If you bring your homework late in Zimbabwe, there’s seven varieties of canes that will greet your backside. It’s tough love. If you’ve ever watched that film 300, where their idea of a sweet 16 is sending their kids out to fight a werewolf in a red cloth — that was pretty much the ethos of Zimbabwean schooling. 

And what that basically drilled into us was that you’ve got to be the best and you are going to have to work hard. So I’ve been head boy at every school I’ve been to — and if I had a Hinge profile, that would be the statement at the top.

Growing up, I always thought I was gonna be a forensic psychologist. I thought I’d be sat in a room across from The Joker asking him why he did it — because I loved psychology and I loved helping people, but I also loved Batman. But soon I began to realise that I would probably have to witness a fair few bodily fluids. So I went back to the drawing board, and this memory of how much I always loved being on camera. 

I’m very glad that I grew my following slowly and steadily. When I hit a million followers, it was after a four and a half year period of really grafting: making two videos a week, every week; missing family events, weekends, time to chill time on my PlayStation — all of those things had to be sacrificed in order to keep to this schedule. 

But, if I had hit a million on my first video, I wouldn’t know what people wanted from me or why they followed me or what they were expecting. But I know what people want from me now. And I know what people love my content for. They want something that is smart, but warm, uplifting, and lightning. There’s a very clear, expectation and agreement we share between us, and as a result of that, they’re very loyal to me. 

 I always think of the new year as starting from scratch. Maybe in other people’s brains it’s a continuation — but for me, it all starts from scratch. What I tend to do is I start every year with a 66 day challenge. It’ll be something like doing 66 TikToks in a row. Not all of them are great. You know, some of them are very simple, maybe a bit lip syncing and then others will be a bit more complex. But what it does is it forces me to create and get back into that habit and to really just restart my brain.

I don’t know if Matt Hancock’s seen my video about him, but I actually met someone who works in politics the other day and she said to me: ‘oh, believe me, he’s seen it.’ So I’m just sort of waiting for him to invite me to one of these celebrity boxing matches. We’ll be on the undercard behind KSI and Logan Paul. To be honest with you I’d just be weary of being cornered by Matt Hancock, because we all know how that goes…

When people ask me for advice, I like to use this analogy of a wall.  Imagine you’ve got this brick wall in front of you and somebody says: ‘We’re going to give you your entire lifetime to knock down this wall.’ Now imagine you’ve got like this huge suitcase full of tools. If you take out a teaspoon and hit the same area of the wall every day, it will come down one day — but it’ll be very slow. 

But if you then get in the toolbox and you find a pickaxe or a pneumatic drill, the wall’s gonna come down so much quicker. The message is sort of twofold. Number one: make sure you’re always attacking that wall — always be doing something. But secondly: switch things up and try different tools. So my advice is to find the right tool, and make sure you keep chipping away.

This article was taken from the Summer 2022 issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Take a look inside the latest magazine here…

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