Munya Chawawa. Image courtesy of YouTube Originals
We only discover if a big news story is truly seismic a few hours after it breaks – and it all depends on whether Munya Chawawa has turned it into a lightning-fast parody. He’s the fastest man on the internet. The devil works fast, but Munya Chawawa works faster.
“Any social event I organise, I always say to them: if Matt Hancock ends up snogging someone behind a door, I will have to cancel this Wagamama’s,” Chawawa tells The Big Issue.
True enough, mere hours after we saw the grainy CCTV pics of Matt Hancock in a passionate embrace, Chawawa blessed the internet with a rip-roaring take on Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me. It was a full production – dense with jokes, backdrops, accents, and CGI.
The very simple question for Chawawa is: How does he do it?
And the very simple answer is: it’s just him with a tripod. There’s no big team or writers room. Sometimes he enlists the help of his friend Carlos if he needs to “Michael Bay it up”.
He’ll take the temperature from social media, let the jokes come to him almost in a trance, and give birth to his skit within hours. It’s working well.
Millions watch Chawawa’s videos. His skits have helped him amass 183,000 followers on Twitter and over 870,000 on both TikTok and Instagram. The success has spilled over into real life – he’s hosting this Sunday’s MOBO Awards and has his own YouTube series coming.
During the pandemic, his quickfire takes on PureGym racism and tabloid headlines about Meghan Markle mingled on the feed with musical numbers like the Matt Hancock video.
When we talk, his most recent parody is a send-up of Boris Johnson’s spluttering, Peppa Pig-referencing CBI speech, set to Flowers by rapper Arrdee – a favourite on TikTok.
These moments are a gift from the universe to Chawawa. “When people use the phrase ‘the stars aligned’ it’s always for something amazing and magical like being married or meeting the love of your life”, he says.
“For me it was just being able to rip into Matt Hancock. However the universe works I’m down for it.”
There’s no convoluted process for writing the jokes: “All I know is I was a bit of a joke book fiend when I was a kid growing up, you know, I was the one hoarding Christmas cracker jokes.”
And true to form, he cannot help slipping into the ridiculous – in our 30 minute Zoom call, he drops the phrase “snowglobe of satire”, describes creativity as flowing like the chocolate lake in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and imagines floating past the Shard on a block of ice as a victim of climate change.
Chawawa is not, in other words, a deeply serious person. But his work needles at tough subjects, poking fun at the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict or the idea of a social network exclusively for racists.
He describes satire as “taking stuff that is quite depressing and misery slash anger inducing, and making it just very enjoyable”.
“That feels very much like a superpower to be able to take the stuff that’s making people down and have them in fits of laughter,” he says.
And it is a way for him to broach topics, particularly race, which people typically clam up about. “Any time you transition into trying to lecture people or attack them, people shut down,” he says. “But everyone’s always open to the idea of having a laugh, and if you can slip a message in that way, I feel like for me, that’s just a language that connects everyone.”
For all the effort that goes into the skits, they’re not the end goal. Chawawa admits they’re a means to grow his profile and catapult himself into presenting. He’s recently been announced as the host of this year’s MOBO awards, is appearing on Channel 4’s Complaints Welcome, and is now presenting a new YouTube series, Race Around Britain, where he goes around the country in a VW camper van talking to people about race.
He was surprised to find people were willing to talk and be open, and points again to the mix of light and shade in his work. His aim is to have serious conversations – albeit through stupid skits and mock game-shows – that don’t go after people. What he found on his travels was “there was a lack of knowledge but there wasn’t a lack of empathy or kindness”.
“That tells me maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem,” he says.
While Chawawa may be on his way to having one of Britain’s most recognisable hairlines – a bust of him will surely one day be sat in a gallery alongside timelapses of Prince William and Wayne Rooney – he says he wants to leave an actual legacy, and points to Adele as inspiration.
“I think you do that by just taking time out perfecting your craft, and, you know, doing a bit of an Adele,” he says.
“That’s a perfect template of somebody who goes away refines their craft comes back delivers and repeats.”
There have been moments on the come up where he’s had to pinch himself – most notably chatting to Idris Elba – a fan – at an Anthony Joshua fight. “I usually get a really sweaty forehead when I’m nervous,” says Chawawa.
“And it was as dry as a bone up there. And I just thought to myself, how is this happening? And I think it’s because I just got to a stage where I realised people appreciate hard work.”
He quickly backtracks on the mid-level humblebrag: “I mean, to be fair, he’s probably on his way to the exit, but I like to see it as him coming up to me. The door was directly behind me, but let’s ignore that fact.”
Not all of Chawawa’s encounters have gone well, and he’s keen for a second chance with Daniel Kaluuya after bumping into him with a “mouth full of mange tout”.
“If you could coordinate some sort of three way Wagamama’s with me, Adele and Daniel Kaluuya that would be brilliant.”
Race Around Britain launches on Youtube Originals on December 6th