My Bro is a biweekly Zikoko series that interrogates and celebrates male friendships of different forms.
Astor and Hassan met five years ago, working as writers at Zikoko. Their friendship and chemistry was so popular that they got their own show: Astor and Hassan vs The World. But while they’re both famous for making other people laugh, Astor and Hassan have had major bad days they only survived because they had each other.
In this episode of My Bro, they talk about posting funny memes as a cry for help when life gets hard, supporting each other through relationship drama and managing the weight of people’s expectations.
Our origin story
Hassan: The year was 2017, and it was my first day at this media company known for doing exciting shit. I was the first to get to the Zikoko office at about 7:30 a.m., and as I waited for them to open the door, I saw you walk in looking stressed AF. My initial thought was, “It’s just 7:30. What could he be stressed about at this time of the day?” But before I could say anything, you saw me and ran away.
Astor: I thought the FIRS had finally come for me — like taxes and shit — I was like, what the fuck is going on? That’s why I ran.
Hassan: To be fair, I tucked in my shirt and wore proper shoes, so it makes sense that you ran away. When people started trickling into the office, you came back, and we started gisting. That’s when I realised you were a writer like me. But one thing that kept going through my mind was, “Why does this guy’s writing sound so white?” I thought, maybe, you went to school abroad, so imagine my shock when you said you went to the University of Ilorin.
I thought you were random and interesting.
First impressions and trauma bonding
Hassan: I thought you were nice and warm when I met you. Work was really alienating. You were the one welcoming person, putting me through the work process. I’d never used WordPress or had to design and source images, but you were patient and helpful with all that. You were also easy to talk to. And out of the four writers we had at the time, you were the funniest.
Astor: I thought you looked like a tired old soul, not the 23 year-old you were supposed to be. But I liked that you got my sense of humour because it’s not an easy sell.
Like you said, those were tough times. I talked to you about work as we walked to the bus stop the day after you resumed. I was hired about a month before you, but even though I had ideas, I still struggled as a writer. Most of our conversations after that first walk revolved around our struggles at work with trying to create content that slapped and managing the expectations of our bosses back then.
Hassan: Bro, it was a lot. It’s fair to say we did trauma bonding because you and I were the only writers who worked from the office at the time.
Astor: You were my rock back then because, even though it’s corny, all we had was each other.
Blurring the lines between work and personal shit
Astor: I didn’t keep track of when we became friends because I believe we clicked almost immediately.
Hassan: I feel the same way. However, I think our friendship hit me when Zikoko shut down temporarily in 2017, but we still hung out. There was a time I worked as a pharmacist with a psychiatric hospital, and you showed up to check on me even though you’re terrified of hospitals.
Astor: See! After we returned to Zikoko, we spent all our time in the office and with each other. There was no line between friend and coworker anymore. The line just stopped existing.
Hassan: That’s what happens when you spend like 12 hours of your day with someone.
I’ve always been confident that we’d be friends, even if we didn’t work together. You’re hilarious AF! I love and relate to your out-of-pocket tweets. I just can’t put them out myself because of how I’ve curated my social media presence.
Astor: — Of this deep guy who reads Aristotle and shit like that.
Hassan: I don’t think it’s a pretend personality. I’m very introspective when I’m alone, but I’m lively and funny when I’m with people. Because I’m almost always alone, that’s when most of my tweets go out, so it doesn’t always match the personality people who’ve met me know.
But I start getting worried about you when I see you posting jokes continuously. I immediately know something is wrong.
Humour as a coping mechanism and learning to be vulnerable
Hassan: I’ve come to realise that you’re avoidant. If no one asks what’s going on with you, there’s a high chance you won’t tell them. Even when they ask, you’ll start with like five funny memes before segueing into the real problem. The funnier I get, the more shit I’m going through. So who knows? Maybe I’m just projecting, but I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong when it comes to you.
You could be dying in the hospital, and no one would know because you’re posting funny meme after meme.
Astor: You’re not wrong. And you were the first to clock that my jokes are a cry for help. The minute I start posting like crazy, you’re there to ask how I’m doing. I literally did it yesterday, and you checked up on me.
I have no idea why I use jokes to escape life, but it’s something I’ve always done since I was a child. I find this pattern easier. Also, maybe I’m being selfish, but making people feel good, even when I don’t feel good myself, makes me feel better.
When people message me about how my memes or articles make them laugh, it’s like a small dose of heroin to my brain that lasts for approximately six minutes, and then, I’m mentally back to where I started. Feels like I’m chasing the highs of a drug and I can’t reach it.
Hassan: I don’t want to sound like a therapist, but do you think people like the idea of you, the funny guy, more than they like the real you?
Astor: Totally. People see me in real life and expect me to make jokes and be the life of the party, but that’s not who I am. I’m just a depressed man. I also notice the disappointment on their faces when this happens, so I’ve made it a mission not to break character. I’ll be who they want me to be. But once in a while, it gets exhausting, and my resting sad face reappears.
This conversation got dark real quick. Let’s move on to what I’ve noticed about you.
Facing my fears head on
Astor: Your default on social media is to post deep and depressing shit like “Life will kill us all” and follow it up with the saddest song you can find. I know you like being a realist, but I’m the exact opposite. I don’t want to know the world is real. Better still, Hassan, find a balance.
Hassan: But you know I’m trying to relax now. I grew up in a house where my dad and brothers are doctors. Excellence is expected of everyone regardless of whether you’re a doctor or pharmacist. Nothing was impressive because excellence was the norm. A lot was expected of me, so even though I’m a dreamer at heart, I had to become a realist to survive. I couldn’t daydream in pharmacy school, or else I’d fail.
How I was raised shaped the way I view the world. It’s a constant struggle between the creative I am inside and the conditioning I got from my environment. I’d rather face what scares me head-on. People think there’s nothing I can’t do, but I want to scream that I’m doing it afraid.
Balancing our different personalities
Hassan: We work because we see and accept each other for who we are. It’s like Pareto’s 80/20 principle. If I like your 80%, then the 20% doesn’t matter to me.
Astor: Come through, Aristotle!
We know who we are underneath all the jokes and banter. And when it comes to picking up the slack for each other, I’m very avoidant of confrontation, so when we have disagreements, you’re the first to reach out so we can talk through it. You’re also good at chasing me all over social media until I respond and we settle our differences.
He came through for me
Astor: You’re the first person to get deep insight into what my life looks like beyond the jokes. I feel like I can talk to you about anything. I tend to layer conversations about my feelings with a lot of jokes; it takes patience to deconstruct what I’m talking about. You always listen and offer advice, even when all I want to do is complain and wallow in my problems.
I remember when I called to tell you my dad had died. You were able to say things that made me feel better, and we just carried on in our usual banter.
Hassan: Talking about giving advice, there was a time I was going through some relationship wahala, and as a member of the streets, you advised me to work it out because the streets were tough. You were right about that.
Astor: Oh my God! I just remembered when I was served hot breakfast in 2019, and you came through for me. I was in the ghetto back then. I used to come to work and cry in the toilet, and it’s not as if those toilets were nice. I talked to you about it, and you took me out to eat amala for the first time.
You advised me to stay away from that person. I didn’t. And when it eventually blew up in my face, you were still there for me without judgement.
Hassan: I still find it interesting that you didn’t hate that person as much as I did after they did you detty. I also know the person called you while we were eating amala that day.
What makes this friendship different
Hassan: I met you during a very vulnerable period of my life. I was transitioning from the pharmacy I’d studied to writing, so I was neither here nor there. I needed someone to talk to, and you were there. Most people who know me met me as either a pharmacist or a writer. You’re the only one who was there when I struggled to find my identity between the two career paths.
We’re all fucked up, but I know I can share my fucked up parts with you, and you can share yours with me. We’ve been through a lot together.
Astor: Not to get dark, but I didn’t feel like I was having a good time in life for the longest time. Fine, I was funny, but that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t tell my friends back then because our relationship was very surface-level. And bless her heart, I knew my mum would’ve told me to pray about my feelings; she’s from a different generation. But you were the first person to make me feel comfortable talking about what I was going through.
We’ve talked each other off the ledge more times than I can count.
You accept me for who I am, and it gives me the space to know if I share something with you, you’d accept me no matter what. That’s really cool. As long as the thing I’m sharing is not that I’m a serial killer or Nigerian politician sha.
I want you to know
Hassan: You don’t realise how valuable you are. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. You’re so funny and creative in a way that blows my mind. And it kills me that you don’t see it because if I had half of your talent, no one would be able to talk to me.
In a world where everyone is trying, you stand out, and I want you to be aware of how unique you are.
Astor: Damn. How do I respond to that?
You’ve helped me realise I deserve better when it comes to friendships. You’re the standard for all the friends I’ve made since we met. Even when I doubt myself, you push me to accept that I deserve better and to get better opportunities.
I try to look at myself through your eyes every time I have to fake confidence. You’ve helped me make some of the best life decisions, and you don’t even know it. I’ll never repeat this because it’s too emotional for me.
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