Truth be told, Richard Ayo Makun, is one of the best things that happened to comedy in Nigeria.
Popularly known AY, he powers one of the biggest comedy shows in the country right now, AY Live. He’s also one of the most followed showbiz practitioners in the social media. Born on August 19, 1971, the Ifon (in Ose LGA of Ondo State) indigene, who is married to Mabel and blessed with a daughter, Michelle, has since extended his tentacles to film and television production, writing and show promotions and more.
The MD/CEO of Corporate World Entertainment Nigeria, studying Theatre Arts at the Delta State University, Abraka, sure prepared him for what he’s doing today.
Starting out as Ali Baba’s personal assistant, the multiple award winning comedian equally gave movie lovers blockbusters like 30 Days In Atlanta, A Trip To Jamaica and 10 Days In The Sun City. With more still in the offing.
The oldest male child in a family of seven and creator of AY Open Mic Challenge and AY’s Crib, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE spent the afternoon of Monday, August 26, 2019 with him at his Lekki, Lagos home.
And together, they looked at the past, the present and the future. Excerpts…
What makes a good comedian? Who is a good comedian?
What can I say? A good comedian is that person who is highly creative, because I usually tell people that comedians are social commentators and gone are the days when people will come on stage and be talking about how lions are chasing monkeys and the rest of them. These days, people want to relate to things that are happening around them and of course, the best way to do it as a comedian is to be highly comical and then pass a message at the same time. That is what makes you an excellent comedian
What is your own personal definition of comedy? How would you describe or define comedy?
Like I said, it’s something I usually would like to take from the perspective of a social commentator. So, apart from making people laugh, which is the essence of anything that you wanna define as comedy, it must also come with some message and as a social commentator, it goes just beyond making people laugh, passing a message in a funny way. That’s how I define my own kind of comedy.
What is the best way for a comedian to come up with jokes?
Research! Research is the best way to come up with jokes and apart from doing research, when you talk about your experiences, it’s also something that people want to know; people want to know how you found yourself in difficult situations and how you were about to come out of them. But just making jokes out of the things that happen around you and research are key. Gone are the days, like I said, when you crack jokes just about anything. For example, if AY is going to be the anchor of an event that has to do with lawyers, he’s going to do a pretty good research about lawyers. That way, he will understand how to infuse his jokes in such a way that even the lawyers will think that he’s one of them. Even doctors, footballers… So, you must research your job and understand it.
What got you interested in comedy?
I have always been a compere, from back in the day, on campus and when I came to Lagos, I started working with the king of comedy, Ali Baba, as his personal assistant and then I realized that I wanted to further my career as an anchor man, as an MC and I discovered that in Lagos, it was more like a two-in-one building kind of; it was more like a two-in-one package for any client. They want that person who also can crack them up, apart from just communicating or speaking English and introducing the items generally on the programme. So, that was how I came into comedy. Also against the background of me coming from Warri where everything about the city is highly comical; even an old woman on the street will crack you up just with a one-liner or two. So, coming from that background, that is engulfed with all sorts of witty attributes, it was easy for me to say yes, it’s time to go in, and working with the king of comedy gave extra life to all of that.
Can you remember your first time on stage, the first time you performed before an audience and what the experience was like?
It was at Ali Baba’s comedy club…
What year was this?
It was in 2003! Yeah, 2004 or 2003. Then, we used to go to VGC (Victoria Garden City, Lekki, Lagos), where he had a comedy club and as usual, we would open the show before he comes out to do his bit for the night. That was the first time, and good enough, it was more like me having the raw talent and also having somebody who could guide the talent. So, every time, when we got back home, Ali Baba would be like whaaooh, that your joke, that punchline was heavy, but you drag am for dis part; why did you let it drag? You know these people, they don’t have patience, you have to be decisive, you have to hit them real hard and when you get to the punchline, know also when the ovation is loudest, know when to leave and all that. So, he was doing all that coaching on the side and that moulded the brand, that formed the brand, AY.
What do you like most about being a comedian?
I like the fact that I make people happy, I like the fact that when people think of the name, AY, what greets their faces is excitement; like oh, that funny guy; it’s a tonic, it’s a vibe, it’s something that confirms that, okay, I am not in the wrong profession and knowing full well that the appreciation is up there gives me joy.
What don’t you like about being a comedian?
The part I don’t like is when you find yourself in a serious environment, trying to do serious business and they just think that you are joking! And that’s very funny. It’s funny in the sense that people look at comedians and don’t see us beyond the stage. So, they believe that your normal life is comedy. You walk into a bank and you are trying to carry out a transaction, you are discussing with the manager or somebody and then the guy says you’ve been here, you’ve not made us laugh. No! I’m here for serious business, I’m here for us to discuss naira and kobo, not to make you laugh. If you want me to make you laugh, you meet me on stage and then you also go to some environments and they will be like, are you really a comedian? Because since we’ve been here, you’ve not even made any attempt to make us laugh. Because they don’t see that our own business is on the stage, when we find ourselves there. So, that’s a bad side to the profession.
Who is your favourite Nigerian comedian and why?
Nigerian comedian? (Thinks) It cuts across. At the moment, there’s a good number, there’s a line up, they have their…
Just tell us your favourite, the person you like most and why?
Right now, there’s this young man called De Stalker. You don’t see him coming until he hits you; when you also meet him on stage, he gives it to you 100%. At the moment, I will say he’s the brightest admirable talent. He’s somebody everybody wants to see in shows. But apart from that, we have comedians who have their craft in different capacities – from the likes of Basketmouth; when you see him, you see a comedian that is ready to take you on 24/7; when you see Okey Bakassi, you see how witty a comedian can be; when you see an Ali Baba, you will see the intelligence in comedy; when you see a Bovi, you see an extension of intelligence and creativity on stage… There are quite a number of them and they just do this thing and they get it right and that is why they are still in business.
What is the greatest thing that comedy has done for you?
Comedy has brought life to me as AY. As a matter of fact, when I look around me today, I ask myself, if you were not doing stand up comedy, what would you have been doing? Fine, I have other craft I’m very good with; I was going to work with a radio station at the time before Ali Baba insisted that I should pack my things and come to Lagos and that’s why any time his name comes to my head, I just see him as the one that God used to say okay, bring this boy out, because I was ready to just go and be collecting my N70k a month; when he insisted and even when I was reluctant, he made it compulsory as if we are related by blood that you have to… But I’ll give that to relationship; the initial relationship of being loyal, of being dedicated to the things I needed to do with him when he came to DELSU (Delta State University) to do a show for me and when I look around me today, comedy has given me life, comedy has made my life worthy, comedy has defined the kind of life I have always wanted to give to my family and the people around me. So, basically, it brings me happiness.
What has comedy not done for you?
Comedy hasn’t given me room to explore outside the circles of entertainment. I want to see myself in oil and gas, but then comedy doesn’t give you that. Firstly, because the minute you bring up that conversation with someone, they are like, come on, come on, it’s not people like you that we are looking for there and meanwhile you know that what you have inside of you, compared to even the people that they think have the birthright or their umbilical cord tied to such businesses, don’t even have the capacity or the brains. So, comedy hasn’t given me that external appreciation, apart from the circles of entertainment.
You run one of the most successful comedy shows, and that’s talking about AY Live, how did you come about it?
The AY Live brand happened by, should I use the word, accident? Or by mistake or by some sort of co-incidence, or should I say it happened out of a situation. I always go for Nite Of A Thousand Laughs and every time I go for Nite Of A Thousand Laughs, I was one of the freshest talents then, from 2005-2006; I was one of the freshest talents and then I was buzzing, and they will take me to Abuja, they will take me to Port Harcourt, I will do the shows in Lagos and then it just happened that my name was not on the list of the comedians that were selected to go for an edition and at the time I had already started training some other upcoming comedians who were living with me. So, the feeling of seeing your younger ones pack their bags; like they’ve been called to camp to go and represent the big brand, Nite Of A Thousand Laughs and then you, their boss, you had been dropped ‘from the national team’. So, it was a terrible experience; the feeling of you watching these boys pack their bags and go and that was it, that was it…I was like no, maybe it’s high time you built your own church too; maybe you need to take up this challenge, see this as a major challenge for you to build your own brand and I said okay, I’ve been doing this AY’s Open Mic Comedy Challenge that discovers most of these boys that make the national team and all of that. So, if I can do that, why can’t I also develop a brand that will make me have my own show and that was it! So, I put my Pentium 2, way back in Iponri (Lagos), I put it in front of me, my laptop, I started putting the proposal together and at the end of the day I just came up with the AY Live brand and when I did the first one, when I made that announcement to my senior colleagues and everyone that I was going to do a show…
What year was this?
The first one was in 2007. When I made the announcement to my colleagues, I looked like a mediocre, because then, The Muson Centre, was the biggest place for anybody; it was like you going to the Wembley. You are not talking about using all the smaller venues and you are gonna start off with The Muson? So, it was like a big joke. But then, there was something that I already had working for me – promoting and packaging shows had been a major part of me because that was what I was doing on campus and I graduated doing that, and working with Ali Baba also, it was like an extension of me doing that for his own brand too before I became AY in a way. So, for me, it was more like I already had this other part locked down – promotions and everything. So, all the while they were wondering how is this boy going to do it, I already knew in my head that okay, by the time I put one and one together, I put all the promotional elements in place, it was going to come to fruition. And then the first show was completely sold out. And when we did the one the year after, in 2008, from one show, it ended up becoming two shows. And in 2009, we started taking it round Nigeria and outside the country as well and that was how it became one of the biggest.
What is the secret behind AY Live’s success; why is it succeeding, why has it been growing from strength to strength?
I give it to consistency and I give it to a whole lot of research, knowing what the people want at the time and also taking advantage of situations around. Because, one, right now, I know a lot of people, they look forward to, okay, at AY Live, all these trending issues, we are going to have a full dose of it when we go for AY Live. You know I developed the concept, it started working and also the infusion of other talents. Because, for me, it goes beyond just doing stand up comedy, music, dance. So, coming from my theatre background, once we come on stage, once you come to see AY Live, you are coming to see a total package, you are coming to see a total ensemble where everything will interwine to give you maximum entertainment and satisfaction. And that’s the secret.
What would you say separates AY Live from all the other comedy shows?
I usually would leave fans, spectators to judge and give me their own verdict, because, one, without sounding posterous, I wouldn’t want to say that, okay, it’s because AY is doing this. I also would want to say grace. Yes, I can’t help but also go spiritual. I will say grace, because sometimes when I look at the product and the brand and the strength of many other comedians, I won’t even compare myself to them; I won’t for any reason. If you give me a list this minute and say AY, write down top 10 comedians, I won’t even put AY as one of the top 10, on my own. But then I just understand that there’s something external, which I have attributed to grace, which makes the brand just stand out and the fan base increases on a daily basis. So, sometimes I just wonder, how come you are the most followed stand up comedian in Nigeria and I know you are not the funniest? So, I just give it to grace.
You started out by organizing shows in the university, what prompted that? Because your parents sent you to school to learn, but you got there and got entangled with show promotions…
Many people, today, who engaged themselves in one form of social activity on campus or any other activity, apart from the ones that come with negativity, you would realize, if you do your research that when they come out, they stand out, because they have made that thing to become a part of their foundation. Like my big bros that talked about Rotary; it’s not something that just started. So, from that point, coming out, it becomes an extension. When you are playing football on the street, you play every time, your parents, they wanna beat you, go to the house, go inside, come inside, enough is enough and all of that. You’ll discover that at the end of the day, the person becomes a big footballer. So, for me, I already knew that whatever it was that I was going to become needed that foundation and I traced it to entertainment on campus and it gave me the opportunity to meet most of the people that even now I’m working with. That was how I met the likes of RMD (Richard Mofe Damijo), that was how I met the likes of Ali Baba (Atunyota Akpobome) and the connection was like tip-tap. And that is why I always want to encourage people. You can go to school, but it goes beyond you just finding yourself in that classroom, you also need to understand and go through all sorts of rudiments that will form your character, form your person, so that when you come out, it’s just going to further put you in a place of understanding to know that yes, these things are needed and are necessary. So, for me, all I wanted to do was to make an impact on campus, and it worked because I was the most celebrated student in Delta State University during my time and all of that formed my character into becoming the king of comedy’s personal assistant, because he discovered it, and from there here we are.
As an undergraduate, what gave you the confidence to approach these people and invite them to your school for shows?
The confidence was also laced with some cash (laughter). Studying the campus environment, I noticed that okay, when you wanna do a show and you just bring the regular, you will get the regular result. Anything! It’s still the same format that works till date. Once you push yourself a bit extra, that’s when you can get the extra result. And for me, I have that spirit of always aiming for the best and anytime I do that, I succeed. I remember the first time I put up a poster on campus and I said Ali Baba was coming, the students were busy tearing the posters and they were looking for me to beat up for coming up with such a big lie to deceive the student community, because at the time, they were like, of all people, Ali Baba! Are you alright? But then what people don’t understand is, there’s no harm in trying and also when you try, what’s the worst you can get? It’s a no. It’s a yes or no and for me, making that attempt and having that confidence to call Ali Baba, it worked, because he was like, young man, do you have an idea of how much I charge? And I said name your price!
So, the money you eventually paid him, how did you raise it?
It’s not like the money was there. But he was very, very impressed that, okay, the confidence that this guy could really talk about money. But when he mentioned the money, I mean, at that time, if they had sold my dad and my mom, I wouldn’t have been able to do the show. But then he was able to connect with the fact that he was once a student and this is coming from that background and because that worked for him, that’s what students, till date, they have used to get me. Because everytime I think about it now, I say na so e be that time for Ali Baba o! So, anytime I’m doing shows for them, I don’t really expect too much, because I never can tell the next AY that is going to come out of there, the same way an Ali Baba made AY come out of that background. And students just take advantage of it now.
But eventually, the money you paid him, how did you come about it?
I set up a committee. You know when you are on campus, you have the ones that are Aje- butters, you have the ones who have the raw talents to do the raw job; I set up a committee and then my pocket money, from home, I put everything together. You know it’s part of the risks – doing business is a risk. And I think I even risked my school fees at the time, because I believe that before it will get to the deadline for us to pay up, I would have finished the show and I would have made some money and it worked. So, the question would have been what if it didn’t work? It means that I probably would have been out of school (laughing). But it still boils down to risk taking and knowing the right risk to take.
You have another interesting story in the university – you were allegedly dating somebody that made a lecturer to keep you on campus for nine years. Can you just summarise that story and what happened exactly?
Well, life happened! Because I also strongly believe that all that factors put together moulded my character and my person and good enough, I’m in a good relationship with that same lecturer today. He asked for forgiveness and he’s also happy for what I have become today. But the same confidence of grabbing my phone to call Ali Baba was the same confidence that made me walk up to the lecturer to say, that thing that you want to do will not work! And I was doing that not against any background as a cultist or anything. I didn’t know that people who make such ‘mouth’, you must have something that will back you up. And so I think when they discovered that this guy was just an ordinary person, that kept me in school for nine years. Yes, I spent nine years in the university; not something I’m proud of, but today, the story is different. There are people who left school long before me and all of that; I can’t even compare the life that I’m living now with their lives. Not to slight them, but just to encourage people who sometimes give up as a result of a particular situation, because you never can tell. Weeping may endure for a while, but joy will always come in the morning.
Now, was it just the girl’s issue that kept you in school for 9 years or was there any other thing?
No; the first four years was about me finding myself in the wrong department. I put in for Mass Communication and I got Music, when JAMB released the result. You know the M factor – Mass Communication, Music. I didn’t know how my name appeared in the Music department. So, I decided to take Music as a course, with the belief that when I start taking my elective courses in Mass Communication, they will now move me back from Music and I did well in those elective courses. But when it was time to make the change, the Head of Department refused with a simple analogy that if we move everybody from Music, if we start changing everybody who wants to leave, there will be no Music department. So, I’m sorry, it won’t fly. And so that kept me in Music for four years. I was going to my final year and then I made up my mind that I didn’t belong to that department and just when others were encouraging me to go ahead, just finish it, you have just one more year to go and all that; part of that my boldness and confidence, again, made me to go and grab a JAMB form and then when my younger ones who were writing JAMB, when they saw me, they thought I was writing JAMB for someone and all of that. So, I took JAMB and then I now gained admission afresh into the same university. People used to come to D-Block to look at me in the class. Is he normal? Who does that? I’ve always been very bold and incisive when it comes to taking decisions that I know will change my life…
You worked for Ali Baba for some time as his PA. How long were you with him?
I worked for three years.
So, what would you say was the greatest lesson you learnt while working for him?
Oh, Ali Baba taught me everything about packaging that I have learnt today; it’s like when you have raw packaging and now it’s like finding yourself in the corporate world. I was just a regular guy on the street. So, I learnt how to deal with the corporate world; working with Ali Baba, I learnt how to do the business of stand up comedy and packaging. It was through Ali Baba I knew you just had to do an invoice, you needed to have a contract, you needed to have an understanding that I’m going to do this and the clients, they take you even more seriously. Not that you will just wake up and say okay, pay into so, so account. You open a corporate account. I learnt all of that from him and that is what has given birth to what everyone is seeing in AY today.
Success is not served a la carte. So, for anybody to succeed in comedy, what must the person do?
Yeah, I talked about research earlier and it’s also good to understudy those who are succeeding in the business. Personally, when I came in, I did a lot of that and I was also privileged to have somebody to learn under directly. So, what you do is, you study those in the business. Not just within, but within and outside. You look at the foreign scene as well and then you understudy those people. For somebody like me, what I did, apart from studying Ali Baba, I understudied Chris Rock, I wanted to know what he’s doing, his lifestyle and how it relates to stand up comedy and by extension even Kevin Hart; those were the people I understudied. Steve Harvey. I do a lot of research, read about them and it was even through such research that I got to know that you can go beyond just stand up comedy and as an entertainer, you can diversify, and still operate within the circles of entertainment – from stand up comedy to movies, even to music, for those who have the talent to sing, because it’s all about entertainment. What is much more important is building the brand name first. As soon as you have that brand name, you can use the name to delve into some other areas of entertainment and it will still give you; your face value will give it a lift, at least.
In comedy, some people attain success, but they are not able to manage and sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
It’s wanting to be what you are not. Wanting to be what you are not is one negativity that has engulfed entertainers generally. It goes beyond stand up comedy. You know, when you have relevance, it’s also good to have investment in place; it’s very, very important that you begin to save for tomorrow because nobody is going to reign forever. Nobody! And like I tell my people, it’s Turn by Turn Nigeria Limited. Today, it can be AY, tomorrow, it’s gonna be another brand. So, when it was AY, what did you do with it? So, knowing what to do with it and knowing how to invest and build for your tomorrow is very, very important. So, I think that anybody who is yet to get there, all you need to do is to keep on keeping on, continue to strive, because definitely you are gonna hit your mark by doing the right thing and when you hit your mark, also know how to manage it so that tomorrow you don’t see yourself crying to others for help or anything.
For the upcoming comedians, what do you think is the commonest mistake that they make?
Yeah, you want to come into an industry, and then you are coming in telling Ali Baba’s jokes, you are coming in telling Basketmouth’s jokes. It’s something that we are already used to. There’s nothing fresh, there’s nothing to welcome you with. If you want to come into an industry, you come in with something that will make everybody turnaround and be like who is this? You need to call attention to yourself and if you can succeed in calling attention to yourself as a new brand, then you will be welcome. Like I said, it’s very, very important to create something that is different. When you come in with a different style, when you come with a different dynamic, the appreciation is there; you are appreciated and then you are recognized and then you increase in no time.
You have come up with a lot of jokes. Of all your jokes, which one will you describe as your favourite and why?
Ah! Well, I think it’s still going to play back to my Chris Okotie series, because it was more like a national anthem; everybody could relate to them. When they see AY till today, what comes to mind is Chris Okotie or when they see Chris Okotie sometimes what comes to mind is AY and also knowing that myself and Chris Okotie as a person have that affiliation as a result of what I was doing on him, it really played well and yeah, it’s still gonna be that one any time, anyday. So many jokes have come in, but that one, I think, is it.
There’s no arguing the fact that God has been nice to you, what more do you want from God?
I’m not the type that wants the world. I just want sustenance, I pray for sustenance. I’m not praying for Bill Gates’ kind of money, but if it comes, my body no forbid am (laughter). But sustenance, because there’s nothing like it. I sometimes sit back; I know a lot of people, I see a lot of people and the pain that I have is when I see people that, you know, people who had gained respect, made so much money, then go back to zero. I don’t think it’s something that anybody would wish for in life. So, the best I can do for my brand at this point in time is to pray for sustenance, pray for more grace and like I said, if God will give me Bill Gates’ kind of money, by extension, my head no forbid am.
Where do you see AY and the AY brand in the next 10 years?
Yeah, my next 10 years’ process usually starts from the first minute the question is asked. So, I see AY…AY’s operational code of conduct is on a per second billing. So, 10 years is usually very far a scheme for me. In the next 24 hours, I want to see AY gravitating from one level to another in an ascending order. So, by the time you equate that into 10 years’ frame, you will see that AY is even trying to be bigger than the industry.
Away from work, how do you keep yourself busy, how do you relax?
I play football, I love to play football. As a matter of fact, if I was not doing stand up comedy today, or doing any other thing, if I had an opportunity, if my father did not always come to that field flogging me and making me go to the classroom, I would have been playing football and because it’s something that I love so much, I still engage in it even up till date. I play a lot of novelty matches, I play for Nollywood FC and I am one of their top and highest goal scorers. I played in the last game where the icons of Super Eagles; what’s it called? Yeah, legends of the game. They invited me to play with them and I was able to give the Super Eagles a goal against the African side that came. So, it’s something that is in me. And I also like the fact that when people see me and laugh, oh, comedian, you think this is a joke, I love it when I see them changing later to oh, wait, he dey play o; oh, he sabi o! So, it gives me so much joy because I train twice a week.
On a final note, tell us about your family. Can we meet them?
Yeah, my family! My family is a small family. I have a wife and a daughter. My wife’s name is Mabel Makun and my daughter is Michelle Makun.