LAKE STEVENS — Instead of live from New York, it’s live from Mom and Dad’s basement in Lake Stevens.
On stage is Josh Otusanya, 27, a TikTok star with 5.4 million followers.
What’s up with that?
The pandemic forced Otusanya, an aspiring N.Y.C. comedian, to come home and reinvent himself.
He makes inspirational videos with a mix of seriousness and stand-up comedy. In a crisp, friendly voice, he delivers life hacks such as “Tricks to make someone like you” and “Signs someone is a fake friend.”
He often starts out with “Bro” and plays two characters with a back-and-forth with himself. He adds his signature boisterous laugh at the end.
Otusanya, a Lake Stevens High School soccer standout, went to Bradley University in Illinois to play with hopes of making a professional team. A pulled hamstring and knee surgery as a freshman dashed those dreams.
“Soccer was always my thing, but I was always making people laugh and cracking jokes in class,” he said.
He didn’t plan to make a career of it until he saw a show by comedian Godfrey C. Danchimah Jr. (known simply as Godfrey) at his college. Both men are first-generation Nigerian Americans.
”All the jokes were relatable,” Otusanya said. “Everybody said, ‘Josh, you have to try comedy.’”
He started doing stand-up. After college, he moved to downtown Chicago and dug into it.
“I did improv comedy at The Second City in Chicago, which is where a lot of popular faces and names went, like Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell,” he said. “I ran a show at Laugh Factory in Chicago, a regular monthly show, I performed overseas in Scotland. I felt like I should go to New York, chase these dreams.”
He ran a comedy show in New York.
“I was trying to make things happen, taking all kinds of rejections and auditions,” he said.
Then came COVID-19.
New York was hit hard. Comedy venues shut down. He was quarantined in a tiny apartment with roommates.
“I came back to Lake Stevens to make as much content as possible,” he said.
Before that, Otusanya, the oldest of four children, had only returned home for brief holiday visits since he left for college 2,000 miles away at age 17. His siblings also live at home.
There isn’t really anything funny about living under your parents’ roof when you’re 27 and worldly, but Otusanya sees the humor in it. He plans to use it in routines when he goes back to New York.
“When this pandemic ends, we have to kind of address it,” he said. “I am definitely getting some good material.”
He also has a day job in sales, working remotely for an employment company.
For his TikToks, Otusanya researches the topic and writes a script.
“Random advice that can save your life” includes tips such as what to do if you smell gas in the house and why it’s a bad idea to ride with your feet on the dash.
In “Weird things that make you more attractive,” he says: “Your brain doesn’t know the difference between attraction and fear. So go on a date and ride a rollercoaster. The rush you get makes you more attracted to each other.”
The popularity of his TikToks surprised him.
In June, he had 100,000 followers at tiktok.com/@joshotusanya.
“In August it exploded to the first million,” he said.
He bounces off ideas with family members, and at times ropes them in.
One of his top TikToks was a random clip with his dad, Yinka, who works from home in the next room and was a convenient target.
“The reason why it worked so well was that his reaction was completely authentic. It wasn’t planned or scripted,” Otusanya said. “It was a prank video that if you whisper to people often times they will whisper back. I saw my dad just hanging out so I whispered to him and that organic reaction is what made the video blow up.”
“He borrows my phone all the time,” his good-natured dad said. “I’m glad he is back.”
Otusanya has nearly half a million followers on Instagram.com/josh.otusanya.
His Instagrams caught the attention of recruiters for Netflix’s “The Circle,” a hit reality show with a $100,000 prize. Contestants play themselves or “catfish” by taking on another identity. They interact only through social media for two weeks while isolated in their own rooms in an apartment building in England.
He auditioned and didn’t make the final cut for the recent season, but he expects to be given another shot.
If so, he would be the second local person on “The Circle.” Lisa Delcampo, 42, who hails from Everett, was on season 2. She was featured in this What’s Up space two weeks ago, before the season ended on May 9.
Delcampo, who lives in Los Angeles, entered the show catfishing as her boss, Lance Bass of NSYNC fame. She’s his longtime personal assistant. She didn’t win the prize, but she was a fan favorite and became somewhat of a celebrity herself.
Delcampo often visits Everett and plans to return for good someday.
As for Otusanya, he’s eager to return to the big stage. He’s grateful for the time he is able to spend with his family, where his next viral video may be just a whisper away.