Being told to retire was 'painful' for Aznil Nawawi

Aznil Nawawi shot to fame in the early 2000s as the host of reality singing series Akademi Fantasia. Photo: Handout

With his lightning-fast wit and buoyant personality, Datuk Aznil Nawawi has never failed to bring joy and laughter to living rooms around the country.

Since the start of his career around the early 1990s, Aznil, or more affectionately known as Pak Nil, has become one of Malaysia’s most respected TV presenters, helming various reality programmes, most notably, popular singing competition Akademi Fantasia besides his own talk show Macam Macam Aznil in the 2000s.

Around the time his career skyrocketed, he made the unorthodox move to reach out to an age group not many have focused on in the past – children.

Through the 2007 kids variety programme Tom Tom Bak, Aznil managed to capture the hearts of the younger generation. The show became a hit, spawning multiple seasons.

After going off air for a number of years, the children’s programme returned last month with Aznil once again at the helm.

And he is not done shaping young minds.

He founded Yayasan Pesona, an organisation devoted to helping kids all over the country discover their confidence and gift of the gab.

Aznil travels to schools near and far, holding public speaking workshops.

On one such occasion, Aznil met a student whose life story moved him to tears. He shares about the experience which went viral as well as his reaction to people telling him to retire.

1. When you first started on Tom Tom Bak, there weren’t many hosts specialising in children’s programmes. Why was that the case?

Back then, when you talk about hosting a children’s programme, people saw it as a downgrade because children’s shows got very low ratings.

So when I decided to host Tom Tom Bak, people said, “You’ve achieved so much success with Akademi Fantasia and Macam Macam Aznil, why are you taking a step backwards?”

That’s not how I saw it. I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to ensure that a kid’s programme would be as good as a programme for adults, which thankfully, I managed to do. Tom Tom Bak became very successful.

Also, a lot of hosts see hosting a kids’ programme as a challenge because they don’t know how to speak to kids. You can’t speak as though you’re addressing an adult. The approach, the tone has to be different.

And a lot of people don’t want to take up that challenge and get out of their comfort zones. So when that happens, you don’t see other people hosting a kids’ programme – it’s still me.

Aznil Nawawi
Aznil Nawawi shot to fame in the early 2000s as the host of reality singing series Akademi Fantasia. Photo: Handout

2. What have you learned about working with kids on Tom Tom Bak?

They’re very punctual. They’re very energetic. They’re very eager to perform. They really look forward to going on stage.

In hosting, giving energy and receiving energy are two very important things. And I get a lot of energy from them, which encourages me.

3. You started Yayasan Pesona to help improve public-speaking skills among kids. Why is that important to you?

When it comes to speaking in front of a crowd, Malaysian kids are often very scared. They’re more shy and reserved.

The first thing I tell them to do is raise their hands and ask questions. And I realise that’s actually quite a challenge.

Very few will raise their hands or come to the front. If they’re too shy to do that, what more open their mouths to speak?

So I started Yayasan Pesona two years ago where I would go to schools and teach them public-speaking and confidence. I tell them there’s no such thing as asking a bad question.

4. In one of your public-speaking workshops, you met a young boy who left a lasting impression on you. Tell us about that experience.I felt led by God to bring this boy, Rahmat, up on stage.

When I asked him what his father worked as, he told me very softly he was a cleaner. He felt small and embarrassed by it.

I felt it was time to break that mindset. People who work as cleaners are no less than people who work in offices. So I said, ‘Why did you say his occupation so softly? If he was a businessman, would you have said it loudly?’

Later, I also learned that his father has passed away. I told him I’m sorry to hear that. I also said that the death of a loved one is a process we all have to go through so he shouldn’t feel small.

Kids who have fathers and kids who don’t have fathers – it doesn’t make him smaller. I told him these things to make him feel as “big” as the other kids.

When kids feel shy to speak up, we can’t blame them. Sometimes, it’s because society has belittled them, saying they’re just the son of a cleaner and so forth. So I have to reset their minds.

5. What has been the most painful criticism you’ve received as a public figure?

The worst is when they tell me it’s time to leave the entertainment scene. Everyone thinks that once you’re old, you need to be less productive. A carton of milk may have an expiry date, but humans don’t. When they say that, it’s like they’re putting an expiry date on you.

I’m not a carton of milk. I’m not a can of beans. As long as I can keep working, I will. In fact, being productive will keep me healthy longer. I love doing what I do, a lot, and I don’t think I will stop.

#TomTomBak is available on On Demand VOD by Astro.

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