We have all come across a clip of Flaqo at some point in the social media streets. You might have seen him as Mama Otis, Baba Otis, Otis or Bakari. He might have been dancing, doing a celebrity impression, acting or singing. His talents are so diverse that it would be a disservice to describe him as just one thing.
With thousands of followers spreading across all platforms, he has become famous online very quickly. He credits all his milestones to hard work, careful planning and strategy. The Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University graduate says that he always knew that his future was in comedy and things can only get bigger and better from this point.
Flaqo is a name I was given by my peers back in high school. It is Italian for “Skinny”. I was very skinny back then and my friends liked to make fun of how clean and neat I was. So that is basically where that name came from, but my official name is Erastus Ayego Otieno and I am 24.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and bred in Kisumu. I have lived there all my life and I just relocated to Nairobi two months ago. I am the firstborn in a family of three. My younger brother is 23 and my sister is 15. I was in St. Mary’s High school Yala then later went Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University where I pursued Public Health completing the course in 2018.
Did you have any aspirations of having a career in the health sector?
I did that course just to get the papers actually. All through I knew that I wanted to be an entertainer. The only difference was that I was quite reserved in school, so I never used to participate in co-curricular activities such as drama and music. It is only after finishing campus that I started posting clips and introducing my content to people. Before that, I would just come up with concepts in mind and not act them out.
Watching your videos, one would not think you are reserved.
I am quite reserved even now. I prefer to keep to myself and I tend to be really focused on what I am doing. People who know me may say I am introverted or anti-social but I just prefer to have my own space sometimes. The characters you see online on the videos are very different from my personality.
How would you describe what you do?
I am very much a jack of all trades. I sing, dance, write scripts, direct, do comedy, create content; let’s just say I am an entertainer in every sense of the word.
How was it for you when you started this journey?
I went into comedy right after finishing school. I struggled a bit to find subscribers, the plan was to go on a campus tour; hostel to hostel to look for subscribers. Before I could embark on that trip I had already gone viral.
Had you pre-planned the concept of what you wanted to do or is this something that developed over time?
I had carefully planned what I was going to do. It was a step by step kind of plan and my only hope was that it could work out. I am such a big planner that even what I am doing now is part of a plan that I had made a while back. My scripts are also planned to the smallest detail, it is just how I am. If you ask me what I will post in the next month or two months, I will tell you because all that information has already been documented.
My first big break came when I landed an influencer job with Airtel. Before then I had worked with other brands but Airtel was the first big company that I worked with and that was really awesome. After doing the Airtel job I had to come to Nairobi because as an influencer, sometimes you are required by the client to avail yourself within short notice to discuss terms.
You were a young man from Kisumu, where did you learn the ins and outs of influencing as a business?
Seth gor is a very close friend of mine, he was the one who showed me the ropes and held my hand as I was starting. Seth taught me how to price my services, how to deal with customers and also to understand my worth. So far I have been lucky because I haven’t encountered a troublesome client who has short-changed me. I might have made a few mistakes here and there but it is always a learning process.
How did your parents feel about you putting your degree aside to do comedy?
They weren’t very supportive in the beginning because they had other expectations for me. I sat them down and told them my truth, that entertainment was how I was going to leave a mark on the world. Deep in my heart, I knew that this was always what I was meant to do. As expected, they were a bit sceptical but luckily, it did not take long for me to prove to them that this was my path.
Take us through your creative process
A lot of planning takes place before I even begin to write the script. A mental picture already exists on how the video will look like, the caption I will use and the time it will be posted. After the mental picture, I write the script in detail to the smallest specifics like if there is a pause, it must be stated clearly how long it will last. After that, I start shooting. The process of shooting and editing takes a lot of time. It could take me an entire day to put together a two-minute clip. The process is quite long, mainly because I am very precise and each clip, I present must be the closest thing to perfection.
Tell us about the characters that you play. Were they planned, or did they develop with time?
All the characters you see are as a result of very careful planning and strategy. Each character has helped the other grow and it is essential that all the characters work together to achieve success. After introducing the mum character, people really related to it but to really push it, I did the celebrity impressions which propelled my content to different audiences. Shortly after, I introduced the dad, Otis has always been the main character but there are some supporting acts that join in. Like I said, however, nothing you see is spontaneous, all characters and scripts are created in advance.
Are there similarities between the characters you play and your real parents?
There are many similarities between the characters and my parents. Baba Otis is a collection of different personalities with unique behaviours that I found interesting. The voice, for instance, is an imitation of my former principal, the hand movements are from a friend’s father, some words are from my own father so it’s like a concoction of different personalities, the same goes for mama Otis as well. I think it is this variety of behaviours that make the characters so relatable because you can see a little bit of your own mother in Mama Otis. It is never just one person I borrow from. I draw inspiration from anyone that I find interesting and funny.
This sounds like a lot of work; do you have time to do other things besides creating content?
I hardly have time to do other things because my work is so involving. I feel like I am just beginning to scratch the surface so I need to really invest my time into being creative before it can be something that stands on its own. When I am not busy scripting for mama Otis, I engage in other things like directing commercials for brands, writing scripts and preparing for movie roles. The good thing is that everything I am involved in right now is in the entertainment realm, so I do not struggle too much to get them done. At this point I have had to come up with a timetable which directs me on the things I need to do and at what time so that I don’t get too overwhelmed or focus too much on one thing while neglecting the other. I have dedicated time for social media, leisure, working on opportunities and basically everything else that I need to do.
Do you ever find yourself veering off into one of your characters on an ordinary day?
It is hard to do so because there is a lot of consciousness that goes into getting in and out of character. Characters like Mama Otis are so different from who I am in real life so that would be difficult. Otis maybe, sometimes I will be just going about my business, do something and realize that that is something Otis would have done.
For those people thinking about getting into the industry, what advice would you give them?
I will answer that question with an example. A lot of content creators is will try something and instantly go viral, only to slowly fade away, because most of them do not have concrete plans. Planning for the future is very important in every aspect of a person’s life. Be ten steps ahead of where you are right now, that way, you won’t struggle to move forward because you already know the path you are on and what you need to do reach your destination.
What does your ten-step plan look like?
The plan is already written down and the endgame will be something shocking that will take everyone by surprise. I can’t say what it is because that will ruin the surprise, but I am in the process of planning and developing something really big. If people are overwhelmed by what I am doing right now, I cannot wait to see how they react to what I have in store.
So what do you do for fun?
Lately, I don’t have a lot of time for leisure and hobbies because of work but when I clear up some time in my schedule, I enjoy watching movies because that is where I get most of my inspiration from. I don’t go out often because like I said, I like keeping to myself. I know people probably think that I am always out having a good time but my idea of fun is just a quiet night and a good movie.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.