What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up.
“Man Like” is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
The subject of today’s “Man Like” is Justin UG, a content creator. He talks about unlocking his creativity in America, being shy to talk to women and pursuing an unconventional career in a Nigerian household.
When did you realise you were grown grown?
I’m still realising every day. When you grow up in a Nigerian house, your parents have that “don’t you know I’m still your mother/father” thing even up till when you’re 25. I remember that primary and secondary school was from home to lesson to school. It wasn’t until I left Nigeria for college in the U.S that I found myself in a situation where I could actually do something different. That’s when I told myself that it’s now time to chop life because this life is one.
Lmao. Give me this tea.
It was nice to be able to go out without asking anyone for permission. This freedom gave me the chance to touch base with my creative side. Even though I had been doing creative stuff before I moved, seeing different types of creatives in the U.S gingered me. When I now saw free internet on top, the ginger became crazy. I was like let’s do something!
Whisper to me: what did you do?
So, my creative side is odd. It all started when MJ died — his death was all over the news so I fell in love with his dancing skills. My uncle would also come to the house to teach me some of MJ’s moves.
Lmao. Justin, are you okay? Are you okay?
Lol. My first performance was in the church, and people sprayed me money — I was like there’s money involved in this thing oh. So I started posting videos on Facebook. That time, there was nothing like content creator, so I was just dancing and posting. Then I moved to Vine and nobody gave a fuck.
After that, I switched to taking photos, and I even got a job as a photographer in Nigeria. But I ran away after two months. When I got to America, I was like I can dance and I know how to use a camera, so I started making dance videos and posting on Youtube. At some point, I also shot music videos.
Ahan. Most talented. Most gifted.
Lmao. It didn’t end there because I went back to photography. I was the photographer on campus who’d take graduation pictures and whatnot.
The issue now was that I was running photography alongside my Youtube channel, so people would always recognise me and ask for pictures. I thought about it that I wouldn’t be able to take any pictures if people kept stopping me to take pictures with me. So I dropped photography to focus on my Youtube channel.
I kept on posting dance content, until one day, I posted one skit and it did well. I thought, people actually like this? So I started exploring the skit side. I did one Wizkid skit that went crazy. I did another Davido skit and that one took me from 28,000 followers to 40,000 followers. I said Jesus! When I started doing high school skits, which brought in a lot of people, I knew that I had become a content creator.
It’s wild that I’ve been doing this for 10 years because I’ve tried everything.
How come you had all this time? Weren’t you pursuing girls like the rest of us?
I went to an all-boys Catholic school, so there was no time for girls. I can count the number of female teachers we had. And during vacation, I’d come home and do home lessons because my mum didn’t want me to fail. If I wanted to have fun, I’d just go to the movies with my guys. All these made it hard to interact with women, and it even affects the way I am now.
If I’m in a room filled with girls, it’s over. I’m not saying a word. I’m just going to be there looking at all of you. Most of my relationships have started virtually because I can’t walk up to a babe and say how far. I’ll die.
When I’m comfortable talking to you online, we can now meet up physically. Everyone I’ve dated, we met online. If I see you physically and like you, I won’t say anything. I’ll just find your social media handle and message you. I don’t know if I’m the only one from my secondary school that experiences not being able to talk to girls, but I know it’s something that has affected my relationship with the opposite sex.
Interesting. Tell me about a time this played out.
A lot of people think I’m a snob.
One time I went to get ice cream and a bunch of girls recognised me. I could see the look of recognition on their faces, but I kept facing front and using one side of my eye to look at them. After I was done, I left. The next day, I saw a tweet saying I was proud. I was like these people won’t understand. How many people do I want to explain to?
It’s not like if they came to meet me, I wouldn’t have responded — I’ll participate as long as you’re the one talking. If it’s for me to start the conversation, you’re on a long thing because my mouth just stops working.
Omo. What was your first relationship like?
It was a situation where I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I was saying or doing the right thing. I knew you had to say sweet words and buy ice cream. But I didn’t know what to do if a woman was pissed at me. I also didn’t know the signs because she’d be moody, and I’d ask what’s wrong and she’d say nothing. Me too I’d be like, okay.
It was tough, but I learned from my mistakes. Till today I still do some things that aren’t okay. At the end of the day, we are all still learning.
I feel you. Does any incident stand out from that relationship?
There’s one that was wild. It was Valentine’s day, and I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t aware that we were supposed to extend the hand of love to our partners. I thought Valentine was only meant for my mum. I’ll never forget all the questions I got that day. Ever since then, if I’m in a relationship and it’s Valentine’s day, I got you.
What gives you joy?
Creating. I feel like if I wasn’t a creative, I’d probably be very depressed. I try to think about my life without an audience, and I for don knock because most of my skits are done when I’m not in the best of moods. I’m always happy anytime I finish making a skit. And when I now put it out and a lot of people are happy, that also rubs off on me. When people are happy because I made them happy, it makes me happy.
I’m curious: Do your parents know what you do?
Omo. I hid it from them for about eight years.
For the longest time, the only thing my parents knew was that I used to dance in church. One day my dad sent me a link to one of my videos — apparently, a video I made about Igbo mothers had been going across WhatsApp groups, and it landed in theirs — and he told me that I had to stop making videos so I could focus on school.
I was like I’ve been doing this for eight years; I didn’t start today. After that, any mistake I made was blamed on the content work, but as time passed, they came around. One time my mum went out and someone recognised her and was talking a lot about me. That incident gingered her. I’ve watched my parents move from “don’t make skits” to “finish school and we’ll focus on what you want as long as you have a plan.”
Does this feel like pressure?
Let me tell you what’s pressure: my parents follow me on Twitter and IG, so there are things I can’t tweet or post. Once I posted a photo, and my mum called me to say I was disgracing them. I had to apologise and delete the picture.
My parents will know if I block them. My mum goes on my page every night, and if she can’t find it she’ll know something has happened. Regardless, I’m at peace because my parents are aware of what I do and aren’t against it.
Well… How much of your identity is defined by what you do?
Just a little percentage. My content creation isn’t who I am as a person. First of all, I’m an introvert. A lot of people think my social media persona is how I am offline. I tell them that if you sit down and study people, you’ll see that social media is a bunch of lies. My content creation shows only the funny aspect of my life. People don’t know how I am with women or with my guys or what I’ll do if I go out alone.
My lord, may I know you?
I’m curious: who makes the funny guy laugh when he’s feeling sad?
I tell people that comedians or people on the funny side go through a lot offline. I’ve watched my colleagues making people online laugh while they were going through a rough patch offline.
When I’m going through stuff, I don’t like telling people because I feel like I’m the one supposed to be lighting people’s worlds up, and I’m not able to do that. I also don’t want people to see me in that state. When I’m sad, I tend to go through everything myself. I come back acting normal when I’m good.
Mahn. I’m sorry.
Before I go, I want to know if you plan on sending your kids to a same-sex school.
Editor’s note: Justin UG is releasing a new project titled High School Chronicles based on his experiences in secondary school.
In his words: “Secondary school was crazy and it was a bittersweet experience. I’m trying to document those experiences with my new project, so that someone will be able to relate to it. And one day, they’ll be able to tell their kids about how school was back in their days.”
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