Wilfred Okiche: How I learned that ‘Just be yourself’ is a pile of (expletive) [NEW VOICES]

by Wilfred Okiche

Sometime last year I was invited to work on a television production. It wasn’t the first time I had been on TV but it was the first time I was required to do some actual hosting. Prior experiences were largely restricted to “social commentator” appearances where I and a couple of strangers just talked about whatever topic was chosen for us.

I spoke with a couple of friends who should know for pointers on how to behave and the general sum of the responses I got was a simple “just be yourself.”

As if there was any other way I could have been.

“Just be yourself” has become the choice new buzzword, the simple self-help answer to every personality problem. Just be yourself and the world settles around you. For you.

As if.

I was myself and it turns out that myself is not a very interesting place to be for television. Thinking myself self-sufficient with a decent script and a sharp train of thought, I went on air prepared to talk, but unprepared to host. Or engage.

The reviews came in almost immediately. “Why is your head bent?” “You sound so dull.” “Can you not make your segment a little more interesting?” “Are you really this boring or are you just trying hard to bore us?’” Even Nollywood’s own aunty Mealdred Okwo advised that I create a character for myself- someone definitely more interesting, that people would actually care to watch.

I took them to heart, fancied myself the next John Stewart and began to study the masters of the craft. I also began to read up on these guys (and gals) and started to learn what made them good at their game.

It thus dawned on me that Stephen Colbert’s acclaimed act is as much a triumph of acting as it is of hosting. David Letterman’s grouchy, reluctant old man act during his reign on night time TV was partly himself, but it was also a carefully constructed act he learnt to put on over the years. And Whoopi Goldberg on The View? Surely the show’s loosely structured we-are-just-having-a-conversation format is well suited to her darkly comic musings on the world.

Bringing it home a bit, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu isn’t exactly the same person on EbonyLife TV’s The Spot and Rubbin’ Minds, although there is a case to be made for his easy casualness seeping through whatever he does.

Point is, there is a place for a journalist/television host’s persona, but more importantly as in many other spheres of life, there is the role of the manufactured persona, a product of hard work, strategy and consistency. Natural ability is cool and it would be an ideal world if we all had that but as evidence consistently shows; from corporate environments to pop stars reaching for legendary status, well positioned strategy, coupled with the drudgery of practice, is likely to trump the initial excitement of raw talent.

I put in hours of practice, sessions of rehearsals ahead of the project’s second season and it seems to be paying off. Even if I say so myself. The poise is more relaxed, confidence is better and viewers must feel less inclined to change the channel whenever I appear. Hardly in the realm of Anderson Cooper but change they say, is a process.

But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Africana Literati airs 11am, Saturdays on Africa Magic Family Dstv channel 154 and GOtv channel 2.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Medic. Writer. Reader. Critic. Occasional ruffler of feathers. Works in a health centre in Lagos but manages to find the time to pursue other interests. His writing has appeared on various print and online platforms. He has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and appears on the culture tv show, Africana Literati. He tweets @drwill20

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