First Lady of comedy, Mandy Uzonitsha, has been in the game for a long time – and so far, she has so distinguished herself that she still ranks among the best and the brightest. Married but divorced, for the first time since her union failed, the Political Science graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on what actually happened. The 43-year-old rib cracker who maintained that she’s not had sex now for 8 years also shocked us when she added that her ex-husband, Willie Workman Okwori, is not the father of her daughter. There are additional revelations that you sure will enjoy as you read on. By the way, the exclusive interview was conducted on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 during her visit to our office in Ojodu, Lagos…
First, what is your definition of comedy?
Well, I just believe that in as much as we try to make people laugh, we should also try and pass a message. That’s what I try to do. I try to pass a message, I try to find out things that some people do not understand. I just don’t make people laugh because I want to make them laugh. There was a time we went to Kenya. I went with Opa Williams and he said ‘Mandy, you too dey do research; you too dey do research. Just make dem laugh’. I said bros, I no go fit make dem laugh like that now, I need to know wetin…So, I think it’s a problem for me; I don’t think it’s a problem for some other comedians. But I try too hard to see that I just don’t make people laugh; I try to pass a message.
What got you interested in comedy?
I wasn’t really interested in comedy to be quite frank with you…
(Interruption) – So, how did this start?
I’m just a jumpy person, but a subtle jumpy person. I’m jumpy naturally. It’s my nature to be jumpy and want to be like a tomboy. But my mother keeps on saying a lady should be seen, not heard, a lady should be seen, not heard, meshie onu gi, nodu ofu ebe (keep shut and stay in one place). So, I’m jumpy, but in a subtle way. I’m not the jumpy in your face kind of person. So, when I was in the university and we had the Babangida strike and we were at home for years – almost 2 years – and we were not doing anything. I spoke to a friend, he’s a reporter that I met in Warri (Delta State). He was a reporter with the Vanguard then, Okoh something. He said he knows Charly Boy and then because I was jumpy, he said ah, you go good for that Charly Boy Show well well. Come Lagos, I go talk to am. So, I got to Lagos, I was shopping in his wife’s shop. I was going round, but I didn’t know they were doing the Candid Camera. I didn’t know Charles was behind me and I said ‘dis rubbish wey dem dey do, I fit do pass like dat’. He said ehen, you fit? Go try now! I thought he was joking. He said Yemi; he called them back. They were doing Candid Camera outside the compound. But the camera man was inside. He called them back; he said she said she wan do pass dem. Wetin you wan go do? On the spot, I said ha, oga, give me container make I enter dat place and that was it. I just started. I started working with him and that was it.
What do you like best about being a comedienne?
Hmmm! Doing this interview with you (Laughter). I just made you laugh. But what do I like best about being a comedienne? It opens doors for me; doors that ordinarily I couldn’t have been able to knock on, wait for them to open. That’s why I’m not the patient person. But comedy has opened good doors for me. You will be amazed at doors I’ve entered. I just entered YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine. I keep on entering different doors because I’m a comedienne. So, I should give credit to comedy for doing that for me. It’s made me friends with lots of great people, intelligent people, not-too-intelligent people, people that are movers and shakers in this society. It’s brought me close to tears, it’s brought me close to being happy, it pays my daughter’s school fees; comedy does a lot for me. If I take a piece of paper and start writing what comedy does for me, I won’t stop today.
Alright! What don’t you like about being a comedienne?
What don’t I like about being a comedienne? The very first thing every comedienne experiences – make me laugh! I’m in the airport, I’m thinking of how not to forget something, not to miss my luggage, not to miss my flight, somebody comes, hey, I said it, that you are Mandy! He calls the wife and his children and he goes – it’s her! We used to watch you – Live in Mombasa, on DSTV. Oya, make us laugh, make us laugh. And I’m there with my own problems, thinking of how not to miss my flight and they tell me to make them laugh. So, because I’m not the kind of naughty person and I’m very diplomatic and in all my pains also tries to see how to put a smile on their faces, I still do. I also don’t like wearing heels on stage because I have bow legs and I’m short, but I still need to look like a lady.
What is the costliest mistake that any comedienne can make?
When you don’t study your crowd. It’s the costliest, because it falls back on you. If you just assume that, ah, my jokes can make dem laugh…We all have jokes that are prepared and sometimes we do a kind of instant ones. You know, when you climb the stage, you have to bond with the crowd, you have to do something to interact with the crowd, before you really settle down. So, sometimes, you go in there, believing that your jokes are cool and you just go pa, pa, pa; you will just be cracking to yourself, because you won’t communicate. That is one of the costliest.
What distinguishes Mandy as a comedienne?
I think because I’m subtle…I think because I’m calmer and I think I pass messages. I don’t just crack. And then most times, most companies, when they call me, they say we are expecting big MDs and we know with you, we are not embarrassed. Because of my faith. I’m born again. So, they know that even if I hold the mic, there’s nothing vulgar that will come out of my mouth and I will not insult their guests. They know that I don’t indulge in that one. So, they keep telling me that ah, that’s why we are calling you, because we know that when we give you the mic, we have rest of mind. Nobody is monitoring what you will say and the rest. I don’t know, but that’s what they tell me o. But for me, I will just say pick me because I think I’m good. It’s the feedback I get that I am telling you.
We shall return to comedy, but before we do that, you just said something about being born again. Why are you born again? Was it the vicissitudes of life or something that led to that?
My own is a very long story…
Can you abbreviate it or abridge it for us?
The problem is that I didn’t do summary in school (Laughter). I wasn’t very good in English in school. Okay! What happened? I used to be Catholic; staunch Catholic. And I happened to meet Pastor Chike Ekwueme, the brother of Obi Ekwueme in Abuja, House on the Rock, and he kept on saying ah, Mandy, you need to give your life to Christ. I said ah, una born again, una dey collect tithe, una dey collect offering, una dey collect…Wetin? Nooo! Una no go kill person. So, one day…I had my daughter in Asapa, my mother had stroke, I was praying and in the night, I had a dream. I saw Christ and this is not…Nobody preached it to me. When I had my daughter, nobody preached to me – He (Christ) appeared and the first question He asked was; I was in a terrible situation and then He came; the fierce Lion of Judah, with fire all over Him and He came and He attacked what was attacking me and then He asked me a very simple question: Did I collect any money from you? I was like uh, uh, uh! No! Did I take any money from you? Heee! Heh, heh, heh! He said all I want is your heart. I will not leave you, neither will I forsake you. That was it for me. It wasn’t like anybody said come and give your life to Christ (Voice rises), being a Catholic is bad; bla, bla, bla. It wasn’t it; it was a personal thing with Christ. It was one on one.
You said you are born again, so how come your marriage failed? Was it before or after you got born again that it failed?
Before. After. I was married; marriage failed. Had my daughter, met Christ…
So, why have you refused to forgive your husband? If you are a Christian, you should forgive whatever thing he must have done…
I don’t know what you mean by forgive…As a Christian, I hold no grudge…
Why have you refused to reconcile with him in spite of holding no grudge against him?
Maybe he’s for someone else. Have you thought about that?
Have you or both of you made any attempt to come back?
No, no, no; because I know it won’t work…
Why? Never say never.
No, no, no…The circumstances at which we parted ways, the circumstances at which we said; at which I said I no do again, you understand me, I don’t want it to re-occur in my life or even in the life of my child…
But they said you left him because you were richer than him and so on? You had more money, you built a house and he was staying with you and you threw him out of the house and things like that…
They said that? (Yes!) That’s not true. I live in Lekki (Lagos), in my house, but when we were married, we were living in Ogba (also in Lagos). Maybe you don’t know…
They said you made more money, drove him out of the house…
That’s a big lie!
So, what happened?
I can’t say that, I can’t say that, but that’s a big lie. Those that knew us knew what really happened. I can’t say that. It’s not because I…I might have money, but it’s not because I do anything extra than any other person. I have the normal money every other artiste has, you understand me, but maybe let me say because I’m prudent. Right from a very early age, I had taxis, I had buses running for me. I keep telling myself and my friends that this job we do, it’s not pensionable. Nobody is gonna pay pension. It’s what we work now, it’s what we make now that if we invest it, we would eat later on in life. So, it wasn’t because I had more money. But from the way you look at me now, I don’t look like that; like I have more money, you must get out of my house, you must do this, you must do that. No! I’m not that type.
But you people have a baby together? Have you foreclosed…
(Interruption) – He’s not the father of my child! Most people do not know. He’s not the father of my child!
So, you left him and had a baby for another man?
Yes! Why? Because that was one of the reasons! She couldn’t have a child, he said (Laughter). One of the reasons I heard – she no fit born; she no fit! I was one of the people that got pregnant, I was shouting, I get belle o! What I ordinarily do not do. Because I’m a very, very quiet person. I keep to myself, I don’t like gbra, gbra, gbra. One of the things they were saying I can’t do; one of the things he told people, one of the things he said was that…But you know, when you are not God, you know someone’s medical history, you say eh!, e get blocked tube o, e get dis, e get dat. When you are not God, you have to be careful! That’s just it. So, I’m very grateful to God for the daughter to shut people’s mouths; I’m very grateful to God for He didn’t put me to shame; I’m very grateful to God because He loves me. I’m a Christian, he’s forgiven. I’ve moved on, I’m sure he’s moved on.
So, no plans for reconciliation? Nothing will bring both of you together again…
No; not even when Jesus comes and plans the wedding Himself!
Like you said, they were spreading stories here and there…
(Cuts in) – He started spreading them, because nobody knew my medical history; he knew my medical history.
When eventually you had a baby, how did you feel?
You can say that again! (Laughing). I love my daughter, I talk about my daughter everywhere. Most people on Facebook know my daughter’s name – that her name is April. Everybody knows my daughter. I talk about her; it’s not something I hide. I don’t know if you understand me. She’s my joy, she’s my everything. It’s something that people thought could never happen in my life, and then God gave me. So…
Are you going to have more babies?
I’m 40 – something. This year now, I go be 43. For what? You no dey pity me? You wan make I born mumu? Retard, all those kind children. Because when you grow older, the tendency of you having such kids will happen. You should know that.
Okay! So, who is the father of your baby?
Em…sealed lips. We don’t talk about that one (General laughter).
A married man or single man?
Em…we still don’t talk about that. Because we don’t know if he’s married to me or he’s married to someone else. That’s why we don’t talk about it. Everybody close your mouth there.
Your daughter is called April, why did you name her April?
Okay, I was born in April; I wish my parents had the foresight to call me April, but they didn’t. Now, I gave birth to my daughter in April, I met Christ in April. April is a beautiful month. For most Christians, they do not know – it’s the beginning of our faith. That’s when Christ died for us and rose again. April is a very fruitful month. If you look at April, you will see mango, you will see fruits, physical fruits and spiritual fruits. There are a lot of fruits in April. So, when I called her April, I knew why I’m calling her April. Sometimes in school, when it’s April, the kids start saying April fool, go to school, do your…You know this song they sing. So, my daughter tells people her name is Avril. Which is April in French. She will say my name is Avril, my name is Avril…
How old is she now?
You’ve been around now for over a decade, what would you say has kept you going?
I’m not a forward person. I’m not. I just hide…How do I put it? In this industry, people pay to be on blogs. It’s part of the entertainment industry to push yourself. But I try to tell myself, Mandy, if you push yourself, you ship out. When there’s so much hype around you and you stand up to make people laugh, where is the product? So, concentrate on the product. I’m like an underdog. I see myself as an underdog. You don’t talk about me, you don’t know so much about me, and when I come, I wow you! And then, we now have a relationship from that point. That is how I get lots of people that I work for. I work for great people, I come in contact with great people. I just see myself as a very subtle person.
Most people attain success in what they are doing, but find it difficult to sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
One of the problems, I just explained it now, is the product. It’s the product. I’m not kidding you. You make so much noise, you make so much hype; I have not heard a single. And then I see it in the papers – this single will blow your mind, this single is this, this single is that; oh, everybody is talking about this single and believe you me, when you hear this single, you are disappointed. Before you know what’s happening, the hype will kill the artiste. Because you’ve overdone it. But there should be an element of surprise in everything you do. That’s the way I see life. Maybe my style is not right, but for me, I just found out that one of the greatest things that has been able to sustain me is that I’m very humble. If you say this, if you say that, I care less! I’m focused, I know what I want. Like I was telling you about my daughter, I didn’t have a nanny. Okay, I’ve had nannies earlier on; off and on, off and on. So, I just said I don’t want nannies anymore. There’s nothing wrong with my hands. I could wash, I could clean, I could cook, I could take care of my child, I could do school runs. So, I gave my daughter all the time in the world. Now, she’s 10, she’s in the hostel, you will see me in every party, you will see me in every show. I don’t know if I am communicating (Yeah!). Now, the product is there. So, I’m gonna be backing it up with hype.
Your inspiration, where do you normally get that from?
From around me. I won’t lie – from around me. I had a joke – my dad died; because I’m not into all these pay for hype kind of things. I just believe that my work should speak for me. So, when my dad died, nobody talked about it. I care less any way! Because I won’t pay you to come and write about my dad’s death. So, I told myself – the first thing I should do is to crack a joke about my dad’s death. Now, how can you crack a joke about death that is not painful? And that is not raw, neausating to the people that are hearing it? Death is not a good thing to sell. So, I packaged it and the first time I cracked this joke, I cracked it for IBB; IBB was in the audience. He laughed and he was almost tearing up. Because I related it to him creating Delta State, giving the capital to Asaba, joined us with Urhobo people and that I buried my father, Urhobo people unearthed my father, pulled the shoes he was wearing; wear him converse and socks, pull him clothes, wear him boxers…IBB was tearing up. And it settled. Then, when I went to Kenya; they had the supermarket bomb blast and they found out that the President’s (Uhuru Kenyatta) cousin was in the blast with his girlfriend; his fiancée actually. You won’t believe that the same things I talked about; about my father’s death, was what happened in Kenya. This girl’s phone, laptop, ring, everything was stolen by the mall attendants. So, sometimes we need to ask ourselves when we buy phones, we buy this, we buy that, expensive wristwatch and we are walking on the street and God forbid, death happens. Your phone sef, person go thief your phone from you. I get jokes from things happening around.
Don’t you sometimes worry about not having a man in your life?
Do I worry about it? No! Because I have lots men in my life. It’s you that don’t know. If I open my Facebook now for you eh, you will be amazed. The messages will get up to 400, 300 and something. If you see suitors. Those that hold flowers, Indians…
So, what happens when you have sexual urge and things like that? How do you do it?
Okay, how do I put it that I’ve been celibate for a long time now and most people know. People that know me know. I was never that type…And it’s been like that for 7, 8 years now…
Maybe that was what your man couldn’t get and decided to try his luck elsewhere?
Maybe! I don’t know. But he never cheated on me. That wasn’t the reason. We never fought because he cheated on me. It was never the reason.
But do you sometimes miss not having a man in your life? Somebody that you can come home to, gist with and share things with?
My mother used to tell me that I’m a man. She tells me, Mandy, you be man! That’s how I see myself. You know, there are ladies that need that shoulder to cry on, there are ladies that need someone to talk to; to say, today wasn’t good, my manager was this and…(mimicking them). I’m not that type. I ‘babied up’ a long time ago. I don’t need that. I’ve always been a strong person. Very strong person. I was very young when I left this country to go abroad to study on my own. I’ve been very independent. Do I miss a man? I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had any such kind of thing like somebody loving me, caring for me, doing this, doing that, you know. I’ve never known it! Because I’ve always been a struggling person. Even when I was married, I was struggling. So, maybe if when I was married and my husband was caring for me, petting me or taking care of me, maybe I will say I miss it. But because there was no change, I was still the hustler, I was still the struggling person, I don’t know how it is. Maybe if you direct me to someone that can help me, to tell me that Mandy, look, there’s a man out there like Fashola, like Tinubu, like IBB, you know, that can just say look, madam, all dis your hustling don do, just relax, you know, stop running around. Don’t be shouting on taxi drivers, bus drivers, saying wey my money, wey my balance. Don’t do that, come, relax, I will send you to Hawaii… I told someone, every red cent I spend, I spend because I earned the red cent. Every red cent; nobody gives me a red cent. I’m that kind of person. So, if I had someone; please, anybody reading YES! Abeg, just to shut my mouth up and change my life and change my impression about men, just call me, say Mandy, come, just take this N15, N20 million, just go to Dubai, shop as you like, shop until you drop, na me go begin miss men.
How does it feel to be one of the biggest comediennes in this country?
Am I the biggest? I don’t know o. I’m just there. I don’t know if I’m big. I just don’t know. I just know I invest wisely. I don’t know if I’m big…
You have a house of your own and stuff like that…
I have a house. You don come de house? People just say you have a house in Lekki (Lagos), dem don come? Do they know if it’s a bacha?
It does not matter. So long as you’ve been able to build one. Tell us, how were you able to do it?
That’s what I’m saying – the same way my colleagues make money, I make money. The only difference with me is I told myself right from the early stage that this job we have is not pensionable. You can see our elder colleagues like Majek Fashek and the rest. Do you know how sad it is that an artiste will be sick and they will start asking for people’s help? Have you ever thought about it? I’m not saying I can’t be sick and ask for help, but I’m saying that because the job we do, nobody pays you pension, nobody cares for us; it’s what you make. If you don’t invest, you sink. Use your other colleagues that have gone before you to know that it gets to a point, these names you hear, you will start hearing that they threw this person’s load out of his house, they did this. I don’t want that for myself. I don’t want that. I came into Lagos a squatter and I know what I went through. Some were pleasant, some were not. So, I promised myself, the first thing you will do for yourself in this Lagos is to get yourself a house. If you don’t want insults, just get yourself a house. It’s not magic, it’s not rocket science. I told myself that; I prayed. The younger ones listening to me should just say this money we are making now, because you will hear them making N10 million, this endorsement, N15 million, N20 million, my brother, they go abroad, they buy gold chains, they sag, they just blow the money and tomorrow that artiste is no more and you say ah-ah, but him get deal of N50 million one time, wetin he take am do? Until we start to realize that we have to start investing when the fruit is ripe, till we now wait for it to make food in its old age, it might be very difficult.
Has any of your jokes gotten you into trouble before?
Not really; I’m very careful.
You have a new programme, The Weekly Matter. What is it about?
Okay, The Weekly Matter is just like Amanpour, it’s just like every other person on CNN discussing issues. We have great issues in Nigeria to discuss. I read Political Science in one of the Nigerian Universities (Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka). So, what I do is I bring my colleagues, we sit and we talk about what has happened in the week. That’s The Weekly Matter. What made news for you this week? It could be anything, from bloggers, what happened on your street, it could be what people are talking about. Then, after we finish talking, there is a particular issue that has really made headline news that week, I act the news. I could dress up like the news. There was a time they had the members of House of Reps. climbing fence, I climbed fence and read the news. And everything I read on the news was about the fence.
NB: First published February 2015