The first time I watched a one-man-sketch show, or should I say a one-woman-sketch show, and recognized all the scenes from my daily life, is when I watched a show called Little Miss Jocelyn on BBC.
I laughed so much, not just because the show was a comedy show, but because it showcased African characters and our typical habits which sometimes collide with those of the western world: our loud talking, our accents, our sometimes extraordinary ways of driving, you name it. Little Miss Jocelyn is a combination of studio sketches and hidden camera footages with people from the public. Although the show stopped airing in 2008, the scenes are still funny to this day. And if you’re African or you know any Africans, you will definitely relate to this show. The first series of the Little Miss Jocelyn Show was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Comedy Programme.
Jocelyn Jee Esien, or as she prefers to be called: Lil Miss J, is the creator and writer of Little Miss Jocelyn and she plays the leading role. The British actress and comedian is originally from Nigeria. She is best known for her role in 3 Non Blondes, a hidden camera show starring Lil’ miss Jee alongside her colleagues Ninja Benjamin and Tameka Empson which aired on BBC three. In 2006, Lil Miss J took a new route by launching The Little Miss Jocelyn Show of which two seasons were aired worldwide.
The Little Miss Jocelyn show made me wonder where the inspiration for the African characters of the show was drawn from and how Lil Miss J was able to maintain her roles in real life scenarios. We interviewed her for some elaboration.
Little Miss Jocelyn playing an African couple
What do you enjoy more, stand-up comedy or acting?
I love the raw and pureness of stand up as I can literally get things off my chest. I love playing comedy characters because it's like counseling and I get a chance to express what's happening in my life mentally. And I love acting as that's what I always wanted to do when I was growing up (still growing up) and it's what I decided to train for. So I can't choose one!
Little Miss Jocelyn doing stand-up comedy
What has changed in the UK TV industry in the last decade with regard to TV shows fronted by black comedians?
There hasn't been that many shows in the last decade fronted by black comedians - only five including three of mine! But I think there's more of a difference now as other black UK actors are branching off into comedy too and being recognized for that. It's mainly happening in film but I think TV is next.
How was your experience recording 3 non-blondes different from acting in Miss Jocelyn?
The differences recording 3 Non Blondes & LMJ was the fact that 3NB was a stunt show and LMJ was a sketch show with a few stunts. Also I was on my own for LMJ and I had to write the whole show so there was no improvising! LMJ was filmed in front of a live studio audience so I knew immediately if it was funny. But the flavor of comedy in both shows was the same.
How did you create the concept for 3 non-blondes?
I always wanted to do a hidden camera show and contacted production companies. One was interested and then the three of us (we knew each other) got together. It was quite easy coming up with characters as I had so many running around in my head!
Was it difficult for you to get Little Miss Jocelyn commissioned?
I feel very blessed to have been commissioned for LMJ. I realized that wasn't the hard part; the hard work was making and writing the right show. The BBC/director and producers loved all the African characters as they'd never seen them on TV before.
What response did you get to the African characters when you presented your ideas to the commissioning editors?
There was real buzz when my show came out; I remember them playing the trailer 20 times a day, even I got sick of it! But before the show came out, catch phrases were being shouted at me in the street. It was a new thing for everyone including me; it was the 1st time a black female had her own sketch show. Yay!
How did you come up with those particular characters?
I know all those characters, as they are relatives, friends and people I grew up with or people whom I live near and see every day. Sometimes it might just be a word or line I've heard someone say or a walk and that will inspire the character.
Did you notice any difference in response depending on whether the viewer was of African descent or not?
The audience was so diverse that I didn't really notice a difference and I think because it was a new show people were mainly happy to see a black face on TV! But Africans would tell me that they felt as if we were finally being recognized.
One of the characters you play, Fiona, tries to conceal the obvious fact that she is black. How did you come up with this character?
The character Fiona "no one knows I’m black" was a funny social comment on various black women I know or have spoken about who work in a predominantly white environment who feel as if they have to sit on their "blackness". It’s a two way street as most of these women are always treated as if their "culture" is a dirty subject. I see it still happening in the city and I think women do it for survival; it's about trying to be seen as an equal.
You also play a character called Helen, who rubs her buttocks on the floor. Can you explain how that character came about?
Helen "I've got worms" was an idea I had as remembered that's what my dog used to do and I thought it would be funny if I did it as I love physical comedy. People always mention that one and late at night some people do it for me in the street, sometimes I join in!
You announced after the second series that Little Miss Jocelyn would no longer be aired, because people would recognize the hidden camera footages, which would eventually spoil the concept of the show. Will there ever be a third season of Little Miss Jocelyn?
I would love to do a third series of LMJ, people keep asking me so I will!
What can we expect from Jocelyn Jee Esien in the next couple of years?
I would just like to keep doing what I love and make shows that people will watch; it’s so much about viewing figures now so I’ll have to bribe some people.
Little Miss Jocelyn show
Lil Miss J playing in 3 Non Blondes