Munya Chawawa on using TikTok to break into television

Munya Chawawa on using TikTok to break into television

Friday, 20th October 2023
From left: Natalie Lyddon, Greg James, Rosie Gee, Munya Chawawa, Rebecca Dowell and Ed Lindeman (Credit: John Stone)
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon

Matthew Bell discovers the platform is far more than a TV training ground

Frustrated that he couldn’t get a break in TV, comedian Munya Chawawa took to impersonating celebrity offspring. “I was so desperate… I told a TV agent that I was Idris Elba’s son, which obviously you can’t verify until you see the person. I’d turn up and they’d say to me: ‘Look. If you had 30,000 followers, maybe we’d talk to you. We like your showreel but you’ve got no profile.’”

Chawawa felt his comedy suited TikTok’s “quick bursts of entertainment…. Most videos have one punchline at the end, so my rule was that I was going to have 11 punchlines in 60 seconds.”

He was talking at an RTS event, which highlighted how TikTok can help launch a career in television.

When he finally broke into TV, Chawawa rapidly made a name for himself, appearing on hit Channel 4 show Taskmaster and winning an RTS award for the YouTube series Race Around Britain.

But he is still a presence on TikTok. “Online is a powerful engine in terms of putting you in front of… commissioners and producers – it’s an engine between big projects that lets people know I’m still out there,” he said.

First and foremost, said Talent Director Rebecca Dowell from global agency YMU, she is looking for a “unique tone of voice and a creative USP”, rather than a huge following. “But, for them to be suitable for representation, they would need to be at a certain level, so the 30,000 reference is quite a good starting point… they have obviously found traction with the audience.”

She added: “Because on TikTok you can experiment creatively… instead of a showreel, talent can use it to build a creative portfolio.”

Rosie Gee, Public Figure Partnerships Manager at TikTok, said: “On TikTok, your content doesn’t need to be perfect… it’s about being authentic and being yourself… and not overthinking it.”

TV and radio can learn from social media, said BBC Radio 1 Breakfast DJ Greg James. “As well as listening to you, they are also on the phone endlessly, so you’ve got to be where the audience is. It would have been ridiculous if I’d gone: ‘We’re not doing TikTok – I don’t understand it.’ Well, then, get off the radio because you’re not keeping up with the world… the radio show benefits from it.”

James continued: “No one medium is better than another… if you came up through TikTok or Instagram, brilliant, well done. [The idea] that TV should be the [only] gateway… that’s absolute bollocks – I hope that isn’t happening anymore.”

Are either of the star panellists earning money from TikTok? Chawawa said: “I have not yet monetised my TikTok content; I use it more as a tool to put myself out there, then brands are able to see that and say: ‘He’ll be great for the next Adidas campaign.’”

TikTok Creator Partner Manager Natalie Lyddon added: “From a creative perspective, there are so many ways you can make money… there are all these monetisation tools we have in apps.”

James said: “I’ve always seen social media – because I’ve been lucky enough to have a daily radio show, which is my main platform – as a marketing tool. But also it’s evolved and it generates content for the show.

“Remember, there’s so much time,” he said, addressing a woman struggling to break into TV. “I’ve been on Radio 1 for 16 years – it took me 12 years to get the breakfast show. There were moments on the way when I thought it would never happen… but it’s so much better for waiting and working out who you are.… So, take time, and enjoy all the bits along the way.”

‘TikTok talent: creating content for TV success’ was held on 25 September at TikTok’s London HQ. It was hosted by Edward Lindeman, Head of Entertainment and News Operations at TikTok, and produced by Damien Ashton-Wellman.