Funke Akindele isn’t a self-declared comedian and yet she is funny – perhaps only when channelling the persona of her signature character Jenifa in non-TV dialogues. There’s a sense that Funke Akindele is more of Jenifa than the Funke Akindele with the nice, little, cultivated air, hopscotching between paparazzi-ready red carpet poses and quick-feed, tabloid sensationalism. You would probably see her stepping out of the cooling interior of whatever posh automobile celebrities drive these days, to patronise street-corner roasted corn or plantain, and doing so with marginally little self-awareness.
With a career that started in the late ’90s, Akindele is the TV sweetheart that transitioned and evolved too quickly. Or maybe we weren’t just paying attention. So here are three career-defining TV shows of hers to get you started.
I Need To Know
Eager to thrust herself into acting, Funke Akindele was among the overaged, mischief-making teenagers in the UNFPA-sponsored TV series I Need To Know, teenagers who arguably started the trend that had matured adults squashed into high school uniforms and acting like cool kids. Akindele, 22 then, almost didn’t get the role of Bisi because the director didn’t think she had that teenage angst.
Aired on NTA, the show was immersive, opening up conversations about sexual reproductive health and young people. It was pleasantly provocative, an insightful, cultural probe into the hermetically-sealed lives of the youth demographic. If you didn’t watch Bisi and her friends (Hauwa, May, & co) talk about boys and sex in their school cafeteria, drinking orange-coloured drinks and punctuating the air with girly giggles, then you missed out. I Need To Know, even as Akindele’s most noticeable work at the time, wasn’t the best conduit for her acting skills. But it was enough to give her the visibility she wanted, easing her into small acting roles in the post-I Need To know years. As her co-actors on the show relatively disappeared into TV oblivion, Akindele flirted with Nollywood.
Before Jenifa’s Diary, there was the 2008 comedy-drama film Jenifa, which starred Funke Akindele as the titular, crowd-pleasing character. She would later go ahead to surf on the robust popularity of Jenifa and dip into the character’s personality and Yoruba-inflected, scattershot speeches. As part of the Jenifa franchise, Jenifa’s Diary had a now-I-have-been-established Funke Akindele. Comfortable in her role, Akindele never lost touch with the show’s execution of a newly-polished, contemporary Jenifa that invoked a nostalgia for the original film.
In London, 2009, JJC Skillz had a dream for a music TV show which he titled Tunnel Vision. With a pilot and a London-based cast, Tunnel Vision went ahead to be unsuccessful. Another shot at it in 2013 produced the same result. Upon meeting Funke Akindele
and taking her out on dates, his idea for Tunnel Vision, with a little tweaking from her, morphed into Industreet.
As the show’s producer, Funke Akindele gets cameos and her role shakes off the scales of her much-recognised, Jenifa identity. At large, Akindele utilises Industreet as an exposé on the Nigerian music industry, excavating truths whilst being entertainment-oriented. With the first episode released last week, Funke Akindele has positioned herself as a serious-minded professional. And with the grace to carry it through.