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.
If there’s one person who understands how humour can change your life, it’s content creator and radio host, Jay on Air. Born Joseph Onalapo, the Lagos-based creative was unemployed and dealing with the boredom only a pandemic-induced lockdown could bring when he decided to start making skits on TikTok. Three years later, these skits have landed Jay a job with one of the top radio stations in Lagos, while over 100,000 followers tune in weekly to watch his skits inspired by mean secondary school girls, hyperactive Mummy G.Os and dramatic Yoruba mothers. But behind the larger-than-life personality and costume changes, Jay is still your regular guy trying his best to balance it all.
In this episode of Man Like, he talks about how his relationship with his mum has evolved over the years, dealing with insecurities about his height, his fear of losing control and why he believes women are funnier than men.
So Jay, it’s women’s history month and we’ve gotten used to seeing your mum on your page. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with her?
When I think about my childhood, my mum happens to be the core focus of most of my memories. My parents split up when I was about six or seven years old, and my siblings and I had to move to a different part of Lagos with my mum.
She wasn’t always around because of work, but she was present and made sure she showed up for as many monumental events — birthdays, school graduations, etc. — as she could. I remember those memories fondly.
That’s so cute. How has this relationship evolved with time, especially now that you’ve grown into your own man?
I can confidently say it’s evolved as I’ve gotten older. Do you know those stories of parents who would horn coming back from work and all the children would start running helter-skelter? That was my mum. My siblings and I were terrified of my mum though we loved her deeply. She was a no-nonsense disciplinarian.
But I believe the turning point in our relationship happened when instead of asking for her permission somewhere, we asked a friend of hers to talk to her on our behalf. She was livid. I remember her crying and asking why we couldn’t talk to her directly. She realised she needed to take it easy on us. She remained a disciplinarian but also became our friend.
I mean, even till now, our relationship isn’t perfect. We still butt heads because we’re so similar. But the truth is, I’m just happy we have a functioning relationship.
LOL. What are some of the ways you and your mum are alike and how does that cause the squabbles you’ve mentioned?
First off, we’re both short and stubborn. LOL. We both have strong personalities that border on being domineering, so both of us want to be the right person all the time. I sometimes catch myself acting like my mum, and I’m genuinely shocked. It’s funny as hell.
How do both of you resolve issues?
It took going to university and becoming very religious for me to understand that I needed to become the bigger person in fights. I was stubborn and wicked, so this was a lot for me to process. Thankfully, I got into the preacher, Joyce Meyers, whose books and tapes just felt like therapy for me. I learnt to keep quiet whenever my mum made something an issue. I realised that if I allowed her to speak without arguing and turning it into a back and forth situation, then whatever the issue was would simmer down faster. I needed to learn how to let go and not make everything a big deal.
How about your dad, are both of you close?
He’s awesome! The only thing the separation did was put us in two different houses. Other than that, he has been a constant in our lives. He made sure my siblings and I were taken care of financially and he sees us often. He’s almost 90, so there were times when people mistake him for my grandfather, but he still puts in a lot of effort to show us we are important to him. One thing I absolutely love about him is how affirming he is. He’ll constantly say things like, “I love you”, “I’m here for you” and “I support you”. This is a rarity with Nigerian dads, so it feels really special.
You’d think something like having my parents go through a separation would affect me, but to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think it did. I’m lucky to still have two loving parents who showed up for me. I can’t even complain.
That being said, because I was with my mum more, she’s the person I’m closest to.
Did you ever fear people would call you a mummy’s boy?
Even though my mum had a strong personality, she made sure we had personalities of our own. She complimented us and made sure my siblings and I were confident enough to know that there was nothing we couldn’t do. We didn’t spend time thinking about other people’s thoughts about us.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t have to struggle with insecurities, because omo, I did back then and I still do now.
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I’m very insecure about my height. I might make jokes about it, but deep down, I still can’t get over how small I look.
I also have this fear that people I’m interested in romantically would always pick a taller person over me. This fear is one of the reasons I avoided relationships for a long time. I don’t meet society’s “tall, dark and handsome” standards.
One other thing that people do that really gets to me is saying something like, “You’re so handsome. If only you were taller.” Why? That’s not a compliment, because I go back home and that’s all I can think about. Even though I’m confident and everyone knows this, height is something I’m still insecure about.
Has this fear of being left for a taller guy actually happened in your reality?
Not directly. Once, someone I was talking to kept going on and on about how they weren’t looking for a relationship. Fast forward to a while later and they randomly mention their new partner during a conversation. I did some digging and the guy is way taller than I am. The height may not have been a factor in their decision, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Who knows?
Damn. Have you shared this with people you’re dating?
No. I suck at communicating my emotions. I’m constantly talking all day every day for work, so just sitting to talk about myself feels like a lot. I’d also rather therapise myself — I can tell myself anything and also proffer solutions when necessary. I feel like people wouldn’t understand me.
Why do you feel that way?
Don’t get me wrong, I have supportive people in my life, but I don’t think they’d understand my struggles. It’s just an assumption that I’ve made. Maybe this assumption is because I’m afraid of uncomfortable situations. I’m thinking about it now. I just don’t want to burden people sha.
Is this a “being in control” thing?
Hmm. Now that you’ve said it, maybe.
I never wanted people to know I was insecure about anything, so I built a wall and overcompensated by being the best at things — the neatest in class, leader of the debate team etc. I wanted to be visible, but still hide the things I was insecure about. I wanted to limit just how much people knew about me.
Would you say your comedy stems from this feeling as well? The need to cover up insecurities?
I don’t think so, man. I do these videos because they make me happy, and I’ve always been a funny guy. The pandemic hit and I was jobless, so I decided to join TikTok like everyone else. My first video wasn’t a hit, but people I knew liked it and that encouraged me to make more. By my third video, I had consistent engagement and just never looked back.
I didn’t plan this. II didn’t know I’d have an audience, but it’s been three years since and I’m still here.
Love to see it! Does blowing on social media put you under pressure to be funny?
I don’t feel pressure at all. When I started getting traction, I told myself, “You started doing these videos because you were having a good time. Don’t lose that.” There are times when I don’t post, and it’s because I’m not feeling inspired. I want to have fun and the minute that stops happening, I take a step back. Once I find a video funny, I’ll post it. Some days I’ll have 20,000 views and other days, 4,000, but I don’t care about the numbers. I never did.
But in creating with brands, don’t you have to sacrifice your personal satisfaction sometimes?
My brand is funny and real. I don’t want my work to be mechanical. If people look at my page and it’s obvious I’m trying to sell them something, then I’ve failed. I say no when I don’t feel like a brand aligns with who I am and what my page is about. My page is personal to me because I also share tidbits of my personal life there as well.
Talking about sharing tidbits. We’ve gotten used to seeing your mum on your page. I’m assuming it’s your mum’s clothes you use in your skits. How is she handling your growing popularity?
She’s always complaining about me wearing and using her clothes for skits because people will see her in public and know they’ve seen the outfit before. But will I stop? No. In the videos I make of her, she looks like she’s not interested, but let me tell you something, she is. People stop her on the road to talk about my skits and gives me the gist with a smile. Now all she’s waiting for is for me to be filthy rich.
I noticed a majority of your characters are based on women. Why?
I feel like without women, the world wouldn’t be funny. Women are just more interesting and funnier than men. I’m intrigued by women and maybe it’s because the women I grew up watching heavily influenced my life to a large degree. From preachers in the church to the musicians I had access to, a majority of my role models are women, so it just made sense to centre them in the stories I tell
Men making skits dressed as women has become a major trend over the past few years. This has me thinking: is it that men can’t be funny as men?
I think men can be funny on their own, but personally, I think women are funnier.
It’s important to note that I’m not making fun of their experiences. Before I put a skit up, I try to get it vetted by women in my life who I look up to and respect. If they give it a go-ahead, fine. I want women to watch my skits and have a good time. I want them to appreciate my work.
Nice. So what are you looking forward to this year, anything exciting?
I definitely want to create and collaborate more. I also want to host shows surrounding serious and important conversations. I want to be more vocal in this hosting space. People don’t know this, but I have a journalism degree. I can’t waste my parents’ money. It’s time to use it.
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