Ok, so if you don’t already know the “Oga at the top” gist, here’s the story. (For those already “in the know” skip to the third paragraph.) In early March, 2013, a high ranking official from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Lagos, visits Channels Television studios for an interview. At some point he is asked what the NSCDC’s website address is. Now, the official doesn’t know the address and I guess he figures it will be too embarrassing to expose his cluelessness, I don’t know. But he tries to play smart and rigmarole his way around the answer and what ensues is 1 minute 9 seconds of sheer and utter hilarity!

The debacle quickly went viral in Nigeria. Trending on Twitter, posts all over Facebook and Linkedin (just kidding, nobody uses Linkedin – calm down Linkedin people, na joke, ah!), people made memes out of it, and quips and commentary pervaded Blackberry messenger dp’s and pm’s. Some even made T-shirts bearing the now-legendary phrase: “my Oga at the top“. (I need one of those T’s, ASAP.)

While viewing the video for the 1, 236, 853rd time the realization hit me: THIS, IS A COMEDIC MASTERPIECE! This is a level of performance comic actors spend their entire careers striving to attain. So I thought, why not do an analysis of it from the actor’s perspective; examining how the drama hives many open secrets Nigerian actors can learn a thing or two from. And thus I set to work!

What you’ll find below is part analytical and part instructional. I have chosen to treat the video like a piece of FICTIONAL ART. I regard it as a sketch deliberately acted out. In NO WAY WHATSOEVER is this as an addition to the vast E-literature of mockery and fun-poking as regards the incident. (Though the humorous nature of the darn thing makes that nigh impossible.) Despite being a “comedy” the principles evaluated here are applicable to the art of acting as a whole.

Here’s the video, which I suggest you watch again even if you’ve seen it a gazillion times.

Ok, first let’s give the thing structure. I have chosen a two-part structure with basic story features. The whole thing occurs in just about a minute so structural sections only last for seconds.

STRUCTURE
1st part: 0:01 – 0:28. From “What is the website of the NSCDC?” to the first mention of “my Oga at the top“. We begin right at the inciting incident (which serves as a sort of ‘false exposition/set-up’) and develop to the complication.

2nd part: 0:29 – 1:09. This takes us through the furtherance of the complication, builds to the climax (where he says the website address) and wraps up with a 3 second resolution.

STRUCTURAL BREAKDOWN IN SECONDS
False exposition/set-up and inciting incident: 0:01 to 0:05
Rising action 0:06 to 0:30
Complication (and its continuance) 0:31 to 0:50
Climax 0:51 to 1:04
Resolution 1:05 to 1:08

Ok, now that we have the skeletal system of the thing, lets attach muscle and sinew to vital areas. The areas I cover are: subtext, timing & delivery, facial expressions & gestures.

SUBTEXT
At the humorous heart of what makes this… short-film pump with such unrelenting vivacity is the subtext. In case you don’t know what subtext is, here’s a basic definition from Wikipedia:

Subtext: content of a book, play, film, or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. (Ps: if you’re a career actor and you don’t know what subtext is, quit your job!)

Now, we know our hero – let’s call him: “Di Commandant” – we know Di Commandant doesn’t know the website address. In about 6 seconds we suspect and in 12 it’s obvious (if you have a very keen ear it’s actually obvious in 4 seconds). We all know say him nor sabi di thing but he tries so hard to keep up the act. Even before pressure is mounted on him, he begins to crack, stammering and clearing his suddenly dry throat. He knows he’s screwed, we know he’s screwed, but this state of screwedness is not announced explicitly. The audience figures it out and follows the actors as their characters decode it and react at appropriately different levels. This undertone of UNSPOKEN DOOM makes the scene work so so well.

Another layer to the subtext is Di Commandant’s defensiveness. Take into account that he was already under pressure from the rapid-fire questions preceding the scene. (See other portions of the interview here.) Immediately he’s asked about the website address he realizes he is cornered. He starts clawing and scratching for survival. The actor understands this and plays up the character’s defensiveness to just the right level, whereby it becomes absurd because all this fuss is being made over something as simple as… a website address.

Again, all of this is never articulated blandly. It is happening at the sub level, the dermis layer of acting. Were any of these hidden obviousities (ya, I know that’s not a word) to be openly stated the scene would instantly lose it’s impact, the same way a verbal joke loses potency when it is explained instead of told. The actors have a perfect grasp on the subtext and they expertly adjust their physical and vocal levels to hide the obviousities. (That’s ma nu word right thurr!)

Also worthy of note is the fact that the script writer wisely avoids lines like: “Are you confused?” “Are you sure you know the address?” “Look, I know what I am saying!” “Who told you I don’t know it?” Such dialogue would have robbed the scene of its richness. Rather, this dexterous pen-smith of classic comedy encodes the script with the essential subtext for the actors to decode and execute.

TIMING & DELIVERY
Every speaking actor in this scene delivers his/her lines perfectly – such a talented cast. The beats are observed to perfection, creating an overall ambience of confusion, yet contrasting the composure of the reporters with the nervous-wreck state of mind of Di Commandant. 4 to 7 seconds in and Di Commandant’s delivery is already quivering with audible sensations of “sh*t I’m f%!@#d“. His unfinished sentences, and jumpy speech pattern are punctuated with punch-like pauses. Add to this a vocal tone that says: “See, I know what I’m talking about oh“, and you have a cracking, rib-decimating performance of a dear clueless fellow who is not smart enough for his too-smart self. Great acting!

The actors playing reporters maintain a level vocal tone needed for Di Commandant to execute his role. They time and deliver their lines with great delicacy such that they are equally confused but not distracting us from Di Commandants confusion – because that is the FOCUS. Notice that though everyone in the scene is confused they are not all SHOUTING. (Crap! I just used “confused” 3 times in 2 sentences. Where the hell is that thesaurus?)

FACIAL EXPRESSIONS & GESTURES
This is perhaps where the entire cast exhibits its skill at its finest. Again the contrast of composure (from the reporters) with nervousness (from Di Commandant) is vital. Notice how the reporters’ facial expressions are understated, not as emphatic as Di Commandants. Notice how the reporters sit in upright positions and almost never move their bodies; contrast this with Di Commandant’s frequent shuffling, especially of his upper body. Also observe how the reporters’ arms never go above shoulder level, whereas Di Commandant’s arms are often almost at face level, and sometimes higher. (Like when he gestures to say “my Oga at the top”.) This makes Di Commandant, with his stomping gestures, come off as erratic, disorganized, uncertain.

The finishing moves for me are at two close points.
1) The way he relaxes his body right before he delivers the line: “that’s all”.
2) The quick glance he gives one of the reporters immediately after the “that’s all” line. That look is priceless! I bet he practiced for ceaseless hours in front of a mirror just to perfect it.

CONCLUSION
As stated earlier, this classic skit holds many open secrets to fine acting. If only Nollywood could give us more scenes as expertly executed as this – popcorn go dey finish for cinema. The Nigerian actor can benefit from a critical study of this video, just as everyday situations are “real-time acting lessons”.

I have touched only the surface of a few basic areas of the art and I encourage all you dedicated actors out there to always dig deep into the discovery of more.

A FEW TIPS

Subtext: Study subtext. Understand subtext. Master subtext. Even if e give you headache. You can’t seriously call yourself an actor if you don’t understand subtext.

Balance: Always seek to give a scene the right balance. Who is the focus of this scene? Where does my character fall in in terms of focus? Do I need to play up or play down? What are the various levels? And on and on and on… (Notice how in the video the reporters let Di Commandant have the scene and don’t struggle for it with him, yet they still give brilliant performances.)

DON’T BE A SCENE THIEF: (Barawo like you!) It is unethical, ruins potentially great scenes (especially for stage plays) and really is just the mark of a desperate and greedy actor.

Over exaggeration: (Yeah, I’m hyperbolic like that!) give every scene the level it needs, nothing more, nothing less. Screen actors beware of butchering your viewers with bulging eye expressions, forceful facial contortions and “hey, look at me I’m acting!” type gestures and movements.

Voice: this is a tough one because of how intricate voice and speech is in acting, especially for we in Naija who have various mother-tongues. But for now I’ll just say, record your lines and play them back to your hearing. Then at least TRY to assess yourself honestly.

Well, that’s all, folks! Acting is a beautiful art, respect it by giving nothing less than your best effort. If you enjoyed my analysis please share the post with family and friends who have interest in acting. If you didn’t enjoy it, well… so… (coughs) that’s all. Astalavista!

Ps: my favourite part of the video is 0:42 – 0:48 where the reporter with the red tie looks at the other male reporter then slowly turns to look at Di Commandant. It’s like he’s saying in his mind: “da f%@k is this guy talking about!!!”

(If you have any cool observations from the video and would like to share leave a comment.)

About the writer (This is where I talk about myself in 3rd person)
Africa Ukoh (@Pensage) is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, a stage director and concept consultant. He works with writers, actors, directors and other creative artists, providing key and insightful contributions to the development of their skills and projects. You can check out some of his work here, here, and here. He is a co-founder of African Renaissance Theatre & Ent. (A.R.T). A new arts movement based in Nigeria. You can can find out about A.R.T here and here. He is currently working on the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House project, and you can find out about that here.

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