My parents were both born in Nigeria, and they moved here in 1980. I’m pretty sure my dad settled on Huntsville because of the criminal justice department and SHSU. My dad worked at TDCJ as a prison guard while he was studying at Sam Houston and got his PhD; then he became a counselor at the prison. He was there for years, and my mom still works at TDCJ as a medication aide.
It’s something I’ve known I was good at and had an affinity for since I was younger. In high school, I started taking more creative writing classes, joined the newspaper, and eventually became an editor of the newspaper. I did UIL in high school and was in feature writing and headline writing. I was excelling in that and got into Syracuse University, which has a pretty good journalism program. I don’t think my parents really understood it, but they were like, “Oh, she’s going to a really good school; maybe she’ll decide to be a lawyer at some point, but let’s let her do this thing for now.”
I’ve actually always found it much easier to write things that are funny rather than dramatic. I feel like anytime I try to write something dramatic, it always ends up having like a fart joke or something in it. Growing up, I watched a lot of sitcoms, like The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, and Good Times. They’re what made me fall in love with TV and want to get involved with it in the first place.
When I was a senior in Syracuse, I applied for USC and miraculously got in. I moved right after college to L.A. and did that program for two years. Near the end of the program, they put the pressure on you to have good samples, something to show that you are funny, that you’re a good writer. So, I took it into my own hands to create this web-series called Sigh that I felt was representative of who I was as a person and my sense of humor. I had always been a fan of Issa Rae, who had a web series called Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. She really showed me it is possible to just make your own thing.
I was hoping it would just help me get a job or be a good sample that was stronger than the scripts I had written. I was still pretty much starting out and learning how to write at that point, so the fact that people really connected to it and found it really funny was surprising; but it gave me a lot of confidence. It actually made it to Austin Film Festival, which is not an easy festival to get into. It premiered there and got a lot of good response.
It helped me get a manager and an agent and the opportunity to start pitching another project around town. It was something I had written in school that was based on my life. I started going to different networks trying to sell it. The next year or so of my life was just going into rooms and being told “no” until I was able to get a job as a showrunner’s assistant on a TV show called Berlin Station. I was still pitching this concept for a Nigerian TV show to CBS, probably a week after I’d seen an article that CBS had just bought Bob Hearts Abishola. I still went in, I pitched my show, I did my best, and of course, they didn’t buy it. About a month later, I got an email from one of the TV executives at CBS, and they remembered I’d pitched a Nigerian show and thought I would be great for Bob Hearts Abishola. That led to a meeting with the showrunner, and it got me a job.
I love getting to talk about Nigerian culture. My parents really did not understand what I’d been doing for most of my life – they knew that I was going to some journalism school and writing – but now that they can see a show that’s about people like them, people who talk like them, and they get to see their culture on screen. They understand what I do now, and it’s really cool. My dad was like, “I’m so glad that people can see what Nigerians are really like, and why we act the way we do, and why we are so successful in this country.” He’s very proud of it, and I’m glad he thinks it’s authentic. They’re also often critical in a way that Nigerians are, just offhandedly. My mom is like, “That episode was good, but next time you should try to make it funny.” Like “Oh, on a comedy? We never thought of that.”
Now it’s a little different, because we often work on Zoom. If it’s a day where we’re shooting, it might be us watching from our computers the feed of them shooting the show on the lot and remotely. If a scene needs a new joke, we’ll be texting our boss a different line for a joke or something like that. It could be us watching a table read of a show – which is whenever they first get the script and read through it – and after that, we take the notes of what jokes worked and what jokes didn’t work, and we get on Zoom together and rewrite it. It’s kind of crazy how much we’re able to do from home.
I’m really enjoying it and feel blessed to have this kind of job. All day I just make jokes and come up with stories about fictional characters, so it’s a great job to have. Also, I’m one of the few Nigerian people in the room, so it’s nice that I have this expertise that comes from my life that I’m able to contribute to the show. The show is so amazing, and the stories we write are so funny and heartwarming. It’s great to be a part of this kind of team.
I would love to continue to tell my own story. I’m grateful there’s a little piece of my story that I get to incorporate into the show, but there are so many more stories that I want to tell – you know, about being a Nigerian American, about being a black woman, about my time in college, about my time in L.A. I think every experience I have sparks a new story that I, as a writer, definitely want to explore and tell. I would love to have a long career where I’m continuing to tell diverse stories we really haven’t seen before. I feel like, as a part of Bob Hearts Abishola, I’m part of something revolutionary in TV, because we haven’t seen many depictions of Nigerians or immigrants. I’m so thankful to kind of be breaking ground with that.
Ibet said she would love to give back to the Huntsville Community in some way in the future. She thanks her journalism and creative writing teachers for showing her she can explore the arts in a small town. Season 3 of Bob Hearts Abishola premiered on Sept.20. Be sure to tune in to CBS, Monday nights at 7:30 PM, Central.