LONDON – He’s the hyperbolic presenter with a schedule, disgruntled Meghan Markle skeptic vying for the post of Piers Morgan, British aristocrat insisting he is simply middle class – and these are just a few – some of the characters from Munya Chawawa’s arsenal.
But in a Zoom interview last month, Mr Chawawa, 28, speaking from his London apartment in a neon hoodie, was exploring his own personality.
âI make content because I need to express how I feel for the world,â he said of his comedy. “You have to have some kind of catharsis when the world throws things at you, or you’ll go crazy.” “
Mr Chawawa’s dry skits of racism, classism and everyday life in Britain had already found an audience before the pandemic. But during the lockdown, his powerful combination of singing, comedy, and rap helped him become a sardonic voice of young progressives in an increasingly diverse nation that is unimpressed with elitism and skeptical about it. regard to the establishment.
The misery of a locked-down Britain has been a boon to Mr Chawawa, who now has more than half a million followers on Instagram and TikTok. He signed a contract with Atlantic Records, and his news anchor character, Barty Crease, appears in promotions for Netflix UK
During such a year, “humor has been an indispensable tonic,” said Mr. Chawawa. And the hit streak fueled an ambitious goal: âI work to be one of the most respected satirists in the country. “
The satire of Mr. Chawawa – whose comedy heroes are John Oliver, Andy Zaltzman, and Sacha Baron Cohen, among others – feels “like a superpower.” This isn’t just because of the challenge of the execution, but also because of the satire’s ability to extract humor from situations that aren’t meant to be funny at all, he said.
âAnything you laugh at cannot haunt or hurt you as much as it once did,â he said.
Considering the state of the world today, there is a lot of material he can work with.
When critics called the packages of poor children’s food too skinny, Mr Chawawa was ready with a skit about a wealthy lawmaker scrambling to respond, ‘We can’t feed them but we could put them in a movie -‘ The Hungrier Games’. He parodied British journalists making headlines about the Duchess of Sussex using the Cards Against Humanity game (“Meghan Kidnapped Peppa Pig”) and a security guard letting rioters enter the United States Capitol upon learning that they were white: “You are already wearing your pass! This is called the white privilege.
Among all his characters and creations, Mr. Chawawa is best known for Unknown P, an unbearably smug and wearing a Burberry cap from Surrey who talks about tax evasion, trust funds and other things Mr. Chawawa imagines is the 1% could speak. behind closed doors.
The character was born out of a desire to expose the hypocrisy of classism and cultural appropriation in the midst of a public debate over British exercise – a subgenre of hip-hop music that the British authorities have attempted censorship, blaming him for an increase in knife crime in London.
For many young black men and women, exercise was an important form of self-expression, Mr. Chawawa said, giving voice to the frustrations and realities of life in times of austerity. Mr Chawawa said he was troubled by the appropriation of the genre, with “crested white children chanting the lyrics” as he infiltrated private schools.
Born in Derby, England, Mr Chawawa spent his childhood in Zimbabwe, his father’s birthplace, before his family moved to a small village near Norwich, England. His first exposure to comedy came through his grandfather, whose dinner table jokes made him the center of attention.
In England, where he was one of the few colored families in the region, Mr Chawawa stifled his natural extroversion, which had been encouraged in Zimbabwe. âSlowly I stopped raising my hand,â he said.
In college, he studied psychology but found himself spending all of his time in the student radio center. He also worked as a waiter at an upscale restaurant in Norwich, where customers sometimes complimented his English. There he gathered useful information on the paths of the ultra-rich. It hit him when he moved to London that this world could be a comedic gold mine.
He began posting skits online while working as a producer for 4Music TV channel, hoping they would raise his profile enough to propel him to the airwaves. But as skit after skit went viral, Mr. Chawawa discovered that instead of trying to impress the guardians of the industry, he could bypass them altogether.
âYou can go viral in a day and everyone knows who you are,â he said, adding that many young people in Britain don’t see themselves reflected by satirists on their TV screens. “For me, it seems liberating to fight the status quo.”
His own operation remains largely himself and “a tripod that has one leg taped together,” he said, although he uses help for more complex graphics and animation.
To make sure his skits will resonate at a time when viral fame can be vital or destructive, he first shares them with a panel of trusted friends. âSome people, I’ll be so different from them in real life, of course they’re not going to think it’s funny,â he said. “My followers are the people I think I would get along with in real life.”
Mr. Chawawa dismisses criticism that satire on serious topics like racism and the pandemic trivializes them. The grandfather who inspired his comedy died of a terminal illness during the pandemic, and last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests left him with emotional pain he had never known . âI could barely pick up my phone,â he said. “I felt so low.”
But he subscribes to the adage that in hard times you can cry or laugh – and he would like to make people laugh. âIt’s better for me to add humor to the world right now than to add more reason to be depressed,â he said.
Despite an eye for places and people to criticize in the world, Mr. Chawawa doesn’t want to become a cynic, he said – the guy who complains in the supermarket about the harshness of life.
Instead, he is optimistic about his own future and the one young Britons are building.
“The older generation might think we’re all on TikTok against a wardrobe – which,” he admitted, “is sometimes true.” But he thinks his comedy meets a need among young artists who are very aware of inequalities in the world.
“Once the old money starts to evaporate I am very confident about how Britain will look when the new generation steps in,” he said.
Mr. Chawawa’s dream is to produce his own television show. He embarks on more acting and writing work. And once the pandemic is over, he – or rather Unknown P – plans to follow other British comedians and take a trip across the Atlantic.
âAmericans think Unknown P is real,â he said with a smile. He said he would welcome the opportunity for the character to “get real cultural information.”
For now, Mr. Chawawa is taking the chance to look into this natural extraversion. âMy dad always told me, ‘When you were in Zimbabwe, you were so daring.’