“I Was Out of a Job, Needed Something to Make Me Happy”: Comedy’s New Prince JayOnAir on His Inspiring Journey
MI Abaga casually slid into his DMs bearing compliments. Nigeria’s top celebrities are camped on his Instagram page for their daily dose of heartfelt laughter. Dedicated fans are rising in the thousands, and this is all a dream come true for 26-year-old Joseph Onaolapo…
“To be honest, it just feels amazing, you know…I’m happy. I’m filled with joy,” the content creator tells me on a bright Sunday afternoon after uploading a fresh video on his page.
For the production, he wears faded blue Denim jeans paired with a white shirt, sleeves rolled and hair tinted a dull pink. On this day, he is a youth pastor that wants congregants to see him as a young person.
“You are just a clown,” Nollywood actress, Omowunmi Dada, wrote in the comment section after evidently having her good fill of rib-cracking comedy.
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This has been life for JayOnAir in the past year or so, and the young entertainer is basking in the euphoria of it all.
“I’m over the top. I’m living out these dreams that I didn’t even think about. I didn’t even dream of them even though my actual name is Joseph. I’m just enjoying every single moment as it comes. The joy of meeting fans when I go out, getting recognized by celebrities, getting paid by brands, hosting events that I never thought in a million years I’d be able to host, getting validation—not that I’m seeking it—but validation from people that I grew up listening to. Just some weeks ago, M.I Abaga sent a message appreciating my talents and I was mind blown.”
Born in the suburbs of Surulere, Lagos, the Adekunle Ajasin University graduate wasn’t raised in the typical Naija home, but he admits that his upbringing played a major part in building the version of himself that the world is now experiencing.
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“In my early years, my parents were together but they got separated when I was about to get into primary school. It wasn’t a typical Naija home, but my parents did their best. My dad made sure that we had the best education. My mum made sure that we were disciplined, so I grew up with a lot of that discipline. I think that I and my mum are so much alike, and that’s why you see me celebrating her today.
“So growing up, I just learnt to be disciplined, to put your heart into what you want to do and going ahead to do it. I don’t need validation now because I was validated a lot by my parents. My mum always told me how handsome I was, how talented I was… My parents were disciplinarians but they loved us, and it wasn’t just by mouth. They showed it in their actions. When I think about my childhood, I think of a balanced childhood.
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Even though it seems to be an effortless endeavour for him these days, creating content didn’t happen by chance for JayOnAir. In 2020, when the world was plagued with the coronavirus pandemic, JayOnAir was among thousands of young Nigerians who were forced out of a job and confined to the four walls of their homes.
Naturally, the overwhelming nature of events at the time soon crippled the young man into a disturbing place that threatened his happiness.
“I was bored. I was depressed. I was out of a job. I just needed something to keep me happy,” he recounts.
“At the time, TikTok was like a new discovery here in Naija. Everybody and their mothers were on TikTok. Iyabo Ojo…everybody was creating content and it was just funny. It wasn’t something that was about your class or status in society. From the rich to the poor, everyone was creating content and I just decided to get into it as well. I remember the very first video I made on TikTok. I was lip-syncing to a baby voice and just shared it on my WhatsApp and Instagram pages. People found it funny, and then from one I did another and another and another. People found the lip-sync videos pretty funny. My friends, people in my circle…because how many followers did I have then?”
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The reception from friends, family members, and strangers on the internet encouraged the humour-merchant to fully get into creating original content. Not mimics, not parodies, but his ideas of what comedy is.
“There was this polyglot challenge on Tiktok and people were coming out to show off the different languages they speak. I decided to do mine and did something stupid with the challenge. It went viral, people loved it and I decided then to fully get into original content. Like a joke, it just became something and the followers came pouring in. So I’ll say I was in a place where I was down and depressed, didn’t have money and was just flat-out broke when I started making content. It was just to make myself happy. It wasn’t the money or influencer status. I started it to get myself out of a depressive state and here we are today.”
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For many who have only come to know the media personality through his videos, the case would have been entirely different if he had gotten a yes from the judges at the 2014 project fame audition.
JayOnAir had a burning desire to take his spot in the music industry but he would quickly come to realize that “some things are just meant to be dreams and others can stay as hobbies.”
However, music is not entirely off the charts for him. These days, the content creator who has a day job on the radio has found a different way to channel his love for music. His videos are characterized by original soundtracks that have gone on to become viral soundbites in the social media community.
“I don’t sing so much these days except when I’m doing my funny viral soundtracks on Instagram. But I think these days; I tend to just enjoy music more since I work on radio. I’ll say more than singing music now, I enjoy just the experience of music. I enjoy dancing to music. I didn’t use to love to dance but I actually like to go to parties, drink cocktails and dance to popular music. So I think that is just what music means to me these days, I just enjoy it.”
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Like Nigerians his peer, the entertainer grew up with an understanding of comedy as represented by Basketmouth, Bovi and the likes before the new school takeover by Taaoma, Maraji, Craze Clown and other skit makers.
However, he never imagined that he would one day be a part of the industry’s evolution.
“I never thought myself to be one of those people if I’m being honest with you. I mean yes, I used MC events, make people laugh but I didn’t see myself as a comic. But now it has transitioned to me being the funny guy, to me being the comedian so to say, even though I’ve always been the funny person in my group of friends. It’s wild that I now have an audience. I’m just so humbled. I call them my JayTrybe, my fanbam.”
At the core, his brand of comedy entertainment is tagged “Observational Comedy”, and it sees the comedian drawing inspiration from happenings in society and putting out what particularly puts a smile on his face.
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“I started comedy because I wanted to get myself out of a depressive state,” he maintains, “as much as I have an audience and I’m grateful for them, if I find something funny, I’m going to put it out there. There are days I’ll have 2000 or 20000 likes, but as long as I feel comfortable about everything and I think it’s funny to me, I’m going to put it out there.
“I’m not of the illusion that everyone is going to find me funny. No. The kind of content I put out is quite different from what a lot of people do. I call it ‘observational comedy’.
These days, it’s a herculean task of sorts for an average social media user to log into any platform and escape a plethora of videos created with the singular purpose of lightening up the individual’s face.
People go online to forget their worries. Lunch breaks are spent scrolling through TikToks and Instagram reels, while at it, one is guaranteed to stumble upon a new creator. In a saturated industry that is churning out new talents on a daily basis, how does one retain relevance, or get noticed at all?
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“I wanted to be original to myself,” JayOnAir says. “I wasn’t going to copy somebody and I wanted my content to be original to me. I decided to do something that I genuinely connect with. A lot of my videos are things that I have personally seen and experienced. I wasn’t looking for an audience when I started; people just joined me along the way. So because I stayed original to myself, people that liked that originality eventually got swayed and started following me.
Sunday mornings are different in a special and endearing way for JayOnAir’s online community, and it is for one reason only—his mother, or the Rev D as many have now come to know her.
In her typical African mother way, the Rev D is prepping to head to church in avant-garde pieces that no doubt set her apart from other congregants by a considerable margin. On the side, however, is her content creator son, camera in hand, ready to show the world just how much of an amazing woman his mother is.
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“My relationship with my mum is one that has grown over the years. We didn’t have the best relationship growing up because she was a disciplinarian, and sometimes was wicked,” JayOnAir says as he pointedly submits that their Roman Empire wasn’t built in a day.
“An experience sort of changed her ways towards us. We wanted to go to a friend’s house and we could not tell my mum. We had to tell the friend’s mum to speak with her. This experience changed the dynamic. She felt bad and saw the need to become our friends. We became closer, and because we are most alike, it grew the bond. She just would always say she loved me, cared for me…she has just been my life support, to be honest.”
Although initially sceptical about the content creator route, Rev D would come to realise that there was no stopping her son. The skit maker, however, says she grew even more receptive when she learnt it wasn’t all an entertainment jamboree that had no fine silver linings.
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“She started taking me seriously when she saw that this was something that wasn’t going to stop. Wearing your mother’s clothes in Africa? That’s weird. She would always mention how her clothes were expensive but did I stop? I get coconut head. I think it’s the same with every parent. When they see that you’re serious about something and then there’s something financially attached to this dream, they begin to take you seriously. When my mum saw that money was coming, people were starting to recognize her as JayOnAir’s mum, she knew that this was something.”
And JayOnAir’s siblings? They are just as supportive as the Rev D.
“My brother is always commenting, posting and telling his friend about me. My siblings have always been supportive and always encouraged me, and I’m just so grateful for them.”
With over 600 original videos on Instagram, consistently putting out content is the least of worries for JayOnAir.
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However, with more than 100k followers constantly refreshing his page for something new, the content creator admits that his biggest challenge remains the next step after enjoying a viral moment.
“When you make a video and it goes viral, in your mind you are like ‘what in the world am I going to make next?’ 5000 new people follow you and you are just wondering what to do. I think every creator always has that fear. As a writer, an actor, you put out something good and you are constantly looking to top that milestone. For content creators, we are all in people’s faces, and I think this takes the worry to another level. You’ve had a good video, so what are you putting out next? That is one of the hardest parts of the process for me. But I’ve come to realise that as long as I feel confident about what I’m doing, I’m going to put it out there. It might not be a viral video but people in my community would like it.”
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About two weeks ago, JayOnAir made his red carpet debut as a celebrity figure at Jade Osiberu’s Brother movie premiere tagged: Ojuju Ball.
His regular tees and denim jeans wouldn’t align with the theme of the night even if he tried, and so a stylist had to get to work—not for a pocket-friendly price as one may imagine.
“Being a celebrity is expensive. It’s so expensive,” the content creator stresses as we talk about his new reality as a famous Nigerian.
“The events, the styling, you have to look great. Especially in Nigeria where we like paparazzi. I went for one some days ago and the money I spent still has me saying ‘God abeg o, who go helo o’. So I’ll say that’s something I’m still adjusting to. Celebrity life is expensive, and I’m learning that it’s not everywhere I need to go to. I’m cutting my coat according to my cloth.
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JayOnAir is also learning to enjoy this phase of life on his terms and not under people’s expectations of who or what he should be.
“I don’t pretend to have what I don’t. I don’t pretend to be who I’m not, so I’m not dealing with anyone’s expectations. I’m leaving my life on my own terms.”
On this long journey to the top, JayOnAir also understands the power of a close-knit community and this is why old friends have remained. “Those are the people that actually keep you grounded. They are the ones that can tell you the truth.”
New ones? “It’s taking me a while, especially industry friends,” he admits.
“I don’t want to get into industry drama. I don’t want to get into cliques. I just want to live on my terms and be happy…”