Johnny has received 13 Filmfare Awards nominations in Best Comedian Category, and has won the award twice. Johnny began his career in 1984, and has acted in more than 300 Bollywood films since.
Lever was born to Prakash Rao Janumala and Karunamma Janumala on 14 August 1957 Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, India. Johnny Lever was brought up in Mumbai's King's Circle area (Dharavi). His mother tongue is Telugu.Lever Johnny studied in Andhra Telugu School till the seventh grade but couldn't study further because of financial problems in his family, after which he decided to leave school and started working different kinds of odd jobs, such as selling pens on the streets of Mumbai by imitating Bollywood stars and dancing to the songs of Bollywood stars. Lever also spent his early ages in Yakutpura a old city of Hyderabad from where he learnt the unique style of comedy acting.
Lever was also employed in Hindustan Lever's (now Hindustan Unilever) factory in Mumbai with his father. While working, Johnny entertained his co-workers in the factory by imitating Elvis Presley. At one of the functions at his factory he was asked to perform and show his talent. His popularity among coworkers and officers of the factory by his performance earned him the nickname "Johnny Lever".
Johnny started to perform in musical shows (orchestras) Tabassum Hit Parade and after earning fame, joined the group of Kalyanji-Anandji, a legendary music direction duo. Johnny did a lot of shows and world tours with them, one of his first big tours being with Amitabh Bachchan in 1982.
During this period Lever learned a lot from his mentor Kalyanji, who was described by Lever as a great philosopher and a very humorous person. At one of his shows, actor Sunil Dutt noticed his talent and potential and offered him his first movie Dard Ka Rishta.
In the 1980s, he released his mimicry/comedy album, Hansee Ke Hungame, which became a hit in India and the world over, increasing his fame to another level. During this time period, he also did few commercials for Kachua chhap incense, directed by Shekhar Kapoor.
In 1986, he performed in a charity show called "Hope 86", in front of the whole Hindi film industry as a filler and was loved by audience. His talent was recognised, which resulted in producer Gul Anand offering him a film called Jalwa with Naseeruddin Shah. Johnny is considered an influential Indian comedian who has been cited as inspiration by many other comics.
His first Tamil feature film was Anbirkku Alavillai produced by SIMPL (Shepherd India Media Pvt. Ltd.), released in 2011. Johnny Lever also had a special appearance in one Telugu feature film, Criminal directed by Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt.
Johnny Lever is also the president of CINTAA (Cine And T.V. Artist Association) which has its own television show called Superstars ka Jalwa on Star Plus. Lever is also the president of MAAM (Mimicry Artist Association Mumbai), and has done thousands of live shows all over the world. Johnny younger brother, Jimmy Moses, is also a comedian and mimicry artist.
In 1998, Johnny was convicted and sentenced to seven days imprisonment for disrespecting the Indian National Anthem, constitution and the flag at a private function hosted by Anees Ibrahim Kaskar, brother of global terrorist Dawood Ibrahim. However all charges against him were dropped and Johnny Lever was sent home within one day.
Born into a Roman Catholic family, he in 2010 courted criticism from Hindu groups like the Hindu Common Front for "mainly performing Christian prayers on stage" in a concert in organised by Protestant and Pentecostal Christian denominations in a predominantly Hindu locality of Triolet in Mauritius.