You can verify this if you like. Two things, two good things that nearly all the upcoming comedians enjoy sharing about Ali Baba are that he’s ever ready to provide them with a ladder to climb to the top and also that he never gets tired of throwing the doors of his home and heart open to as many of them as possible. Born Atunyota Aleluya Akpobome, the 50-year-old Agbarhotor, Delta dude who has been deservedly dubbed the king of comedy in Nigeria laid bare some of the tricks of the game to YES International! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE.
What makes a good comedian?
Quite a lot of things. Essentially, you must have a great sense of humour. That means you must have a flair for being funny. You must have delivery. You must be able to create the lighter side out of every ordinary situation. You must be spontaneous. Spontaneity is the ability to make a joke out of every situation you find yourself in. You also must be able to read an audience well. Sometimes you find that a comedian comes on stage, sees the people and it takes him like 10, 5 minutes to warm himself into the audience, and another comedian will come on stage, immediately, the audience has warmed up to him. He can’t say anything wrong. Everything he says is funny. Then, as a comedian, you should be able to know the line between being funny and being offensive. It’s a very thin line. The last thing about a comedian is that you must know timing. Your timing and the relativity of the joke that you are telling. If people can’t relate to anything that you are saying, you’ve lost them. So, for a comedian, you must start the story, do the set up and drop a punch line. A comedian must be good in all of that.
Why do most comedians fail?
Talent is not enough. You must be humble, you must have original jokes and if you don’t have original jokes, you must deliver the jokes that you are repeating well. You must know how to manage money, because comedy is an art form that is just growing, in spite of the lot that we have achieved. Some people think that the money comes every day. We have over two to three thousand comedians that are working hard in the same space. So, it means that the jobs may not be enough. Quality jobs may not be enough. If you are counting 50 top quality comedians, do you have 50 top quality events every day? No! So, what it means is that a comedian must know how to manage money so that if he gets N200, he knows that before the next N200 will come, he has to manage that N200 well. And then if you are somebody who does not read as a comedian, you need to find where you can get more materials. If you have an alternative to getting materials, besides reading; if it’s watching movies, if it’s watching people, if it’s listening to people, then you need to do that. Because for me, I can watch this music video that is playing right now and I will take a joke out of it and I will put it down and I will flesh it up and it becomes a full joke. A comedian that doesn’t do that – creates jokes all the – is bound to fail.
Why do most people attain success, but find it difficult to sustain it?
One, it is being non-chalant. That complacency of I have made it, there is no need to struggle again. Cocacola still does advert. In spite of the fact that God is the ultimate, churches still do adverts. So, the thing is that as soon as you become a brand and you have succeeded, you let go. The other is not being dynamic. I will give you an example – when Mohammed Danjuma, Okey Bakassi, Basorge Tariah and I started doing this comedy, we needed to take it to the next step. Among us then, we went to get pagers from Disc Engineering – myself, Mohammed, Tee A and Basorge. My pager was 197. That pager at that time stepped us to the next level. So, we were using technology. You need to use new development to get to the next level, even if you have succeeded. Let me say this, even if you are a Julius Berger, and you don’t have what can make you finish a road in record time, any young engineering company; construction company that has the ability to finish that same road will overtake you. What it means is that: don’t take it for granted that you have arrived. Even after you have arrived, always still push the envelope. Every time I do events, I’m always like A-B-C-D, which is above and beyond the call of duty. One of the biggest problems is that people take it that they’ve succeeded and do not know that for every other event you do after that, it’s a marketing platform. If I go to an event now and say because they call me the king of comedy, no need to crack jokes, I will kill myself. Because what will happen is somebody will go like, he’s not so funny anymore. Let’s use somebody else. And if that somebody else they are using also feels oh, they are not using him again, it is me now that they are using, he would also fall. So, for me, you have to be dynamic. Then, there’s the issue of pricing. A comedian who thinks that you can shortchange yourself; this one says N200,000 you do it, this one says N100,000 you do it, this one says N150,000 you do it. Meanwhile, you are supposed to be charging N500,000. By the time you charge N100,000, N150,000, N200,000, you will get a lot of events. But what will happen is that people will peg you at that N120,000, N150,000 and what would happen next is that you will not be getting the N500,000 event. The other person that would get N500,000 would work hard. He will not be doing so many. But he will just do a few and make more money.
What do you like most about being a comedian?
I like the freedom of expression and I like the platform on which I can do that. It is like I’m a social critic in a way; I’m a poet in a way; I’m a commentator in a way and I’m a free thinker in another way. So, all of that allows me the privilege, gives me the privilege of being able to make people laugh at things that I’m saying and while they are laughing, I will stick the truth in.
How did you come to the realization of the fact that there is money to be made in comedy?
It was a simple incidence of calculation. Now, my allowance was N120 and N130 sometimes, and I did a show in school and I was paid N60 for that show alone. Meanwhile, monthly, I got N130. So, if I make N60 from one show, that means that if all through that month I get like four shows, I can make about N320. I can collect it and I will live large. So, it was possible for me to quickly calculate that if in the school environment I can make that amount of money, then it means that I can make more when I go out. People were paying for the service. It was a talent that I had, but the fact that I could put it out as a service meant people would pay for it. I used to charge in school N40, N50 for events that students organized. When I went to UNIBEN, I charged N150 or N200. When I came to Lagos, I charged N500. LUTH paid N600; the physiotherapy students paid N600! When I finished, I went to Maryland, entered The Observer vehicle, straight to Benin, and from Benin, I still got to school with about N580. And my monthly allowance was N130. So, by the time I did three events: Auchi; I came back to school, finished my lectures and everything, headed to Benin, finished from Benin, headed to Lagos. When I got back to school and I had like N2,300 on me, I didn’t need any consultant to tell me that it can be bigger (laughs).
How does it feel to have changed the face of comedy in Nigeria?
I think for me it was not deliberate to go out and change the comedy business. It was that I had seen that I was on a good course and this ever true saying that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. I discovered that every time I invested time and strategy in the thing that I was doing, it always turned out well. Don’t forget, I also had a challenge to prove to my parents that since I was not going to read Law, that I was going to do well in what I had decided I was going to do. Convincing my dad that I was going to become a comedian was a huge task. It was an uphill task. He didn’t even believe until lately that being a comedian was anything as a job, because my dad is an Otota. The Otota is like a speaker, an MC kind of in the palace. He’s the Otota of Agbarha kingdom. For him, when he talks, there’s no money in it. Now, I had to do something like what Zaccheus did. Zaccheus knew his shortcomings, and because he wanted Jesus to see him, he had to climb a tree. Okay, I have the talent, which is standup comedy, but I was limited because it wasn’t rated like every other profession, which is like the height of Zaccheus and I thought the only way to get it up, so that I will be seen and appreciated, was to climb on a tree. So, my tree had to do with working hard. It had to do with positioning. It had to do with service delivery. It had to do with the quality of service. So, gradually, corporate bodies started recognizing that comedy was a proper service to employ when they wanted to have a wonderful event. And as corporate bodies were paying for it, it was translating to a development that became an industry, because as people paid for it, a lot more people saw it. So, they were like we will also want this at our wedding, we want this at my birthday party, we want this at our garden party, we want this at our send off party and gradually, people started seeing the relevance of comedy at events. I, indirectly, in doing all of that with Mohammed Danjuma, Okey Bakassi, Basorge and Yibo, we were laying the tracks for other young comedians to roll on and because we were laying the tracks, people wanted us a lot and we could not do all shows and because we could not do all shows, it meant that it opened up vistas for all other comedians to perform and those comedians had an easy passage because we had laid the tracks and so they could follow it. I feel proud when I see the way the young comedians are going. One or two of them have gotten it right; a few of them are still struggling with the idea of service delivery…
What is the greatest thing that comedy has done for you?
I will say recognition. I won’t say it’s comedy that did my children, my wife. That is God’s work. But the recognition which is what I enjoy.
Is comedy in-born or can it be learnt?
It can be learnt and it can be in-born. But the thing is that if comedy is in you, discovering it may take a while. But once you discover it, you are on auto-roll.