IT’S probably because of people like him that making people laugh has since been dubbed a serious business. Yibo Koko, dark-skinned, well built and ever artistically – turned out, is one of Nigeria’s most gifted artistes. A Theatre Arts graduate of UNIPORT, Yibo, to big time show goers, is better known as Mr. Abasi (because of one of his very popular jokes). He discussed with AZUH ARINZE a while back and here are the excerpts…
How has life been with you as a comedian?
Well, one of the things that I still maintain is that I am a theatre practitioner, first and foremost. Stand up comedy is just part of my repertoire. Although, in Lagos today, people know me more as a stand up comedian. Therefore, I let them have their way. It’s an opinion. If they choose to see me that way, na dem sabi. For me, it’s been fun doing what you like to do and making money from it. It’s more of ingenuity, your creative whatever…
Do you have any regret opting for comedy as your source of livelihood?
(Laughs) – Nothing, men! It’s what I love. I’m not doing it because I have to do it, I’m doing it because I love to do it. I noticed I have a natural flair for it and with my four years in the university as a theatre student, I’ve polished the nuances involved in the art. I see comedy as the castigation of redundant morality. Therefore, I tell people the truth and make them laugh at it and themselves.
People say comedians are unserious. Do you agree with them?
Yes, people claim we are not serious. But I wonder who is more unserious. The man who pays me thousands to be unserious or me that enjoys doing what I know how to do best. Anyway, that’s their opinion.
How did your parents react to your choice of making people laugh as your source of livelihood?
I grew up with an uncle. Till today, he is very proud of me. I didn’t grow up with my parents. I grew up with an uncle who also saw theatre as not being a viable profession. Thank God, he’s proud of me today.
Can you recall how it all started?
I started doing stand up comedy at the UNIPORT Theatre (also called The Crab). That’s where I did my first serious set of jokes and that was how it started. Lagos crowd call me Abasi. Port-Harcourt crowd call me the Vaseline Corner.
I know about the Abasi joke and also why they call you Abasi. Why do they call you the Vaseline Corner in Port Harcourt?
Every week in The Crab then, I used to have a period when I tell jokes and instead of calling it Yibo Koko or whatever, they call it The Vaseline Corner because I used to do some jokes on the uses of Vaseline.
I don’t do vulgar jokes anymore. I may have done them when I was a student, when I was an undergraduate. I did undergraduate jokes then, but not anymore. Now that I’m in open market, I’ve put away those jokes.
How has it really been with you so far?
So far, it’s been splendid. And it will get better. I know that because I’m a positive thinker. By God’s grace, it will.
How much does it cost to engage your services?
It depends, men!
Okay, what’s the highest amount you’ve ever collected for a stand up job?
As a standup comedian, no comment. But my lowest na free. But you see, sometimes the free jobs are more challenging than the ones I collect money for because I know it is strictly business. For the ones I don’t collect money for, it’s enjoy yourself, men!
In this your field, who do you have as a source of inspiration?
Somebody for dis work wey I love na Eddie Murphy. Men! Eddie Murphy na my guy. Anything wey de guy don do, I get the tape. Men! He’s an embodiment of humour.
Which of your jokes do you think is the best?
I no know, men! I no know. The ones I choose to call the classics are the political ones, the ones that deal with the everyday Nigerian life: The telephone conversation, the breast milk (which of course na de one wey you sef like), etc. If there is a major show, I write jokes to suit such shows. The audience determines the kind of jokes you tell. That’s why you might get applause for a joke here and not get it there.
Has any of your jokes gotten you into trouble before?
The political jokes; dem dey warn me. I’ve been called aside and told to please take it easy with the political jokes. But funny enough, those that you think will arrest me laugh more at the jokes because dem know say I dey talk about dem, so dem dey find am very funny (laughs).
Have you ever been booed out of stage before?
I don’t think so (after thinking for some seconds).
Where do you normally get your inspiration from?
Let me see (thinks)… How does it work for me? Most of my inspirations come from challenges as a comedian and when I know I have more than myself coming to do jokes, that means I have other comedians around. It triggers off the challenge and sometimes I know what they are going to do or can do. So, l just go off (snaps his fingers).
How will you describe your style of comedy?
I see theatre or ourselves as the mirror of the society. Therefore, no matter how complex it is, I present jokes to the audience that will make them think about themselves while I’m doing that. In a nutshell, I think my style is just smooth. I tell stories. My approach to it is storytelling, but embellished with serious humour.
What’s your love life like?
That’s a no go area.
Because it is a no go area, men! I like my private life to remain private.
Are you married?
Please, please, don’t go into that.
What do you find most attractive in women?
(Soliloquizes) – All these na private questions, men! But deep down, I like a woman with a good heart.
What do you mean by a woman with a good heart?
By good heart, I mean somebody who is humane, somebody who is practical, somebody who does not delude herself; somebody with a good heart and human spirit. I no wan talk anything again make una no come deceive me.
What about physically?
I no talk anything physical, men! My private life is private. Just person wey nice, men! No be those wey dey shine, their eyes don dey up, up. Person wey go take you as you be, no be all these ones wey like you because you dey popular. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke and even women too are not my flair.
How rich are you?
How rich? I’m rich in spirit, men!
Lastly, tell us about your background?
Men, na wah for you o! I was born on February 2, 1967. I was born in Port Harcourt. I schooled in Port Harcourt, both primary, secondary and tertiary. 1 did everything in the Garden City, men! I went to Township Primary School (One). I was in the morning session; Okrika Grammar School, then University of Port Harcourt where I studied Theatre Arts. I graduated in 1991 and that year, I was the best graduating student in Artistic Directing. My directing project was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. E never do?
NB: This interview had earlier been published