In April 2019, a Nigerian comedian uploaded a skit to Instagram that showed a mother rushing to get her daughter to school. The daughter had overslept and missed the school bus.
In the 56-second skit made by the comic, Maryam Apaokagi, popularly known as Taaooma, the daughter realizes halfway through the drive to school that she picked up her lunch box but forget her school bag at home.
The skit was quickly viewed by thousands of Nigerians whom, the comic told CNN, could relate because many parents often have to scold their children.
One day, she woke up to hundreds of new mentions and followers on Instagram. The skit had gone viral. As people shared the skit, the video racked up more than 85,000 views on YouTube, giving Nigerians a glimpse into Akpaokagi’s style of comedy.
Since then, the 21-year-old has become an Instagram sensation in the West African country.
“When I uploaded that particular skit, I didn’t want to see it doing bad so I went off Instagram. It was my boyfriend that let me know the post was doing well, and then that’s when I checked and became excited,” Apaokagi said.
In her videos, the comic plays all the characters in a fictional family of four — Taaoo (herself), Iya Taaoo (her mother), Baba Taaoo (her father), and Tayo (her brother). The names are shorter variations of Apaokagi’s nickname, Taaooma.
Her skits, shot in her home in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, often portray everyday happenings, and mother-daughter conversations in Nigerian homes, making them understandable to the many African audiences.
The accidental comic
Apaokagi says she stumbled upon comedy sketches by chance because her initial plan was to learn video editing. As an undergraduate student, she’d become curious about shooting and editing videos.
“I didn’t even really know about it. I started making comedy skits because I needed some clips for myself to practice editing videos,” she told CNN. “I became interested when I saw my boyfriend editing at the time. He makes music videos for a living so my interest grew and I told him I wanted to learn,” she explained.
She convinced her boyfriend, Abdulaziz Oladimeji, to teach her the basics of video editing.
As she learned more, she needed more footage to master complicated elements of editing such as cloning, and so her short video skits were born.
“My boyfriend was the one that brought up the concept for the characters in the skits. I thought all I needed to do was to stand in front of the camera, but he said I needed more complicated videos to edit so that I’d be really good at it. So he came up with Iya Taaoo and Taaoo concept,” she said.
According to Apaokagi, Oladimeji helped her develop hilarious ideas for her short videos where she played different characters.
While learning, she uploaded her videos on Instagram, “As I edit, as I do a skit, I upload immediately. No matter how the editing is or how it looks like,” she said.
Akpaokagi consistently shared her skits on Instagram until finally one of them, the mother scolding her daughter for missing the school bus, went viral.
The comedian does not shy away from using her skits to comment on social issues.
In response to recent protests across Nigeria demanding urgent action to combat sexual violence against women, Akpaokagi made a skit educating people on rape culture.
In the video, Iya Taaoo, one of her characters is seen advocating for the arrest of an alleged rapist.
“I don’t joke with that,” she said in the video, cautioning a neighbor who made an inappropriate sexual joke to her daughter.
She also posted a skit in March, informing people on how to protect themselves from Covid-19. At the time, Nigeria had started testing citizens for the virus.
In the one-minute video, she tells a neighbor to wear a face mask and avoid touching her face and nose to stay protected from the virus.
On Instagram, the videos get an average of 500,000 views, earning her recognition from some of Nigeria’s most famous stars such as rapper Falz, and footballer, Asisat Oshoala who have reposted her work.
The comic has her sights on Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, which is recognized as the second-largest film producer by volume in the world, and the country’s music industry. Akpaokagi said she hopes to make music videos through Greenade, a production company she cofounded with Oladimeji.
Some of her skits already include music covers. In March, she created a cover of a song by singer Yemi Alade and music legend Angelique Kidjo, “Shekere.”
“I will definitely go into making music, my own music. I am just taking things slowly,” Akpaokagi explained.
Her success, however, seems to be happening anything but slowly.