Flaqo: I have been misunderstood for playing ‘Mama Otis’ – VIDEO
For Erastus Otieno, the character and personality of a pesky mother is what has made him one of the most sought-after comedians in Kenya.
Mama Otis, whose role he plays in viral videos on his YouTube channel, portrays a Kenyan mother with a no-nonsense attitude.
While Mama Otis has become immensely popular with Flaqo’s audience, he says building up that character was never easy.
Flaqo said he conceptualised the idea while still in university where he used to create and share videos with his friends via WhatsApp.
At first, making the videos proved quite challenging, especially when he had to play Mama Otis.
“It has been a great challenge. I used to shoot the short videos while hiding. I was not confident,” Flaqo says.
“Dressing up as Mama Otis, the headscarf … I know some people feel like there was something wrong with me. It has really been a sensitive issue. But strangely Mama Otis’ character has been well received by most people.”
Initially, not many people, including members of his family, were amused with Mama Otis.
“Mama Otis, in a way, is actually my mum, although at first she was not a big fan of the character because she felt I was revealing her identity to the whole world. But she has since come around. My dad was also unenthusiastic about the idea, however he gave me the benefit of doubt,” Flaqo said during an exclusive interview with the Nation.
“In a way, being a man and making a living by playing the role of a woman has not been easy,” he says.
Then there is the wider public perception about his nose and ear piercings and the feminine voice he adopts for the role. He says he is aware that some people have been questioning his sexual orientation.
“Some people have arrived at their own conclusions because of my ear and nose piercings and how I mimic a woman’s voice. To them that is proof of something about my sexual orientation,” said Flaqo.
“Honestly I know some people are waiting for me to come out! But I am not coming out from anywhere. I’m straight. What I do is just to entertain people. When I take off Mama Otis’ clothes, it’s just me, Flaqo. There is nothing feminine about me at all,” he said.
But even with all the murmurs about the character he plays, Flaqo’s resolve to become one of the top comedians in the country has only grown stronger by the day.
In fact, he says, that is the reason he has since introduced other characters to his funny videos, including Baba Otis, Otis himself and Otis’ sister.
He plays all the three characters at different intervals and edits the videos to make it look like they are all different characters.
“I first record one character, then go to the next character and then edit to create one video that tells the storyline. Every day I try to reinvent myself and outdo what I did yesterday. That is why I came up with the other characters, so that the show keeps on getting interesting.
“A lot of people can relate with Mama Otis, but there are people who have not grown up with a mother and relate to a father. So I thought a husband, wife and sister would work. Because there are people who relate with the sibling drama,” he says.
And, like many artistes, from time to time Flaqo has had to deal with separating himself from the characters he portrays.
“It feels weird when I’m out and about on the streets and people start calling me ‘Mama Otis’. Some even expect me to start talking in Mama Otis’ voice … it’s really weird,” he says.
On the sensitive subject of dating, Flaqo is quick to clarify that he is presently single, inspite of the many female admirers that he has.
“It has been a while since I last dated. I’m currently concentrating on building my career. Dating is a commitment which needs time. But I know girls love me,” he says with a chuckle.
That said, the comedy industry is not the same as it used to be. The same people who spend their lives making people laugh are now causing their fans to frown.
Ambition and passion, have now been replaced with depression and despair in the Kenyan comedy industry.
In July, top female comedian Zeddy sharply criticised the bigwigs in the industry for allegedly frustrating the upcoming comedians.
Zeddy was particularly critical of one of the brains behind the immensely popular Churchill Show which has, over the years, nurtured many erstwhile unknown comedians to stardom.
Zeddy blamed the show’s creative director, Victor Ber, of frustrating comedians auditioning to appear on the show.
Indeed, these have been very gloomy times for many rib crackers in the country.
Sometime last year, Anthony Njenga, who used to go by the stage name Njenga Mswahili, was found dead on a rail track in Dagoretti.
To date the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.
Then in June 2020, the lifeless body of Joseph Musyoki Kivindu aka Kasee was found by the roadside in Kinoo area.
Zeddy claimed that depression has become the number one killer factor for Kenyan comedians.
“I wish there was a way that the government could shield artistes from exploitation and also offer them ways to get counselling so that their mental health is taken care of. Anyone can be a victim of this,” she said.
“Comedians go through a lot. It’s not always a rainy season for everyone. There should be a way of reaching out to comedians. Right now, there are some famous comedians who are really struggling financially.”
On this subject, Flaqo believes stand-up comedians are the hardest hit.
“I’m not a stand-up comedian and cannot stand on stage and try to make people laugh. I would fail terribly. Stand-up comedians now have to reinvent themselves in creating content for their online audience. This is a big challenge for most of them. I guess that has really built bitterness in people,” he said.
Flaqo’s journey, like most success stories, was full of up and downs. He still vividly remembers how he used to walk from his home to the studio to record music.
“I never used to have fare to go to the studio. At that time I was doing music and I was living in Kisumu. I tried music for a long time but it was not working.”
Flaqo then started doing short videos, and sharing them with his friends. Even as he started getting popular in Kisumu, he was still clueless about which direction his career would lead him. Neither did he have a plan.
Then his phone started ringing with corporate firms seeking him. That’s when he relocated to Nairobi where his star is currently shining bright.
“I look at what I have now and I remember how I used to walk to the studio barely two years ago. Right now I have my own studio in my house where I record my videos. I’m grateful to God.”