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Queens of Comedy – Punch Newspapers


I have 11 characters in my head — Chigul

Actress and comedienne, Chioma Omeruah aka Chigul, speaks to BUKOLA BAKARE about her family, career and other related matters

What course did you major in?

I studied French education in the university and I worked for a few years as a French teacher in the United States. I speak five languages but I am a Lagos girl-born and bred in Lagos. I was born in the Yaba area of the state and thereafter,  I moved to Kaduna, Jos, and came back to Lagos again. Afterwards,  I went to the United States to study. I lived there for 12 years before returning to Nigeria.

How did you come about the distinct voice that you are known for?

I am a very blessed human being and God has given me certain gifts and sometimes, I really don’t know which one to explore. I’ve always been very gifted at imitating people since I was young. Even when guests came to my house, once they said something, they knew that Chioma would catch it instantly and entertain the house afterwards. Till now, I still do some of these things. Then one day, I recorded a voice note with my blackberry phone and sent it out to my friends. It was something that just happened; it wasn’t as if there was a plan. There are about 11 characters in my head and Chigul is just one of them-the others are there as well. However, Chigul is the major one.

You were previously married and mentioned at some point that you married as a virgin. What lessons did you learn from that  union and how has it shaped you into the woman that you are today?

My marriage just sort of fell apart – as you know, bad things happen but then, you have to learn to pick up the pieces and move on. Nobody envisages that his or her marriage is going to crash. You go in with the best intentions and the highest of hopes but for whatever reasons, things happen, life happens and it’s always better when you build from the bad things that have happened to you and move on.

What qualities would you be looking out for in a man this time?

This time around, I think that I have a more mature eye and mind. I was 33 and I think I had a different notion of what life was then as well as different expectations. Now, I am more settled in my mind and I’m just all about being with someone who allows me to be at my best. As a man or woman, you want to be with someone that makes you whole and complements you. For now, it is only me in the car and I am at the wheels and riding solo but when I see a life passenger, I’ll definitely take a shot.

How would you describe your personality?

Something that has to with Chigul always slides into my personality. I’ve realised that Chioma is that person that was born by her parents and Chigul just became part of her so, they are one and the same and one can’t do without the other. Even when I’m angry, it’s still in the Chigul manner so both characters are one and the same.

What are your likes and dislikes?

I like honesty and dislike dishonesty . As an artiste, I like professionalism and one of my pet peeves is lateness. I don’t like keeping people waiting and I don’t want them to do same to me. I like being able to work with people who take others along with them and it is good when you are able to take someone along with you-there is a lot of mentorship going on for actors and comedians and in my experience, I have been embraced by most people that I have come across and a lot of people have come my way. The likes of Alibaba, AY and all of these people have taken me as their sister and I really cannot say I’ve had it hard because God has just been involved and it’s more like he said, ‘‘I’ve bestowed a favour on you; wherever you go, you would be favoured.’’ In that same vein, I always make a conscious effort to remain grounded and humble because like I tell people, sometimes, the attributes that you display opens doors for you before your talent does. Some people will work with you just because they like the way you behave; you might not even be good at what you do. For every work you do, you must make sure that you put your best foot forward every single time and that’s what I strive to do. I am not perfect but I get by. Some try to make a headway in their daily lives and it’s hard because it is such a struggle and this is where the hustle gets real. Sometimes, money beclouds peoples’ sense of reasoning and makes them senseless.  Nonetheless, in struggling for our financial freedom as human beings, we must understand that there can be bad days as well.

Your father, the late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah was a former minister of youth and sports, what are some of the things that you remember from your interactions with him?

My father was kind of strict because he was an Air Force officer. He was proud to be one and always strived to blaze the trail. I remember when I told him that I wanted to be an entertainer, he asked what I meant by that. He said that I was going to study law and end up in the courtroom. Until, I began to fail, then I decided to change my major in the university to French and he eventually got over it. I think if he was here now, he would be super proud of me and be happy.

How would you describe your fashion sense?

Am I fashionable? If you ask me to describe my fashion sense, I’d say comfort-casual because I always like to be comfortable. When you dress up and always have to wear girdle, it’s very hard. If your stomach is showing, it’s alright, just go with the flow and be yourself. Do you know how hard it is to wear a girdle, especially when you need to use the convenience? Then, you’d be struggling to remove it. So, I like to be comfortable in whatever I wear. I’m not a big fan of revealing my body so I cover my chest and other areas. Even if I was a size one, I just feel like less is more and I always have that in my head and I don’t wear all those cut-outs that people wear.

How do you unwind and relax when you are not working?

 I like to chill out and have my friends around me. I am not one for going to clubs, so I’d rather entertain myself at home. I don’t like to cook even though I am a good cook. I’d prefer to have  other people do the cooking. I also love to gist.

What is your advice to people who look up to you and probably want to become comedians or take up acting?

When people ask me to mentor them, my question is usually this-how exactly do you want me to do that? If you want to become an emcee, you have to learn to be bold and navigate the crowd because an emcee and a comedian are two different people, even though there is a thin line between both of them. There are very few of us that do these two jobs effectively together. People feel that once they can do the work of an emcee, they are definitely comedians as well and that is not true. You must also decide on what genre  of comedy you want to do- are you going into singing, voice-over or telling jokes?  In doing that, you must be aware of your audience. Not everybody wants to be talked to and made fun of so you need to be aware of your surroundings. I always tell people that their dreams are valid so never dream small; dream big because your dreams are valid and as you dream, you must also work hard You have to dream beyond what you see because when you do that and add hard work to it, you will succeed. More importantly, be aware that there is a time and season for everything. If a door opens for you, be aware that you have to walk through that door because once it closes, that’s it.

I veered into comedy by mistake –Mandy

Mandy Uzonitsha, aka Mandy, is widely regarded  as Nigeria’s first comedienne. She tells BUKOLA BAKARE about her successful foray into comedy

 What stirred your interest in comedy?

Mandy

Was I really interested in comedy? I went into comedy by mistake. When we had the first university strike back when General Ibrahim Babangida(retd.) was the head of state, I was very restless as a student and I remember that a journalist saw me in Warri, the Delta State capital at that time and told me that I was very funny and urged me to try featuring on The Charly Boy Show. He gave me this little note and I brought it to down to Lagos, took it to Mr. Charles Oputa (Charly Boy) and the rest like they say is history.

Give a peep into your background…

 I am the fourth and second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Philomena Uzonitsha. My dad is from Asaba and my mum is from Okere in Warri, both in Delta State. I hold a Bsc in Political Science from the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. I’m a single mother to a beautiful 13-year-old daughter called April. I call her April because we were both born in the month of April.

Who was Mandy as a child?

I grew up in Benin City, so you could say that most of my fun memories were in Benin City. Hence, I love the people and the town in general. Mandy as a child? You don’t want to know her. I was a tomboy because I used to fight a lot. I am sure that people I attended primary school with would be shocked that I am all a lady now. I used to climb the moat behind my school and beat up bullies so when you bully anyone and I find out, you are finished. My mum reminded me some days back that I have an angel in my daughter because back then, she had to sew me a new school uniform  every Friday because I’d always fight and come back home with a torn uniform.

You are one of the pioneers of stand-up comedy in Nigeria, what does it take to be successful in that area?

Being successful is not just about having money, but being relevant in one’s chosen profession. If after 25 years, you can still hold down two or three major gigs in a week-that’s success! Being successful is hearing younger colleagues crack the jokes that you created, whether they give you credit or not, Jehovah knows the truth. Success to me is not my house in Lekki wey flood don nearly carry go (that has nearly been washed away by flood) or the car wey no wan start(that has refused to start). To me, success is being true to myself.

In what ways have you been able to pave the way for up-and-coming  talents?

I think the fact that I started as the first female comedian has stirred a lot of young ladies to also veer into the world of comedy. I always refer people to my colleagues so I directly send jobs their way and sometimes too, they do same for me. I also try to reach out to comediennes in East Africa.

You recently celebrated your 25th anniversary on stage as a comedienne, how would you assess your journey so far?

When I look back now after 25 years, I cannot take the God factor out of my success story. Quite frankly, major clients won’t have anything to do with a woman so I did most jobs free of charge for years just to be accepted. Till date, you can still count the number of comediennes in Nigeria with your fingers-not a handful of us. After all these years, it’s been great. There have been lots of ups and downs but we are still on our way to Eldorado, that’s if we find the location.

How would you describe your personality?

I worry a lot. However, I’m also a storyteller-most times, I can create stories dropping a punch line as I go on. Sometimes, I’m spontaneous-well, my style is in-between.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve been faced with ?

One of the major challenges that we have is that most of the juicy jobs usually go to our male counterparts-even the jobs that are tailor-made for females. Thank God that some brand managers are females and these days, they now require the services of comediennes.

What does fashion mean to you and does your work dictate what you wear?

Sometimes, the events that I attend dictate what I wear. However, I’m not into brands and labels since I sew and make most of my clothes. My turn-offs are perfumes.

How do you handle competition given the fact that a new crop of younger comediennes are springing up?

I see most comediennes as sisters so there is nothing to worry about in that regard. Do you know that we all have different styles and that makes each one of us unique in different ways? Hence, the sky is wide for all of us to fly. In the first place, you must understand that as comediennes, we are gladiators. It’s a man’s world so we are constantly fighting for positioning in the humour world.

Who are your role models and mentors and what have you learnt from them?

My role models and mentors include Onyeka Onwenu, Iyabo Lawani and my mum. Each of these ladies have impacted my life in one way or the other.

What is the experience like raising your daughter as a single parent?

My daughter is my gift, my life and all and I even plan my day and jobs to fit into her timetable. I am very free when she is on holidays but I must say that it’s not easy to bring her up; especially in this economy with school fees, medical bills, food and the likes but God has been faithful. I try to bring her up in the way of the Lord and I also explain issues to her when she wants something and I cannot provide it at a particular time. I let her know that she needs to pray for me because it’s only mummy that is shouldering the responsibilities.

Do you look forward to marriage someday and what qualities would you be looking for in a man?

I like a man who fears God and one who will love my daughter.

Looking back now, how fulfilled are you as a comedienne?

I am very fulfilled as a comedienne but don’t forget that I also act and sing too.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

From things that happen around me, people in church, movies, animals…the list is endless. Honestly, you don’t want to enter the mind of a comedienne.

How do you create a work-life balance?

Over the years, I have been able to balance my role as a comedienne and mum in a good way. When my daughter was much younger, she used to cry whenever I had to attend events and my heart would be heavy Now, she goes along with me for shows and I call her my personal assistant.

People think I’m joking when serious –Lolo

Popularly known as Lolo, Omotunde Adebowale-David, speaks to TOFARATI IGE about her career and personality

What spurred you to do comedy?

From the time that I was a child, I loved to make people laugh and do joyful things. Also, I realised that comedy gave me the platform to do the things that I loved. While working as a radio presenter, I was surrounded by comedians such as Igos. When he had his first show, he invited me to be part of it and said that he believed I could do it. That was how I had my first stand-up performance at a comedy show. That was how I got into mainstream comedy, even though I wouldn’t say that I’m really mainstream but I’ve cut my teeth.

What fond memories can you recall of your childhood?

I have so many fun memories from my childhood. I stayed in the hostel right from when I was in elementary school, which means that I have been independent for a long time. However, I was the last child and my sisters were also in the hostel with me at some point. Some washed my clothes and I was quite spoiled by them as they took care of me as a baby. It was when they left that reality hit me and I had to learn to do things for myself. I loved writing short stories as a child and literature in English was one of my best subjects. I remember that my father, a fair-complexioned man with a big round tummy, used to visit me in school then. He used to allow us, his kids, play with his stomach and I used to think that was really special. I also won a lot of competitions in school.

You’ve been in the industry for a while; with your experience, what are the qualities and those things a comedian has to do to be successful?

You have to be creative and original. Personally, I hate to crack other people’s jokes. To be a successful comedian, you have to come up with your own materials and get inspiration from everything happening around you; music, culture, politics and life experiences. You should also have your unique style and don’t jump on the bandwagon. You have to do things that actually appeal to you. You also have to read voraciously because the more you do that, the more knowledge you get. And the more knowledgeable you are, the more materials you can bring out.

What are some of the challenges you face as a comedian?

I think most comedians like to be taken serious sometimes. A lot of people might take it to mean you’re joking even when you’re serious and that can be really exasperating. There are also times that you ask yourself if you are funny enough and if you have sufficient materials. I think we all go through that.

What is your relationship with other female comedians?

My relationship with other female comedians is cordial. Everybody cannot be your best friend but we are all colleagues and when we have to do things together, we find a common ground to work together. I’ve worked with a couple of them at different times and we don’t have any issues. We relate with each other regularly but there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, some would be closer to you than others, but that’s just normal.

Is there any difference between your personality on screen and off screen?

I believe that I’m an extremely humorous person on and off set. I bring entertainment to a place and I’m usually the life of the party. On set, it depends on what role I’m acting. If it’s close to my real character, you would get that humour from me. Off screen, I love being indoors and I can be quiet sometimes.

What do you enjoy about being on radio?

On radio, you get to do a lot of things with your voice and that’s what I love most about it.

Have you ever been embarrassed on account of your jokes?

I wouldn’t call it outright embarrassment. In comedy parlance, we call it koboko, which is when you crack jokes and people don’t find it funny. I’m sure every comedian has gone through that at some point. I’ve had such moments but I always find my way around it.

How would you describe your style?

My style is easy. I like to dress in a way that suits my body. I don’t like to take unnecessary risks and wear loud outfits. I like to be classy; a little bit sexy and edgy but definitely not over the top.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in the course of your career?

I have learnt to be respectful to people. Everybody you come across can be instrumental to your growth in different ways. Never despise people and always value everyone around you. I have also learnt that diligence pays. Some of the popular people may not be the most talented but they are diligent, and that’s what got them to the great heights they’ve attained.

How do you balance your career and home?

Setting priorities is the only way you can balance your life. I’m a single mom with four kids and that could be tough but I make sure that I carry my children along in everything I’m doing. And that has been working for me for more than five years; I think I’m doing well.

Are you still willing to give marriage another shot?

Yes, if the right man comes along.

What are the qualities you’d be looking out for this time?

What is most important and non-negotiable is that the man must know who he is in God; he must have a close relationship with God. He must also be willing to see life as an adventure and enjoy it, be creative and have fun with life.

How do you unwind?

I love water and I go to the beach a lot. I also like to watch movies, read books and travel.

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