Except you are one of those who quarrel with success, you dare not compile any authentic list of wave-making comedians in Nigeria today without reserving a sumptuous space for Abovi Ugboma. The gifted rib cracker whose friends and fans fondly address as Bovi has carved a distinct space for himself and also his kind of comedy – and there’s no debating that.
Born on September 25, 1979, in Benin City, Edo State, his primary education was at the UNIBEN Staff School and his post-primary – Government College, Ughelli, Edokpolor Grammar School, Benin and finally, Boys Model Secondary School, in Onicha-Olona, the hometown of late Reggae legend, Ras Kimono.
Done with primary and post-primary education, the father of three, who is happily married to the love of his life, Christabel, proceeded to Delta State University where he grabbed a degree in Theatre Arts.
A one-time personal assistant to respected and renowned actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, bumped into ‘The Man On Fire’ at ace comedian, Julius Agwu’s Lekki, Lagos home on Sunday, April 7, 2019 – and effortlessly, he consented to his impromptu interview. Enjoy…
Tell us, what’s your definition of comedy?
The ability to create light-hearted drama, that will elicit laughter.
What makes a good comedian?
It depends! What type of comedy are you talking about? Because we have comedy actors, there are also stand-up comedians…
Let’s talk about your own area of specialization. What makes a good stand-up comedian?
The ability to take the microphone, stand before an audience and tell jokes or stories that are laced with jokes that will elicit laughter.
What do you like most about being a comedian?
The ability to be any character; it’s like being an actor. I usually tell people that stand-up comedy is a one-man stage play, so the ability to be a story teller, and while telling the story, assume any character you want.
What don’t you like about being a comedian?
The fact that people think the personality they see on stage is how the personality functions in real life. And for people like me, even in that your stage, I really don’t recognize him, because I see him as my alter ego. So, when I get off the stage, I’m a regular guy, I’m a quiet person, I’m a very serious-minded person. My passion, however, is to get in there because it gives me joy when I’m there.
What is the commonest mistake that most comedians make?
I think comedians make several mistakes, but the prominent ones are (i) thinking that comedy is easy; that you can just go on stage and draw laughter. So, they fail to realize that you have to prepare, because preparation is key. Anything good in life, especially in Nigeria; anything that is worth more than N1000 is a potential billion naira industry; anything that the price is more than a N1000, it can also be less, but basically anything that people love, especially for abstract stuff, once people can pay above a certain amount, you can’t take it for granted. So, I think that’s the mistake comedians are making by not working hard enough…
What got you interested in comedy?
I don’t know! My interest is not just in comedy, my interest has always been entertainment. I’ve always loved to be an actor, I’ve always been a writer. When I was a kid, my earliest recollection is when my mom was telling me of the late Benny Hill. She was like when this guy comes on stage, he doesn’t even need to say anything, she is already laughing. Then, I stumbled on the like of Eddie Murphy, Ali Baba… So, at the time, growing up, I always used to say men, I wanna be an MC, I wanna go on stage and talk. I also wanna be an actor. It was in my teenage years I now discovered that okay, there’s what you call stand-up comedy.
There’s no arguing the fact that comedy has done a lot for you, what has comedy not done for you?
Ah! That’s very hard. But I think I will feel ungrateful if I think of what comedy hasn’t done for me (laughing). Comedy has pretty much done a whole lot for me. I mean, every job has its perks and its downsides. Comedy has stripped me of the ability to be needy. People see me and assume oh, he’s happy all the time, people see me and expect me to make them happy. But sometimes we get empty, sometimes we get lonely, because everybody assumes you are an ambassador for laughter. So, they would never really take you serious even if you need help. That’s it!
Your rise, from our own calculation, was meteoric. What would you attribute that to?
I wouldn’t say it was meteoric, but basically, I did a lot of underground work before I started. I didn’t start in a hurry. I always knew what I wanted; so from my days in school, both college and university, I always knew this was who I was gonna be and I started working really early and then when I joined the industry as PA to RMD, I was doing a lot of understudies. I usually tell people that I did my planting in those seasons. I decided to do professional stand-up in 2008. And the first two, three years were not really pleasant, they were not as rosy as people think, but my work stood out. And that’s because I think RMD told me something – he said guy, you are only as good as your last performance. So, every new performance, that’s what people will judge you by. So, I think I put in a lot of work and that’s why it seems as though I shot out of the sky.
Besides what you just told us, what are the other things that stand Bovi out, that separates Bovi from the other comedians out there?
To be honest, my biggest competition is me. And when I talk to other comedians, I like to share that which I do and how I prepare. So, I can’t really say this is what stands me out from that person because comedy has to do with different flavours. People have their different flavours. I watch every comedian – the good, the bad, the ugly – because from the ugly and the bad I learn that which I shouldn’t do. That’s it for me.
We know that Bovi has created a lot of jokes, and also that like most fathers, you love all your children. But which is your most unique joke, the one that you love so much?
The thing is I love all my jokes, especially the ones that really just make me laugh, which are many. But I think what I would go for is the one that resonates with people the most…
Can you tell us about it?
I think it’s the ‘Judgement Day’ joke. I have like three different ‘Judgement Day’ jokes. Till tomorrow, they are still in circulation, especially the one I did in 2012, where I was telling people how we will face judgement, how people will try to jump in, how people will be check-ing their names on the list… So, that one is a classic for many people. Yeah!
Which of your jokes doesn’t resonate with you, the one you feel could have been better couched?
I’ve had a few jokes on rape that I wish I told them a different way. You know it’s such a sensitive word. Notice I said word, not issue. Simply because I have told jokes that had to do with rape, where I addressed the issue and condemned it. But people still came at me, because I made a joke out of rape. So, I now realized it’s a very sensitive word and moving forward I’m like if I got to talk about this, I got to be extra careful and also issue a disclaimer.
What is the best way for a comedian to come up with a beautiful joke?
Read! People have different formulas, though. For some people, it comes to them naturally. But comedy has evolved over time and now it’s information-based because the world is one big village now or rather one small village. So, people know of issues, and if you are ignorant, there’s so much you can do; if you are ignorant, you might be just a slap-stick comedian and that in itself is limiting, that in itself has borders. Comedians need to read so that they can tell borderless jokes. You need to watch the news, you need to follow trends, you just have to be in the now and the future.
Which of your colleagues do you admire most and why?
That’s a very difficult question. Because, like I said, they have different flavours. They all have different flavours, so there’s one thing I pick from pretty much every other person – oh, this person has this style, this person does this, this person has this style, this person does that. That’s it. But if there’s any comedian I’ve really respected a lot over time, it’s Gandoki.
So, why Gandoki?
He’s effortless, he’s something else, he’s indefinable. He’s the one comedian who doesn’t need to talk and you are already laughing. He has the strongest gesture game in the business. His gestures are jokes on their own. So, yes, I pick things from different people – Okey Bakassi is a good story teller; I like that about him. Akpororo is fearless in his approach and he’s pacy. We are not so pacy. Akpororo needs 10 seconds to hit the roof. So, I respect him for that style and all that.
Already, some people know so much about you – even though some still don’t. Now, tell us, what other things do you think people should know about you?
I don’t know if people know that I like to be happy, I like clean air; by clean air; I don’t like negative energy around me, so I try to make the people around me comfortable, I hate unhealthy rivalry, unhealthy competition, I like to take life one day at a time, I like to just be a Gee.
For some people, when they want to relax, they invite Bovi, when Bovi wants to relax, what does he do?
I like to watch football, I like to play soccer, yeah! I still play soccer twice a week and I also play with my kids, spend time at home, do a lot of reading and just chill.
Now that you‘ve talked about your family, can you tell us more about them?
(Laughing) – I don’t like talking about my family. But yeah, I’m happily married and I’ve got three kids. That’s it basically.
There is no arguing the fact that the Almighty God has been so nice to you and in so short a time…
(Cuts in) – Why do you think the time is short?
Considering the time you joined the industry?
I started in 2008, and that’s 11 years ago.
Okay! So, what hasn’t God done for you in those 11 years, what more do you still want from God?
I’m thankful, I’m thankful for everything. I only have regrets…
And what could that be?
I lost my mom! I regret that she’s not around to reap the fruits of her labour ‘cos I’m her first child. She had five of us. So, if I regret that, you can then imagine how my younger ones feel. They are regretting too. I just wish we did certain things differently. I wish I was there for her more. When I lost my mom, I realized the moment she passed away; I was thinking of every time she called me and I said I might have to call you back, I’m busy now. I miss those moments. I wish I heard what she wanted to say. For every missed call, I’m like oh, that’s my mom, don’t worry, I will call her back. I wish I never did, I wish I could make use of those opportunities. So, other than that, I’ve had a very good life. I can’t complain. I don’t think I’ve suffered.
What’s your philosophy of life?
Not anything anybody does is really about you, so don’t take things personal, be wise as a serpent, try to be as harmless as a dove, and try to do for people because there is more blessing in giving than taking and when you give, automatically you will get. So, try to do for people, try and leave people better than you met them and just focus on, like I said, giving.
Can you single out one person whose impact in your life has been immense and humongous? Someone that for as long as you live you will continue to remember…
My mother! My mother! I don’t even have to think about it. I’m not sure I will be here if not for her. I’m not sure I would have amounted to this, because she trained me, by the dictionary definition of the word. She trained me. She taught me how to read. I had read so many books even before I was 16…
What’s your mother’s name?
Dr. (Mrs) Margaret Ugboma.
Besides your mom now and career-wise, can you also tell us that singular individual who has impacted your life greatly?
I can’t say one person (laughing). Because I’m a voracious learner. But I will give a lot of kudos to RMD, because he picked me up when he didn’t have to. I went to sell a movie script to him and I’m sure that he was like, who is this young chap that is jumping up and down? And he said okay, no problem. So, he takes me to Reginald Ebere, takes me to Moses…Ah, I can’t remember his surname again, but he’s the guy who directed Bristol. So, I was following him to set. At a point, one day, after our third outing together, he says I’m looking for a personal assistant, if you think you can do the job, let me know. He said go home and think. I said I don’t need to go home and think. I can do the job! He says okay, resume on Monday. And that’s how I started working with him.
How long were you with him?
Two years and six months.
What would you describe as the greatest lesson you learnt working as his PA?
There are so many of them. There are so many, but some of the favourite ones – one day, there’s mad traffic on Toyin Street…he hates traffic, just like me. So, he comes out of the car, walking, passes St. Leo, the church and people are going berserk in their vehicles, he’s just waving, but keeps his head straight. So, I ask him, how do you cope with all the attention and all? And he says ignore it, don’t believe your hype. Because fame is fickle, respect it, but don’t live off it. It’s one of the major lessons he gave me. And like I said earlier, you are only as good as your last performance. And then I tell him, don’t you get scared going on stage and he says well, everybody has butterflies, but once it’s time for him to do a presentation or something, he just prays and tells the holy spirit to come on him. So, those are some of the things I learnt from him. I understudied so many people – Gandoki, Basketmouth… Basketmouth taught me a whole lot of tricks in the game. That’s why I’m always grateful for that because these were guys who were just out there doing what they had to do. It was like a jungle, with everybody carving their path, beating their way. I studied pretty much all of them.
A lot of people believe you have a wondrous relationship with Basketmouth in the comedy sector. How did your paths collide?
I first met him when I was working as RMD’s personal assistant. We were not really friends then. And then when I resigned from my position with RMD, I started to do a sitcom, Extended Family. So, by the third season of the sitcom, I reached out to him that I would like you to make a guest appearance and he said sure, why not. And he showed up! In fact, he was the first guest actor who came on time. He was earlier than we even told him to come. And he did it for nothing and he left. So, the next year, 2008, when I now started stand-up comedy, he watched me once and he was like yeah, you are good, we’ll work, you are good, we’ll work together and like they say the rest is history.
We need you to delve into your debut performance and to also tell us what fond memories of that performance you still carry with you?
(Laughing) – If you want to go by my debut, it will date back to 2004, December, at a private party in VGC. It was a Christmas party. I wasn’t the comedian on the bill, but I brought the comedian, Oguns. And after Oguns had performed, the guests wanted him to continue performing, but he took a break and I was like I can fill the blank spaces. So, I attempted it there. Then, working with RMD, when RMD had a stage play in Bonny Island, I was the one who opened by doing stand-up. But like I said, these were all amateur performances. 2005, at an art exhibition by RMD and a lady, Idoreyin. There was no entertainment, again, I took the microphone. A few praises here and there. But my first major stage was Nite of a Thousand Laughs, 2008. That’s why I say my professional career started in 2008. First was in Nite of a Thousand Laughs and because I was famous on TV already as a comic actor via my sitcom, Extended Family, the acceptance was massive. I had not even said anything and the hall had exploded. It frightened the s..t out of me and I almost forgot my jokes. But I recovered and picked up.
You’ve had dozens of performances after you ‘exploded’, like we say here. Which of them will you forever cherish and why? The most memorable…
I love all of them…but I will say my last stand-up special which was Man On Fire. My performance was 1 hour 23 minutes and till today, there’s nobody who said I find his performance boring. Rather I’ve heard and seen people who say we didn’t get enough of you. And that was the last one. The next one is this year.
When is the next one coming up?
April 28, Eko Convention Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.