Unpacking The Comedic Gold Of Don’t Jealous Me

Words: Yemi Abiade

For a long time, my perception of British comedy has been dominated by two fields. The first is the more mainstream, prime-time, Showtime at the Apollo types like Michael McIntyre, Lee Evans, Frankie Boyle, who are all national, well-known white faces visible to the public each week via Mock The Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats and other used-to-be-funny TV shows. The second, the underground online milieu made visible by Richard Blackwood, Eddie Kadi and others, were instantly funnier, because they spoke to a community that was fairly underrepresented in that world. Despite their efforts, I was seeking out for more, for someone who broke the traditional mode of stand-up comedy with a novel approach that separated them from the norm. Enter Tolulope Ogunmefun, better known as Don’t Jealous Me, who has transcended both sides of the comedy coin to become an international name.

The Hackney-born comedian with electric charisma and endearing likability has been in the collective field of black comedy in the UK, one way or another, for over a decade, continuing to show growth and adaptive qualities to the changing mediums through which we consume comedy. When having a YouTube channel was all the rage, DJM was leading the pack with scolding, colorful and altogether unique critiques on traits of everyday life, all from the perspective of a fresh immigrant from Nigeria, racking up millions of views and becoming a viral sensation. As YouTube’s nadir was replaced by social vectors like Twitter and Instagram, he was front and centre, operating under the new constraints of 140 characters and 60-second videos to entertain us in more concise, streamlined ways—all in his now-famous Nigerian accent that is just as synonymous as the man himself, and that many have replicated but don’t measure up in terms of quality.

It was at the tail end of 2008 when I first encountered one of his videos. This was still the era of the FOB (Fresh Off The Boat), where kids with an accent, newly immigrated from Naij, were the subject of fascination and ridicule. Don’t Jealous Me, with his hilarious exaggerations of the accent, jabbing people who mispronounced his name, women with unrealistic expectations of relationships and online haters of his mere presence, instantly made the spiel his defining feature because he made me, a Nigerian born and bred in Britain, appreciate the endless well of trials, tribulations and comedic spins that come with being a Nigerian immigrant. Imagine my shock when I realised he didn’t actually have an accent and spoke just like me! Despite this, his quality never wavered because his comedy spoke to my community in particular; most Nigerians have a family member like him or have encountered someone as eccentric as him in their time, something that made him so relatable. His response to OG Niki’s now-infamous freestyle is a particular standout, moulding together his great comedic timing, flair for imaginative cusses and classic facial expressions.

His original run in late 2008 and early 2009 allowed DJM to enter the 2010s with ease, dropping endless parodies of tracks from Krept & Konan to Dej Loaf, shapeshifting into the menacing (and wham!) Big Rick, and the time he was held hostage by a vindictive woman. Later taking the DJM brand to Instagram, he still provides bite-sized moments of comedy gold on a regular basis—on topics such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas and the trending topic of the day—all while switching from his English to Nigerian accent, almost at a whim.

By the beginning of the 2010s, DJM was part of a new generation of internet comedian—a class that included Arnold Jorge, Jazzie, A Dot Comedian and more—who redefined what it meant to be a black entertainer in the UK. He was, arguably, the heartbeat of that era, collaborating in skits with pretty much all of his peers but evolving out of it on an upward trajectory towards greater things. Don’t Jealous Me has proven shrewd, showing that his then-niche material hasn’t pigeonholed him, and he has been able to tour the world telling jokes, secure significant acting roles on Sky One (Sick Note), Channel 4 (Hang Ups) and BBC (Man Like Mobeen), and make his film debut in 2018 in the Idris Elba-directed Yardie. Let’s also not forget that he’s become an author of his own children’s book series, The Frog and his Dancing Shoes. All of these steps have made him that bit more multi-dimensional as an entertainer. The man has marketed his likeness to the absolute maximum and evolved from a household name in the online community to one on the silver screen and the world of books. More and more we see Don’t Jealous Me being stripped away and Tolulope coming to the surface, and that he has been able to do this without compromising himself or his art is a victory for black British comedy at large.

Ultimately, his success doesn’t get the acknowledgment and credit it deserves, but it is appropriate to give flowers to a true pioneer while they can still smell them. Emerging at a time when kids with Nigerian accents weren’t considered cool, Don’t Jealous Me flipped that on its head and became a source of comic relief to identify with black people and open up the Nigerian or wider African experience to a bigger audience. Unproblematic and endlessly funny, Tolulope Ogunmefun has made one of the most impressive transitions from underground to mainstream star that black Britain has seen in over a decade. The current landscape of internet comedy in this country is indebted to him.

Posted on January 31, 2019