The first thing Chinasa Anukam wants you to know about her hit YouTube show, Is This Seat Taken? is that it’s definitely not a podcast, at least not yet. Then she wants you to know that she has been grinding in the Nigerian entertainment industry for a while.
“It’s so funny to me that people keep calling the show a podcast because it’s not a podcast…yet. It’s a YouTube show,” she said in a recent interview with Technext.
Here is the premise of the show. Each episode is set in an upscale restaurant in Lagos. she walks in on her guest, who has an empty seat in front of him. Then she asks,; “Is this seat taken?” For the next 30 minutes or so, her audience is treated to how a long list of a-list stars, Don Jazzy, Falz, Ajebutter etc., conduct themselves or at least try to conduct themselves on a date.
Here are some of the things fans of the show have learnt so far. Dating Don Jazzy is like being trained. The BBNaija alumni Cross might not come through for you, even if he advises you to leave broke people alone. And after she kept her punchlines coming, the AMVCA best actor winner, Timini Egbuson, told her “one more and I’m walking out. Trust me.” He wasn’t joking.
Don’t be deceived; it’s not a date. It’s not even intended to be a date. It’s a deliberate attempt, as Chinasa sees it, to put her guests on their toes.
Before Chinasa Anukam started literarily hunting down stars to come on her YouTube show, she had gone through almost every path anyone looking to make their big break in entertainment could.
She had done TikTok, starred in the Ebony Life TV original, Money, Men and Marriage, written scripts, edited scripts, gave up and started applying for law jobs, then started a standup comedy career in the UK, then started a standup comedy career in the US, gone to film school, saw the pandemic upend her life, return to Nigeria, and decided to give this YouTube thang all she’s got.
“I’ve been working,” she says.
How it all started
“I was having lunch with one of my friends and she was like ‘what’s going on with you?’” Chinasa Anukam said. “I’m just applying for jobs and I’m writing a script on the side. And she was like ‘Why is it on the side?’ And that just made me think ‘Why is it on the side?'” she said.
“A lot of people don’t know what they are passionate about. You have something that you are passionate about, why are you not taking steps to pursue it?” her friend asked her. “I had no answer except the Nigerian thing that this is not a serious job.”
Growing up, she had always liked to do comedy, inspired by the likes of Trevor Noah. And so, she has been writing her jokes, storing them for times like this, when she has an audience willing to give her their time.
“I’ve always known that I liked comedy. But then again, the Nigerian thing of not giving yourself permission. But what I had done was every joke that came into my mind, I wrote it down. So when I said I was going to try this out, I already had like 400 notes of jokes,” Chinasa Anukam said.
Over the years, when she was grinding, trying to get her footing in entertainment, her comedy chops and the dream that she would one day put up her own show kept her going.
“First time doing comedy, I won an award, and so clearly, there was some talent here. Don’t give up on this dream. But I was in the UK, getting jobs, but I couldn’t do them. I didn’t have a work permit there.” So Chinasa Anukam moved to the US, where she could work and started her comedy career there. Things were looking up. Then the pandemic happened.
“I had already qualified for a big competition. I had gotten a scholarship to study improvisation somewhere. My life was taking shape. But, I was like you just have to start from ground zero.”Chinasa Anukam
When Chinasa Anukam returned to Nigeria, she had some money from a year and a half of working as a teacher in the US. With it, she started having conversations with a former classmate who worked in production. Came up with a budget after being rejected by sponsors. And her journey started.
“It was inspired by a bunch of shows. I had watched Does the Shoe Fit, Chicken Shop. So I was like something like this will work really well in the Nigerian pop culture space because, we don’t have a lot of good interviews with artists. And we don’t have a lot of content that is just to, you know, distress. A lot of our content is ‘to God be the glory.’ But there should be content that is just distressing because Nigeria is hectic,” -Chinasa Anukam said.
Read also: BBNaija’s Cross shares experience with NFTs, crypto before becoming a star
When she started the show, there were three things she was sure of.
As a whole culture, we are obsessed with relationships, marriage, love. Nollywood, Big Brother, shipping from morning till night. People are romanticising being on a date with this person. I get to help them live that life vicariously and they love it.”
It was after this that she started to hunt down her guests, starting with the rapper, Falz.
“I grew up in Abuja. So it’s not like I’m connected in any Lagos circle in any way. So it’s like, who can we know, so we can know where he will potentially be, so we can position ourselves. So I pitched the idea to Falz and he was like he’ll do it. But we had to have multiple meetings after that.” she said of getting Falz on the show.
Over time, she had been able to book a consistent streak to mostly a-list artists on the show, a feat she said is only for the strong.
“It’s really really crazy, like honestly,” she said of booking guests for the show. “But the thing about me is that, I am such a persistent person. Like, I will not give up. But by the time we were getting to Don Jazzy and YCee those people, luckily for me, had already seen the show, which was surprising even to me.
On making guests comfortable
So far, even as she has sought to put her guest on their toes, asking them personal questions laced with punchlines, no guest has walked off yet. She said that this is because she makes them comfortable even before the recording begins.
“A big part of my job is making people feel comfortable in the space that we’re gonna play. So it’s just figuring out how will I do that and really it’s not the same answer for everybody. But the only way you can get that answer is by being present and picking up on what they are saying. But also, what they are not saying,” she said.
While landing sponsorship was difficult for her in the first season, the second season was more promising.
“With the first season, we didn’t get any sponsors,” she said. “The second season we were looking for sponsors for at least eight months. But the sponsors we got, are the only sponsors we got. People were still telling me ‘ooh you don’t have enough Instagram followers,’ ‘ooh, one episode did a hundred but the other episode didn’t. Sponsorship is hard and you have to sit down and start doing proposals, PowerPoint, pitch decks. I might as well just have gone to the office. You email, far and wide, and you get only like two responses.”
Going into the third season, she had become a household name enough to have some cache when trying to get sponsors.
“Moving into our third season there is a lot more interest. So I think this whole journey as with any creative journey, there’s just so much patience that will be involved,” she said.
Already she has started her travelling show, having mounted live stand-up comedy shows in Abuja and Lagos. This year, her plans are to take them to more cities in the country. “The main thing for me is just, scaling as I go along,” she said.
On Nollywood writing
I asked her about the writing problems that have plagued Nollywood. Critics have charged the Nigerian film industry with predictable storylines and at times bad writing. She has some thoughts on the matter.
“The problem with most things in Nigeria is that opportunities are in the hands of like five people and they distribute them within that same circle. Even if it’s good, that can only produce one type of content,” she said.
“You need variety. You need voices. You need different directorial lenses for an industry to grow. The problem with Nigeria is that we don’t have industries. We have godfathers. And everything has to pass through them. and through that process, only a few people can get opportunities. There are many good scriptwriters in Nigeria, but how can they get opportunities?”
On the future of Chinasa Anukam
For now, she said that she just wants to continue pushing her content. Already she is planning on launching a new YouTube show, Conversations with Friends, based on the critically acclaimed book of the same name by the Irish writer Sally Rooney.
I’m just trying to continue to reveal different layers of my capacity as I go on. I don’t really have a team. It’s really just me doing a lot of things for the most part. Onward and upwards.”
Quick-fire questions with Chinasa Anukam
What do you do to unwind?
Play music and dance. Asake got so many people through last year. Go on a run. Take a walk. Watch films, documentaries. Read. Scroll mindlessly on my phone like everyone else. Sleep.
Last movie you watched?
Obsessed with Beyonce and Idris Elba.
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