Multi-talented Ekene Nna-Udosen, also known as Kenzy, speaks with SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN about life as an entertainer and sundry issues. Excerpts:
How did your journey into entertainment start?
I have always been drawn to entertainment. As a kid, I was always indoors and had my eyes glued to the television set. I was fascinated by it and I knew more than anything that I wanted to be in that field. Officially, I started in 2014 when I hosted my first ever event, thanks to the Rotaract Club of the National Metallurgical Training Institute, Onitsha.
In 2018, I made my first ever social media video and the feedback was positive, so I said why not make it an actual thing, which I did. Voice over artistry is a talent that came naturally to me or a result of my brain constantly diffusing the way narrators on the National Geographic channel (Nat Geo Wild) spoke. It eventually became a skill I’ve had to hone over the years.
What inspired the character, ‘Madam Theresa’ which you often feature in your skits?
I have spent most of my life around women and quite naturally, I picked up a thing or two or more. That character, ‘Madam Theresa’ has been an interesting journey for me and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Generally, my contents are widely inspired by reality and the character, ‘Madam Theresa’ is inspired by the experience of every single woman I come across in reality: My mother, my sisters, my aunties, an overly dramatic secondary school teacher, an usher at church and Women in general.
I also have the ‘Quick Pronunciation’ series, which was inspired by a need to educate the public on the proper ways of pronouncing commonly mispronounced words. It’s also a learning curve for me because in trying to teach others through ‘Madam Theresa’s’ character, I’ve had to do a lot of learning. So I’m also inspired by the need for a better me.
Which one is your favourite between ‘Madam Theresa Ndumodu series’ and ‘Quick pronunciation series’?
Let me first introduce who ‘Madam Theresa Ndumodu’ is. She is the typical Nigerian woman who enlightens the public about different issues in the society. I love all the work I put out there and I’m constantly trying to evolve, but if I’m to pick a favorite right now, I especially love one of my most recent videos: ‘The Gays will always be at the altar’ because it boldly tackles the issues of a minority group in the country. My favorite ‘Quick pronunciations’ would be anyone I’ve done with the fictional character, ‘Agnes Otigba’ played by the fantastic Chioma Nwosu. We have such great chemistry together.
What is ‘Gay will always be at the Altar’ all about?
It was a video highlighting an understated problem in our society presently. Most women and men are in marriages with gay people who have succumbed to societal pressure. The pressure of being in a heterosexual relationship or marriage. These marriages are mostly loveless, filled with infidelity and are bound to fail eventually. The video highlights these issues in a comic way and encourages people to live and let live.
How do you source the costume you use?
My mother, Mrs Ngozi Nna-Udosen, is pretty much my unofficial costume designer because I’ve taken almost a quarter of her wardrobe just for my content. A very good friend of mine, Rex Kingsley Okoye, a Nollywood costume designer, has also quite generously given me a few clothes for the work I do. He has also featured in some of my videos, playing a fan favorite character, ‘Calista Nedolisa’.
Did you expect your content to be well received when you started out?
Honestly, I knew that people would love my work and the reception has been positive. It’s been that way till this very moment, except for an insignificant number of trolls that diss my work solely because of its nature. Some of them drag me for wearing female clothes for the purpose of entertainment. In a country filled with people who hate on anything they don’t understand, it’s very normal to have that few that disagree with the nature of my work, but I’m not going to let it stop me. At the end of the day, they can only hate from behind a phone screen.
How long did it take to get the attention of the viewing public?
My content became quite popular during the lockdown days. With lots of people at home, doing almost nothing, social media was an escape route and that meant more attention for creators like me. It’s been a gradual upward journey since then and I’m grateful.
Did you ever think of quitting?
Yes, there was a time I thought of quitting. Being a content creator is probably one of the most exhausting career paths, but it is also rewarding. In those really low moments, when you’re so out of touch, fatigued and unable to see the purpose of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Quitting and doing something easier becomes a fantasy you accommodate. But when you think about it, what else is easier?
What was your mother’s reaction when you told her you wanted to become a skit maker?
She was super accommodating and accepting. She had no reservations about it. She even validated my choices by referencing individuals who have done the same thing, Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry and some others. She gave me all access to her wardrobe and accessories, “take anything you need” she said. Till this very moment, she’s 100 per cent behind me.
You have also featured your mom in a couple of your skits. Was it difficult persuading her to do that with you?
She’s a shy girl! She’s not one of the people who love being in front of a camera. But the way I see it, her love for her children makes her do anything to make us happy. Anytime I need her, she abandons her shyness and puts on her big girl shoes. Trust that she will slay the house and the camera down.
Have you ever been a victim of online bullying?
This is normal for content creators like me. Initially, I would allow them to get to me. I can have over hundreds of positive comments and feedback on a particular post or about the work I do generally and I’d be focused on the negative comments from people saying the nastiest things to me, the worst thing you can imagine. I simply ignore them, block them and focus solely on the positive things people are saying.
You seem to be quite good at mixing Igbo language with English. How did you come up with that concept?
It’s not something I had to come up with. That’s exactly how I’ve been. Growing up in the east, I was exposed to the Igbo language and the culture. Like I said earlier, I spent a lot of time indoors, watching television. I imitated the way they spoke on television subconsciously and eventually as a result, I have a pretty decent command of both languages.
Wouldn’t some of your non-Igbo speaking fans be discouraged if they don’t understand what you are saying?
No, not at all because I try to provide English subtitles in all my videos. I also understand that reading subtitles to catch up is not the same experience as it is for someone who understands Igbo, but that’s as much as I can do to accommodate my non-Igbo speaking viewers. I have also tried to balance my videos by speaking as much English as possible.
What are some of the challenges peculiar to skit making?
I think a content creator’s greatest challenge is finding their audience, their own people. Simply put, our greatest challenge is making it as a content creator. Another challenge we struggle with as content creators is maintaining relevance. Once you’re out there in people’s faces, you become very concerned with the numbers because those numbers translate to engagement, which translates to relevance and that ultimately translates to revenue. The more relevant you are, the more brands seek you out and the more money you make via streaming platforms. Personally, skit making is exciting but it takes a huge toll on me, mentally, physically, emotionally. Most times, you’re doing all the work alone. You create the idea, you film yourself, you edit! The entire process can take long hours. Doing this over and over can sometimes feel like torture. It becomes paramount to seek help, especially to meet up with the demands of social media and the ever changing trends.
Most skit makers eventually venture into mainstream acting. Are you considering that too?
Yes, beyond consideration. I’m already making active moves in being part of the robust industry that is Nollywood. I have been in a couple of Nollywood projects like ‘Tokunbo’ directed by Ramsey Noah (yet to be released), ‘Smokescreen’, directed by Biodun Stephen, ‘An ordinary love’, which was directed by Emeka Madu, ‘The Judge’, a web series by Tee Kuro. Hopefully, with time and hard-work, I’ll be fully immersed in the industry.
What is your opinion about the content creation industry?
I think it’s one of the most versatile factions of the entire entertainment space. There are many content creators out there. With each day, there is someone new. It is vast, welcoming and very lucrative! I also think that it is the least toxic genre of entertainment. We help each other a lot. We are very big on collaborations, encouraging and pushing each other to succeed, especially when you find your people.
How expensive is it to be a content creator?
It is expensive, especially if you want to start producing your skits like it’s a Nollywood film. Some content creators spend almost as much as it costs to produce some of the Nollywood movies you’ve seen out there. From location, to paying the cast, to hiring crew, buying or renting equipment, welfare and logistics on mobility. It can be quite the money eater. But for me, I don’t spend so much. My content is very economical because I film in almost one location. I don’t need as many hands on deck because I pretty much sit down at a spot for most of my work. I only spend so much on buying gadgets that will improve the quality of my videos.
The industry has had its fair share of sex-for-skits scandals and controversies. Do you think there is a need to regulate it?
Like any other branch of media and entertainment, I definitely think it needs regulation. There are many blurred lines out there. People do anything and everything in the name of content and there’s no stopping them. From molestation, to child abuse, to public assault, all of this just to stack up the views. We need to put regulatory channels in place, preventing people from crossing certain lines and ensuring that they know the difference between creating content and committing a crime.
Do you have any formal training as a voice-over artist?
Not yet. Everything I know about art is self-taught. I plan to get official training from voice workshops and mini schools, here in Lagos Nigeria.
What are the special things you do or don’t do to avoid straining your voice?
I take a lot of water, mostly room temperature and I try to sing a lot because singing helps to clear one’s voice. I avoid screaming or shouting unnecessarily. I don’t smoke at all and I don’t drink as much.
If you were asked to choose between skit making, voice-over and being a compere, which would you consider your favourite and why?
I’d definitely go with event hosting/TV hosting. There’s power that comes with being in that much control. It almost makes you feel invincible and impervious to anything. You’re in charge and I like that feeling. Most people won’t relate to this anyway because it makes them anxious and all that, but for me, it’s different.
You have talked about your mother, but nothing has been said about your father. Can you talk about him?
This is the first time I’ve had to think about my father in a very long time. One thing I can say for sure is that he lives on. I am the exact replica of my father, I look just like him. All his old photos of when he was younger feels like I’m looking at myself and the older I get, the more of him I see in me. I lost my father in 2008. He was diagnosed with kidney failure, which led to his death. Before his death, he wasn’t exactly very present in our lives, he lived in a different city for some time because of work. In this very moment, part of me wishes he was present in my life, maybe I’d have a certain level of masculine influence.
How was growing up?
Growing up was okay. We were comfortable for some time before we lost our father and after that, it was turbulent. My mother had to immediately assume the role of a single parent, taking care of her five kids. We were separated as kids. My elder sisters lived with a family friend, I and my immediate younger sister lived with my grandmother and my baby sister, the last girl lived with my aunt In Lagos. Eventually, we all came back together after some time and things got relatively better. I grew up surrounded by love, the kind that perseveres against all odds.
If not a skit maker or voice-over artist, what else would you have ventured into and handle perfectly?
I think I would have done radio broadcasting really well. Beyond entertainment media, I really would have enjoyed being an industrial farmer. I am super drawn to cultivating plants as well as rearing livestock. I probably will still venture into it in the future.
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