This is the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Julius Chinweikpe Agwu is one of Nigeria’s biggest and richest comedians. A renowned showbiz entrepreneur and creator of the fast growing music genre – musicomedy – the 40-year-old indigene of Choba in Rivers State shared the story of how it all began, where he’s headed and more with YES International! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, at his office in Surulere, Lagos, weeks back. He also spoke glowingly about his wife, Ibiere, daughter, Zahra and their unborn baby…
What makes a good comedian?
A good comedian is one who has the ability, first, to make people laugh; who has the raw material, who has the innate ability, not just the ability, but the innate ability that comes from within and also has the power of spontaneity. He can easily pick up stuff that a normal person would not consider laughable or can be able to find humour in virtually everything around him.
What makes a good joke?
Everybody can tell a joke, but not everyone can perform a joke. A good joke is that joke that you can tell and people wouldn’t be looking – where is the humour? But a comedian can actually tell the same joke and be able to elicit laughter. That’s what a good joke is. That which has a good punch line.
What is the greatest thing that comedy has done for you?
The greatest thing comedy has done for me is that…see where we are (pointing to his beautiful office, amidst laughter). Comedy has done this for me and I’m sure when you hear the title of my book too (Jokes Apart – How Did I Get Here?), comedy played a vital role. Comedy was very instrumental on that journey; comedy was part of the passengers; comedy is part of those things packed in that luggage on the cover of my book and comedy is part of the wings I had to fly.
What has comedy not done for you?
It has not really given me the kind of money I want, but truth be told, I am contented. Comedy has not made me to change from the human being that I am. You and I know where we started from. I still have my friends, my people. I’m still that Choba boy who started from a humble beginning and who has not forgotten. Whether I live in Lekki now or whether I travel Business Class or whatever, I have not forgotten that I can still soak garri. Comedy has not made me forget where I’m coming from.
What do you like most about being a comedian?
What I like most about being a comedian is perhaps the fact that it allows you express yourself. Express yourself in a way where you can actually tell people the truth and while they are laughing, they are thinking deeply. You can actually be blunt. It gives you that liberty, that freedom to tell people to eat shit and they are happy eating it.
Why do most comedians fail?
You see, the mistake so many people make in Nigeria is that they see a business that is flourishing or rather they assume in their little cocoon, in that little observatory tower, they just observe and feel that these people are making progress, they do not bother to think – Is this my calling? Is this my destiny? Is this where or what God wants me to be? They venture into it because from everything they see around them, people are making money. They venture into it just by thinking if this guy can excel, why can’t I? And once they get in there, they forget that from time to time, you need to re-invent yourself, you need to be able to re-strategize, you need to be able to keep yourself fresh, you need to be able to think out of the box, you need to be able to be creative, you need to be able to oil your wheel of ingenuity. So, they get stuck at some point, they can’t create anything anymore and they begin to look at who to borrow from. They don’t work hard. Comedy is not like music where you can just go to the studio, cook up a song and do it and then you can actually go to events and people will want you to play the same oldies. Especially in this era of the social media. A lot of things have changed. So many of our jokes are being broadcast on BlackBerry, on facebook, on different social network. So, it behooves of the comedian to work hard. And not just work hard, to be hardworking.
Why do some comedians attain success but find it difficult to sustain it?
It’s a simple reason – now, listen to this and listen good. Anybody, anybody can become a star, but not everybody can manage stardom. Did you hear me? Anybody. That my gate man you saw there, that Keke rider, that Okada rider, that artisan that you called to come and help you polish shoes can become the next big star. That’s why we have sudden stars from TV reality shows. Several talent hunts. But let’s take a stock and find out where some of those people who participated in all these are? So, anybody can become a star, but not everybody who is a star knows how to manage stardom. It’s hard getting up there! But it’s harder sustaining it. So, the point is that so many of these people, once they become stars, presumably, once they get into that, they see it as a comfort zone. It becomes difficult to work hard. But that’s where the major job is, because you need to always sustain it and you need to be able to show people that this is not fluke; that you are prepared for it.
What is the best way to come about good jokes?
Talking from personal experience, I could read. Look around you, what’s the sensational story, what is the topical issue, what is the major or rave of the moment, what is that thing that is the buzz? And then, you should be able to at least know what the dailies are saying, what’s in the news, what’s the news saying, what’s happening around you? Watch your environment, look at people around you, what are those issues that really affect you as a human being that also affect others, what’s that thing that people would’ve been vocal about, how can you become the voice of the voiceless and I tell some of my colleagues; I tell my colleagues that it’s not just about making people laugh, that as a comedian, you should be able to be as didactic as possible. Yes, comedy is a tool, but how do you use this tool to serve different purposes? You can use comedy as a tool for social change, you can use it as a tool for nation building, you can use it as a tool to educate people, inform people and also entertain.
What differentiates Julius Agwu from the other comedians? What stands you out?
Julius Agwu is an entertainment practitioner. That’s what stands him out. The fact that he’s a man of different parts and he has been able to also prove himself in all these. For a career that has spanned over two decades or two decades to be precise, I think he hasn’t done badly and he’s still waxing strong. I mean, considering the fact that he started his career from acting as far back as 93, until now. Some people were not born then, some people had not even started watching TV, some people were probably abroad. There are those who see me and they go like, I used to hear about you; so you are still in it? The fact that he has the power of spontaneity, the fact that he can be an actor, he’s a good singer, he’s a good standup comedian, he’s a musicomedian, he’s also an author (laughs). The latest feather added to his cap.
The interest in comedy, how did it come about?
Comedy has always been my thing right from when I was growing up. Right from when I was in the university, I used to have a stage name – Jokes Apart – which of course is the title of my book now. But professionally speaking, I focused more on comedy when it seemed as if acting had some issues or I had some issues with acting. After school, or before I finished school, it seemed as if I was begging producers to give me roles in movies. That was when I said okay, why not branch out, why not see how you can establish yourself as a comedian, since comedy was just fledging at that time? It hadn’t become the in-thing in Nigeria. So, that was how I dove-tailed into comedy and I was part of the first Nite of a Thousand Laughs, which of course was the first comedy festival, as it were. The first celebration of okay, where people gathered, to listen to comedians. So, from there, that’s how it all began.
Which is your best joke?
I can’t really say now, but I know that I have classics which have become a household name…
Can you tell us one or two of these classics?
One of them is ‘Mama Julius I don dey go o!’ It’s a joke about Julius and I.K. When we were in primary school, after school, Iyke will follow us back home and anytime my mum wanted to serve lunch, Iyke will stand up, mama Julius I don dey go o! My mum will now call him, oh, don’t go, come chop. He will follow us and eat. But anytime we go over to his own house, his mum will not do that, rather she will say make una go o, una mama go dey look for una. Until the incident where my mum travelled and my sister had to serve lunch, and he came with the usual style, mama Julius I don dey go o! My sister said oh, I.K, ngwa nu, bye-bye. He changed voice again – mama Julius, I say I don dey go o! (Almost crying). My sister said dey go now! And he said mama Julius, no be so una mama dey answer me o! That’s one, and then there’s another one – my debate joke. The one about how when we were kids, we used to go represent our schools in debate and then we will come out – Good afternoon, panel of judges; having crammed everything our teacher told us. Good afternoon, panel of judges, co-debaters, accurate time keepers and viewers at home. I am here this afternoon to propose a motion which says father and mother, who is better in the house, with the following points. First, who is a father? Then, he forgets. A father…A father…I take it again. A father is…(stammers), a father is… So many classics. Then, the one of pikin, child and issue.
Which is your worst joke?
Hmmm! My worst? You know there are things people just say – Julius? He go yab una o! A lot of people get scared of me, but they forget that this is also a graduate who understands what to do. If you give me a brief and you say these are the no-go areas, these are the do’s and don’ts, I go school and I intelligent and I know what it means to comport yourself in events. My worst joke? I’m still thinking, I can’t remember. But I know that there are times my wife warns me; that joke you do on me, don’t try it again o. I have this joke I do on tissue – where I say it’s annoying that in Nigerian toilets or when you go to Nigerian toilets, you have those boys who are standing there to give you tissue. When you enter, they will first say there’s no tissue. But they actually have the tissue; they are hiding it. The size of your bumbum determines the quantity they give you and I did a joke that I went with my wife, they just cut small for her. Then, Gloria Ibru. As soon as they saw her, they gave her one full tissue paper and they even later went back – madam, we dey go bring another one (General laughter).
You took Nigerian comedy to the international community. When did it dawn on you to do that?
This will mark the 7 years of Crack Ya Ribs in London, give or take. Yeah! So, count back, 7 years ago, we started around 2007 or 2006. What happened was that I just realized that at some point, someone needed to play that role. Nigerians in the Diaspora and of course Africans all over were yearning to see us. Comedy was a thriving profession in America and in the developed countries. After I started Crack Ya Ribs here and people started hearing about it, so many Nigerians will come back during Christmas and of course become part of the Crack Ya Ribs Shows. Anytime they went back, some would ask me when are you people coming over and all that? So, we just deemed it necessary to also fill in that gap. Bridge the gap and tell Nigerians over there that look; not just Nigerians now, but others also that there are Nigerians who are living on their talents back home. And I actually see it as playing my ambassadorial role of telling people over that look, there are those who are blessed with talents and all they do is to give joy, happiness, laughter in return. Moreover, I’m passionate about what I do.
You make other people happy, what makes you happy?
Onyeoma, you know I don’t smoke Igbo (Indian hemp), I don’t weed…What gives me joy is just seeing people happy. That’s what gives me joy, that’s what makes me happy.
How much of a family man is Julius Agwu?
As family as I can be. It’s a project. Family is a project that never finishes. You are always in the process. I have a lovely wife, a beautiful daughter and right now, we are expecting another child. So, family is the reason that we work hard, my brother. That’s the joy we can get.
Away from work, what does Julius do?
Away from work, he’s a fun-loving guy, he likes to hang out with friends when it’s necessary. Of course, he loves to play with his daughter, hangs out with friends and that’s it. Just a fun-loving guy.
Julius does a lot of things, how do you juggle all of them? Crack Ya Ribs, Laff 4 Christ’s Sake, Comedy Combat, etc.
What has happened over the years is that I have a formidable team. I mean, I can’t do all these alone. Back home in Nigeria, I have people who do the report. I also report to them. But, it’s not been easy considering that you are at the helm of affairs where you are also the one who develops the jokes. I know how many times a lot of friends have told me come, why not relax and all that? But then, I have a formidable team that has been very, very supportive. So, that’s how we are able to juggle it and don’t forget, what I have going for me is the grace of God. God has been wonderful.
One outstanding thing about the man Julius is that he dresses well, is there any special reason for your dressing well?
The special reason is that right from when I started entertainment, I said look, because people have always seen entertainers as the dregs of the society, I will not join that bandwagon. I must make a change, I must be an agent of change. They must see us differently. And right from the onset, I said I must always look outstanding, because for you to be outstanding, you need to stand out. So, that was how I thought again that I must always stand out. And don’t forget, it’s called show business. So, I said to myself, I must show for the business to come.
NB: First published August 2013