Viral moments always appear instant, or as if they came out of nowhere, but often there’s a huge amount of work that’s gone before the moment that eventually catches fire. Most people’s first introduction to Munya Chawawa would be just such an instance. The now infamous Jonny Oliver sketch, would kick start Munya’s career as a new age comedian, one who traded in the currency of views, likes and comments on social media. But before he was bathed in the spoils of online glory, Munya wasn’t even thinking about becoming a comedian, he was exploring all possible avenues in his pursuit of a career in presenting.
One thing that he’s become synonymous with is his uncanny ability to turn things around in record time, this was a skill honed in the fires of script writing for live TV four times week; during a stint of production work at 4Music. Due to an absentee producer, Munya was given the golden opportunity to showcase his flair for writing, something which had been taking shape during his work at Sheffield University’s Forge Radio, and on his early news roundups that he’d post on Twitter. So by the time he began script writing, Munya already had countless practise hours under his belt. As presenting had always been the goal, Munya was not content with just being the brains behind the scenes, he wanted to be front and centre.
“I’m writing jokes for other presenters and I’m watching them read the jokes and I’m seeing them laugh, I’m seeing the people watching it and laugh. So I started thinking, maybe I’ve got a funny bone, and I need someone to know its me, and thats when i started to do my sketches.”
Great writing has always been at the core of what has made Munya such a huge success, even before virality, writing was simply a creative outlet for him. Whether it was penning award wining poetry for the Science Gallery, or writing full blown guides on how to get an A* in English at 6th form, his penmanship has consistently been a guiding light for him. But before the ballpoint pen lit the way to success for Munya, he was instinctively drawn to the universal language of laughter. After spending much of his childhood in Zimbabwe, Munya moved to Norwich, and as a way of staying connected to the grandparents he left behind, his family would send them home videos, Munya recounts fondly:
“We’d film these home videos, and you know my objective was always to do something that would make them laugh. Because that image of them, laughing in my kid brain, I felt like that’s going to fix anything thats wrong, or thats gonna make them feel less sad. So its always an emotion that I’ve pursued to create in other people, and even though a lot of the time the thing to do that might make me feel uncomfortable, theres a part of me that doesn’t mind doing that because I enjoy the end product, and I enjoy what laughter does, you know laughter unties people.”
A gifted academic, Munya would pursue a psychology degree at the Russell Group University Of Sheffield, and these comedic inclinations would lay mostly dormant. Aside from his activities at the university radio and television stations (where he became Head Of Features and interviewed people like Charlotte Church), Munya’s focus was on eventually becoming a forensic psychologist. A career in entertainment was so far removed from his immediate reality, he never even considered it as an option at the time.
Comedy has long been viewed as an elitist pursuit, even at grassroots levels the open mic nights are populated with middle class, classically trained drama and acting majors. Creative industries as a whole are overrun by the privileged, who either have access to resources that the rest of us don’t, or are able to be bankrolled while they cut their teeth on low paid jobs, or sometimes no pay at all. Earning a crust and being a “creative” are sometimes diametrically opposed, which often excludes those of us who have the aspirations but no safety net. Being a comedian simply wasn’t a tangible career goal for Munya.
“I’d pretty much killed any ambition of being a creative because it wasn’t a tangible goal. Like I could see lawyers, I could see businessmen, psychologists and what not. We didn’t really have social media comedians, you’d see like Lee Evans at the 02 sold out, and you’d think well I don’t really know what the stepping stones are to get there so ill just assume that is never going to be for me.”
The new dawn was ushered in by the likes of Vuj, DontJealousMe, Roll Safe, Micheal Dapaah and of course Mo The Comedian. In the same way that Lee Evans would draw crowds at the 02, this new generation of comedians would corner an entirely new market on the internet. The blueprint had been laid out, and Munya’s unique brand of topical satire, delivered by hilariously accurate caricatures quickly became something we turned to whenever news broke. Whether it was the posh Drill rapper Unknown P, DiggArchie, Craig Covid, Matt Hancock parodies or even “Wardle” – Munya’s take on the way the media portrayed the Ukraine war. Each sketch was so brilliantly different, but all came with Munya’s signature love of wordplay and always sought to hold power to account. Making news more palatable and poking fun at the absurdity of it, has become Munya’s calling card.
“So I did three Jonny Oliver videos, and engagement started dropping a bit. Then Theresa May was caught trying to Dougie in Africa, So I thought let me try and be her dance tutor, that did well. So now I’m like people seem to like characters, they seem to like topicality and through that process I forged a brand for myself.”
Munya has morphed into a multi-hyphenate of epic proportions since he first began posting sketches on social media. He’s had national television appearances on Taskmaster, made his own documentary How To Survive a Dictator (which he received a BAFTA nomination for), and now looks to transition from social media comedian, to fully fledged stand up comedian. Not content with such grandiose goals alone, he plans on doing this with just a few months of preparation. Munya shares his thoughts with us on the transitional process so far:
“I think the best thing is to do is become a pupil again. So, I’m constantly watching stand up now. The goal I’ve set myself is to do 80 gigs before my tour hits. And I’m not going to these gigs to be like tell me I’m funny, I’m going to these gigs to find out what happens when you’re not funny enough, what happens when you have good gigs, okay gigs, terrible gigs, crowd that loves you, crowd that don’t know you. I want it all, because i want to get on that stage in October and for people to go, damn i have to respect it because he’s actually rocked out here, I was expecting a mediocre show with some good sketch cameos, but I got a great show with some amazing sketch cameos. Its just not in my DNA to take something half hearted.”
Munya has been mercurial throughout his career, its become his modus operandi. He’s shown great range in everything that he’s done, whether that be comedy sketches, or full blown TV shows, he’s proven that there really isn’t anything he’s not capable of. The only thing that we should come to expect from Munya and his trajectory, is more surprises. Looking to the future, and thinking about what’s next, Munya says: “I look at people like Donald Glover and Trevor Noah, and I think thats gotta be the gold standard. I think the next thing for me is just having a show, and seeing the credits roll and says Director Munya Chawawa, Exec Producer Munya Chawawa, starring Munya Chawawa, because why not?”
If you wanna catch him at one of the shows on the tour that’s not sold out, be sure to grab your tickets right here.