Hawks acted as the warm-up for the live audience during filming of Red Dwarf from Series I-IV. Hawks also played a number of minor roles in the series. Due to his strong connection to the television series, Hawks has often been referred to as the "Fifth Dwarfer".
Hawks attended school and college in Brighton and then studied at the University of Manchester. He was a very keen and highly ranked tennis player in his youth.
He first tried to make a career as a singer/songwriter, releasing several songs as the lead singer with Morris Minor and the Majors, including the 1988 hit "Stutter Rap (No Sleep til Bedtime)", a Beastie Boys parody, which reached no.4 in the UK charts. This led to a short lived TV series, Morris Minor's Marvellous Motors.
He then went into stand-up comedy. Ed Bye approached him while he was performing at Jongleurs in London as a comic and compere, offering him the chance to warm up the audience for Red Dwarf and play small roles in the show. He became such a part of the cast that he was referred to as "The fourth/fifth Dwarfer".
Since Red Dwarf, he has worked extensively on radio and television, including I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, Grumpy Old Men and Have I Got News For You.
His most important contribution has been his travelogue books. He has written bestsellers like Round Ireland with a Fridge, Playing the Moldovans at Tennis and One Hit Wonderland. The first two books have been made into films starring Tony himself. He also raises money for charities in the UK and abroad, including the Hippocrates Centre for disabled children, and "Tennis for Free" campaign. Half of the royalties from the film and books he has written have been donated towards these causes. For his extensive charity work, Hawks was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
- Tony Hawks is frequently confused with the skateboarding expert Tony Hawk. Hawks receives and responds to e-mails meant for the skateboarder, misconstruing the 's in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video games. After many emails sent to Tony Hawks asking for "ollie" advice that, on 2 January 2008, Hawks appeared on Celebrity Mastermind answering questions on Tony Hawk as his specialist subject. Hawks noted that his correspondents "might be able to do backside varials, but they can't spell to save their lives".
- In later years, other comedians have performed the "warm up" for the live studio audiences during the filming of Red Dwarf. Ray Peacock performed the job for Series XI and XII.