Multi-talented entertainer Michael Uba stars as James in the highly-successful comedy series, Jenifa’s Diary. In this interview with DUPE AYINLA OLASUNKAMI, Uba, who is also known as Ogbolor, speaks about his works, style and personality
TELL us about your journey into entertainment.
My name is Michael Uba, a.k.a Ogbolor, a.k.a James from Jenifa’s Diary. I have always been an all-round entertainer – I can sing, dance, act, write, crack jokes and speak very well.
As a teenager, I was given good opportunity in church to express myself on stage. I was made teenage president and also bagged several awards for my abilities. As we grew older as teenagers into youthful age, we found need to start a comedy group in church, called D’ISAACS.
Soon, we were all over Surulere churches, cracking ribs. We soon found our individual strengths as stand-up comedians and soon started trying ourselves out as individual performers. I was very active with professional dance at the time so was distracted for a bit. After several years of delay as a dancer with no major headway, I went back fully into comedy.
How did you get into full time acting?
I was opportune to write and act in the then popular sitcom called Flatmates where I played my role as an imbecile called Ogbolor, (mind you, before then I had always used that name and character to amuse friends). Soon, I took the character to stage and got major love for that. And before you knew it, I was being called the next Klint the Drunk.
Due to some reasons to re-brand, I had to drop the imbecile character to stick to actual stand-up comedy. Years later, Ayo Makun, who you know as AY, pulled me aside and said I could also do media (radio/TV) because he felt I had what it takes to also do media alongside comedy, and soon, I found myself interning in Wazobia FM for about two years (there was no space for new OAPs, so I stayed that long). But I was fully employed to do WAZOBIA TV as presenter of two very funny popular shows, The late night show and The padipadi show.
Tell us what it was like years back compared to now
Comedians who pop up today have it easier. When we started, there wasn’t social media to sell yourself or your craft. You needed to go for auditions, hustle to be on any available stage; trek long distances to perform without pay, etc. But these days with just your Instagram handle, you can crack people up and get paid to host events. So, it is far easier now compared to when I started.
Comedians are taken a lot more seriously now unlike back then. The pay and acceptance is far better compared to years back too. Comedians are getting endorsements too and living the life now, all thanks to those who went before us; the likes of Alibaba, Basketmouth, Holy Mallam and Tee A, among others.
How serious do people take you as an entertainer?
Truth is you can’t always be an entertainer all the time. We have our own issues we go through too. But that being said, some people never take us too seriously but a lot more people respect our craft because not everyone can do what we do. We have also come to realise there are different types of fans out there. There are shy fans, over expressive fans, arrogant fans, rude fans, etc, therefore, it is our duty to manage them.
A lot lies in your hand as an entertainer though; you are still in charge to differentiate a character on stage or screen from your day to day life. How you comport yourself matters a lot too. It is a bit easier for people to take me a bit more seriously because I also discuss serious issues on TV and do a lot of motivational and inspirational talk, so they balance it themselves by saying “wow he is funny but intelligent as well”. This helps me a lot; to be taken a little bit more seriously as an entertainer.
Tell us about your role in Jenifa’s Diary
A friend of mine, Obi Martins, introduced me to Funke Akindele as one who could play the character James, in her sitcom Jenifa’s Diary. After a few seconds of what seemed to be a closed audition, she said ‘gbam!!! You are the person we have been looking for,’ and that is how James was birthed.
James is a male nail-stylist in the saloon in the sitcom who works with Jenifa (Funke Akindele) and other actors. He is a guy with feminine mannerism, always seen chewing a gum and wears a bandanna all the time, very expressive, gossips a lot and is ready for a fight any time. The character has gotten a lot of love from viewers, mostly the ladies, because they can relate better to him.
How easy is it to act like a lady?
It is quite easy for me though, because, first, I am a great actor and that I know. And I am great at playing characters. Secondly, I guess because I am a twin to a lady, maybe I unknowingly studied her and learnt something along the way.
Has the role caused you any embarrassment so far?
Not at all. And I am grateful to the viewers for being able to separate the character from who I am naturally. I only get ladies snapping their fingers like the character ‘James’ does and guys walk up to me saying, “guy, you are bold to take up such role and you kill it every time.” My fans have been awesome, the love has been massive.
As the suit type, how do you feel when you go casual?
I totally love it because I love to show different sides of me. I have always loved suits by the way. I got that from my dad and uncles, who I learnt to dress from. It shows my mature side… and I love to look better presentable in it. But when I don’t want to appear too serious, I go casual.
Would it be right to say Jenifa’s Diary also made you popular?
Well, not really. I had first gained some popularity from stand-up comedy, then on radio I became popular as Ogbolor on Wazobia FM with Omotunde LOLO1. The popularity grew bigger when I went on to do TV on WAZOBIA TV hosting two funny shows. But Jenifa’s Diary took the popularity to a whole different level. So right now I have fans who love me on stage, radio, and TV as Ogbolor and some who love me as James on Jenifa’s Diary.
Which would you say is your best role as an actor?
It will amaze you to know I am not fully an actor because my timing wouldn’t permit me (depending on the money). So far I have done more stage plays than screen. I starred in a two-man stage play, Once upon a mad man, produced by Bunmi Davies, where I played the role of a mentally unstable man in an asylum and another two-man stage play, PO, alongside Nedu of Wazobia FM. We played as road side sweepers who were ranting about the ills in the society. It was produced by YAW. I finally starred in another two-man stage play titled Checkpoint 1& 2, where I played the role of a corrupt police officer. This I did alongside Tuale of Wazobia FM.
These have all been challenging roles. To include my role as James, I would say they all come with their challenges and uniqueness; they are all my best because they taught me different things about my ability to act.
How do you handle female fans?
I have always had female fans from my dance days to comedy, TV, radio, and now Jenifa’s Diary, so I think I have gotten used to it for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was a ladies’ man and my aunt once sat me down to talk to me about that. I respect women a lot because I was raised by a single mother and I have a twin as well who is female. So, I am very protective of women, therefore it enables me treat my female fans with respect. I can’t please everyone but I try and so far no scandals, no baby mamas, so I believe I am handling them fine.