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Putting his spin on TV talk

The pressure's on to keep the host of 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' in a dancing mood, but this DJ is up to the job.

January 08, 2006|Susan King

Tony Okungbowa

DJ and actor

Current assignment: The syndicated "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The Nigerian-born, London-raised DJ spins the music DeGeneres dances to on the way to the chair and that heralds guests' arrivals, and banters with the host.

Other credits: Played music on the sets of celebrity fashion shoots as well as at events and clubs. As an actor, he has appeared on "The X Files" and "NYPD Blue."

Choosing the songs for "Ellen": "It's a little bit of everything really. There is no real formula. I have an awful lot of music with me at the time, and depending on what I am using it for, that's what comes into play. If I am choosing guests' walk-on music, then I try and be a little clever with it and try to do something about what they are promoting or who they are. We had Hugh Laurie on and he is promoting 'House' and he's also English, so -- Do you remember a band called Madness? They had a track called 'Our House' -- things like that. We try to be clever with it.

"I may let a track play if the audience is really into it, or I might mix it up a bit, like a minute of one song and a minute of another. When Ellen dances it is always one song. It is different each show. I also play [before the show] and get the audience dancing and singing along. Seriously, it is an experience one has to witness. My friends have come down to the show to visit once in a while and they'll go, 'This is like a nightclub.' It is really like that.

"It is pioneering, but in Europe, DJs are really big. In America, only the people in the know in the major cities, which tend to be the youth, know of the DJ culture. In America, this is the first time the DJ culture -- a DJ -- has been put in the psyche of even your mother."

Clearing the songs: "I submit what I [want to play] to the clearance manager and they take care of it."

Moonlighting: "I do mostly events. The problem with nightclubs is that it's tiring. If I do a nightclub and it's not on the weekend, by the time I get to work the next day I am like 'Ahhh.' You know what I mean. And the job [on 'Ellen'] is also about -- for want of a better definition -- being a personality. If the camera comes to you and you are not energized and not on, the crowd feels that, and the audience. We try to give people one hour of fun to forget about their troubles and have a good time. That is part of my job.

"At events, nine times out of 10 I pick what I want to play, but I also want to know the crowd. I will ask, 'What is the crowd like that you are throwing this event for?' And they will say '35- to 50-year-old investment bankers,' and that gives me an idea of what's going on. I have done a plethora of events like food and wine magazines to the Oscars and the Grammys, and you do what you do by looking at the crowd and sizing it up."

Records versus CDs: "I am a vinyl junkie. I like the feel and the sound of vinyl."

Background: "Growing up, I always wanted to be a musician, I didn't have the discipline. So the next best thing to me was being a DJ. I just love music -- it is something I use in my acting and my everyday life. It is an incredible thing for me. I started collecting music and playing it and the performance element of it -- my first love is acting -- combines both of my loves really. You are performing to people and making them happy and entertaining them, and at the same time you're entertaining yourself with music.

"I have been in America since 1992, when I came to do post-graduate [work] at Lee Strasberg Studios in New York, and then I moved to Los Angeles in 1998. I go home [to London] an awful lot, which is a big saving grace for me. Most of my family is there. I used to go back a lot more before I started the show.

"I met Ellen on a photo shoot. It was a few days before the [talk show] started. It was very fast. I came in for a test show, and it worked out really nicely."

Age: 38

Resides: The Eastside of Los Angeles

Union or Guild: Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists

Salary: "I am not a good yardstick to measure from because when people book me, they don't just book me because I am a DJ. They book me because I am a bit of a television personality. I do well. I am definitely not complaining about that, but I don't want it to be misleading."

Acting: "I do try to do acting, more so now as time goes on. I was offered a role in the movie 'Poseidon,' but a couple of things fell through. I have to believe it wasn't meant to be. I don't do episodic anymore because I don't have time. But over the summer, there is talk of me doing a movie."

-- Susan King

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