The 'Diary of a Badman' star on diversity and becoming a children's book author
From garnering hundreds of millions of YouTube views to being a successful author and even being awarded an MBE by the Queen, Humza Arshad truly is a force to reckoned with.
The south-London native first found viral fame with his YouTube comedy series titled ‘Diary of a Badman’, which follows the highs and hilarious lows of a young British-Pakistani boy trying to be tough, and has since gone on to become one of Britain’s most famous south Asian faces.
Now, Humza has turned his successful YouTube series into a line of children’s books which follow the younger version of his character as he fights killer aunties, time-travelling teachers and radioactive samosas (yes, really!).
His upcoming release, titled ‘Little Badman and the Rise of the Punjabi Zombies’, aims to continue representing young, Pakistani children in literature and help teach them important life lessons through reading.
Indy100 sat down with Humza to learn more about his career highlights, book series and what it’s like being one of the UK’s most successful south Asian YouTubers and comedians.
Humza found fame on YouTube and has since gone on to be one of the UK's most famous south Asians in entertainmentHumza Arshad
On what first inspired him to start his YouTube channel, Humza said it was somewhat of a sad story. “I’d always wanted to be a comedian and entertainer,” he said, “but back then, diversity wasn’t much of a thing and the dream I had of starring in movies or TV felt really far-fetched. In some weird way, I lived my dream in my bedroom.”
He hoped of being spotted by a director or casting agent but did not expect his first ‘Diary of a Badman’ video - which now has over 5.9 million views - to go viral and change his life.
Humza shared when he first felt the success of his series. “I remember being invited to be in a music video after my first few uploads and I thought ‘this is the best thing ever, I’m practically Tom Cruise’.”
“Everyone was so nice to me and I was in a bubble I’d never been in before,” he said. “Then, I remember leaving the set and five or six boys ran up to me to take pictures. When they left, it was the moment I knew things had changed. Then, when I started getting free chicken Nandos, I knew I’d made it.”
Since then, Humza has gone on to viral fame, TV appearances and being awarded his MBE.
“With the MBE, I thought they’d made a mistake!” he laughed. “One day, they sent me a letter saying I’d been chosen by the Queen and it was so surreal. I thought ‘someone messed up here’ but I’m just going to take it and give it back to them once they realised.”
“These accomplishments are always a surprise but at the same time, this is always what I wanted to do,” he continued. “When I was young, I knew I wanted to do what I love so Alhumdullilah (all praises to God), I’m very lucky and fortunate to do what I love.”
On some of his career highlights so far, Humza said: “The MBE is definitely up there and I thought that was the tipping point for my parents to actually admit they were proud of me. But, my dad texted me two days later saying ‘well done’ which is the gold bar.”
He also described his excitement at meeting one of his heroes, The Rock, and what it means to be recognised for his accomplishments. He said: “The MBE was pretty special, especially coming from where I come from, being south Asian and Muslim and being recognised for my work. The next step is OBE!”
As one of the UK’s most famous south Asian figures in the entertainment world, Humza said it’s a great responsibility. He said: “I’m not perfect but being a role model to others who may look up to me is something I have to take into consideration.”
On what representation means to him, he said: “It means everything. Looking at me and how I started ‘Diary of a Badman’, I had no faith that I could live my dream and looking back, that’s really sad.
“Knowing other people have felt that, but can now look at me and other south Asian comedians, actors and entertainers - I’m lucky that I was one of the first to open that door and it’s an honour and proud feeling for me.”
About becoming an author, Humza described how he didn’t read often due to not feeling represented in children's literature growing up. He said: “I would look at the shelves and never see any characters that related to me, which is probably why I never had the incentive to start reading.
“Now, I realise a lot of kids - especially in the south Asian community - have something they can relate to through my books. They can read about samosas and see characters like their parents, so it’s nice to have that representation because even though we’re in the right direction, we can still do more and do better.”
The ‘Little Badman’ book series follows the adventures of the younger version of his ‘Diary of a Badman’ character. “It’s very comedic and is about him and his friends going on these wacky adventures but also gives readers a few lessons to learn from.”
On what he hopes kids (or adults) take away from the book, Humza wants them to laugh and learn. He said: “For example, we talk about the partition of India and Pakistan, the British empire and how lots of Punjabis ended up migrating to the UK, which is something I was never taught in school.”
He would like children, especially from South Asian backgrounds, to understand more about their history and families through reading and take interest in the topic for the future.
Regarding advice he would give to others wanting to get into comedy, acting or YouTube, Humza said: “Consistency is important. Just go for it and if you fall down, get back up and keep going to get to your destination.
“If you’re passionate about something, use that as your motivation as it will lead you to work harder because you love it,” he continued. “Be you, too - make something of your own, don’t copy others and be yourself as there’s only one you. Trust in your abilities, as well.”
In the future, Hamza hopes to release another ‘Little Badman’ book and move away from YouTube into more mainstream entertainment. “I’m going to do more TV and film stuff and I have a few upcoming projects which I can’t say too much about but are very exciting,” he said.
“I would never fully leave YouTube, even if I upload just once a year. I’m working on a few more episodes of my series ‘Badman’, which is a bit like Top Boy but with less budget!”
He said: “I’ve done the hard part of creating my brand and getting through the door, so now I’m doing more of what I enjoy as I love to act and entertain.”
Humza’s book, Little Badman and the Rise of the Punjabi Zombies is out on July 7th and you can watch his YouTube videos here.
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