Humza Arshad might be one of those infamous YouTubers that you’ve just never heard of. But don’t expect fashion tips, or a lowdown on current trends. As the creator of web series Diary of a Badman wants to use comedy to spread a social message.
“I think that a lot of Muslims and Islam in general are not portrayed in a positive light in the media, and it’s a shame,” Arshad tells WIRED.co.uk. “I wanted to do this project as a Muslim, to represent Muslims and get some positive PR.”
Badmans World 3 | I’m a Muslim not a terrorist | Humza Productions
The video being shown in British schools to combat radicalisation
Kickstarted in December 2010, Diary of a Badman, narrates fictional character Badman’s relationship with his friends and family. “Badman was about a young stereotypical British Asian boy who thinks he’s gangsta,” explains Arshad. “He gets into complicated situations, but I made sure there was a positive, moral message in each sketch.”
The series touches on themes such as arranged marriages, racism, family relations, and is primarily geared toward a British Muslim audience. Yet possessing universal appeal, Arshad’s DIY project proved an instant success, amassing both Muslim and non-Muslim viewers alike.
In 2011, episode five was the seventh most viewed YouTube video in the UK, and Arshad’s vlogs, have topped 60 million views.
The series proved such a hit that in 2013, even the police approached Arshad to help them prevent the radicalisation of British Muslim youths.
“There would have been a disconnect between a young Muslim boy and a middle-aged white man,” recalls Arshad. “The police wanted to work with me because they knew that the children would know me, and that I could engage with them.”
The concern surrounding the radicalisation of British youths has grown over the years, with reports of British Muslims joining rebel forces, or the Islamic State in Syria. And social media is thought to be one of the methods through which such organisations gather new recruits.
But Arshad’s keen on providing a grassroots antidote — or some comic relief — to what he calls the “hateful messages” coming from a few “misguided individuals”.
“Social media is one of the ways that these people reach kids, and we want to prevent kids going online from being radicalised,” says Arshad. “You can easily access extremist videos online these days and they can change people’s minds as it’s propaganda.”
“We want kids to be careful when they’re online, to think for themselves and to not be easily brainwashed.”
While Badman is now a popular household name, Arshad recalls his project’s humble beginnings when he was fresh out of drama school. “I just wanted to make something entertaining that people, especially the Asian generation, could relate too. But comedy is very universal,” he says.
“I have fans of all ethnicities and backgrounds, and receive messages from non-Muslims saying ‘I’m not Muslim, but I really enjoy your work’.”
For 2015, Arshad’s set to continue his collaboration with the police across schools in the UK, and plans more comedy stand-up shows. Arshad’s current show Bubblegum is now in its seventh run, and he’s set the bar high for 2015. As well as aiming for his own TV show, he wants to bump up his YouTube subscribers to one million.
“There aren’t as many Asian YouTubers. But I’m not saying you have to do it. I’m saying, ‘look, sometimes you can do it for yourself’. I worked really hard and put a lot of time into my vlogs and had a lucky break,” asserts Arshad. “If I can do it anyone can.”
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