Asim Chaudhry can’t quite believe his own life. Booted out of his school drama class, he bumbled through college, met a few mates who together started putting out mockumentary YouTube videos about a west London pirate radio station – which eventually reached Ash Atalla, the producer of The Office, who repackaged it for BBC3 as People Just Do Nothing.
Chaudhry’s wheeler-dealer, would-be entrepreneur Chabuddy G – a cross between Del Boy and Arthur Daley but considerably less successful – stole and continues to steal the show.
The first series streamed in 2014 after BBC3 moved to iPlayer and received rapturous critical acclaim. Season three saw Chaudhry earn an RTS gong and a Bafta nomination for best comedy performer and this year he’s up for the award again and in new shows like Channel 4’s sitcom High and Dry. “It’s been unexpected,” he says, still sounding slightly surprised. “I mean, I’m from Hounslow.”
Indeed, Chaudhry explains, his inspiration for Chabuddy G was his own father – because he was big in the west-London borough of Hounslow. “My dad had loads of businesses in the area,” he recalls. “He was a wheeler-dealer geezer. He had a minicab office, an Indian restaurant and one of those old-school internet cafés. Everyone knew him.”
Young Asim did badly at school and early dreams of acting were quashed after an incident with his drama teacher. “She said I needed to work hard, so I wrote and directed a play that was an Asian version of The Godfather called The Poppadom Father. Then my mate threw a rubber at her and she turned around, saw me and kicked me out of class. It knocked my confidence in terms of acting.”
Nevertheless, he scraped enough GCSEs to get on a media studies course at college and started writing, filming and editing skits and shorts. There he met Hugo Chegwin (DJ Kevin “DJ Beats” Bates in People Just Do Nothing) and Steve Stamp (drug dealer Steven “Steves” Green) and, with Allan Mustafa (Anthony “MC Grindah” Zagrofoff), they started posting routines based on their pirate DJ experiences on YouTube. For a while, the four of them worked in the same call centre, until they all got fired for putting on accents while taking calls, forgetting that every call was recorded…
Now Chaudhry is co-starring with Marc Wootton in High and Dry about a desert-island plane crash and the resulting passenger psychodrama as Wootton’s sociopathic air steward Brett tries to make himself king of the island.
Chaudhry’s only career regret is that few people saw 2015’s Hoff the Record, a series on Dave starring David Hasselhoff, with Chaudhry playing his driver. “Hoff is absolutely mental; very Trump-esque but in a nice way. And he’s so famous – it allowed me to quit the day job and do this full time.” Which even pleased his dad – who loves his portrayal in People Just Do Nothing.
“My dad could walk in a room and leave with four new best mates and two women who want to marry him,” Asim laughs. “He has tons of charisma and is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, but he’s not really self-aware. He loves Chabuddy G because he sees himself but thinks there’s nothing wrong – it’s like, ‘Well, he’s a smart guy.’”
Which, looking at Chaudhry, is a pretty accurate assessment.
The six-part series High and Dry airs on Fridays at 10.35pm on Channel 4