Widely known as either The 1st or Comedian of the Federal Republic (CFR), Mr. Gbenga Adeyinka, is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s biggest and busiest comedians. A father of three and an English graduate of the University of Lagos, contrary to what many believe and see today, he told YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, during an exclusive interview, on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, that the beginning was neither smooth nor rosy. From being unable to pay his rent at some point to his car running out of fuel in the middle of the road, Mr. Adeyinka, who didn’t enjoy the support of family members at inception, sure has an inspiring story.
Delving into the bread business recently – with pure water also in the offing, I could not help but ask him to equally comment on the new business ‘ventures’. Excerpts…
Your romance with comedy, what ignited it?
A- That’s one thing I never knew I’d be in life – a comedian. I grew up in new Lagos, Surulere, where they had everybody. To my left was an Igbo family, the Anayos; to my right, we had a Yoruba family; the next building, a Calabar family; the next building, an Hausa family. It was an environment where you could soak up everything. I just knew that I liked to have fun, I liked to make people laugh, but I didn’t know it was comedy then. In secondary school, I would be the one to want to make people laugh in class. In school, we had a teacher who would always say “ehn” and I’ll be the one to say “gbosa” and get into trouble. I was always the one leading the drumming in class, I was always the one singing when we were playing football. I didn’t know what it was. I started anchoring shows in year 2. I was a member of the literary and debating society, then something happened – my English teacher then, Mrs Omoegun, she’s Professor (Mrs) Omoegun now; she taught me Literature then and also ended up being my lecturer in UNILAG. She made us do a stage play, “The gods are not to blame” by Ola Rotimi and then and there, I realized that this was what I was meant to do. I was born to be on the stage, but I didn’t know what direction. I was very good in the arts, I fell in love with Literature from that day. I happen to be a community project, I grew up with my grandmother first and then my uncles and aunts started coming back to Nigeria and they’ll say, “Oh, you are spoiling this boy.” They’ll come and pick me so that they would mould me. By the time I nearly killed them, they’ll move me to another aunty, by the time I nearly killed that aunty, they’ll move me to another uncle. I’m blessed with a retentive memory. I didn’t have notes in school. I’m that child that when they’re coming back from the U.S, they’ll buy shoes for me, they’ll buy socks for me, they’ll buy school bag for me, buy white, that was our uniform. By the first week, somebody would have stolen my sandals because we’ll use it to do ‘monkey post.’ By the second week of school, my uniform would have turned brown because I was always playing football in the rain. But when my uncle came back, he wanted me to study engineering because he’s an engineer; because according to him, no other profession exists except engineering. But me, my head did not carry Maths, it did not carry Physics, only Chemistry and Biology, but those two, Physics and Maths, nothing! So, he told me that if didn’t come between 1st and 10th, I’d repeat. For the first time I came 17th. He warned me; second time I came twenty something, he took me to the principal. When I saw that he was serious, I started reading. For the first time, I came tenth, but he said my percentage was too low. So, he made me repeat. I came first the first term, I came first the second term, I came first the third term, but my Physics and Maths were bad, so I got admitted to study Law in LASU. That was the year LASU started, so my uncle drove me in his car; he drove me to Ikeja, he took me to that magistrate’s court close to Ikeja Local Government and he started showing me around. He didn’t show me Gani Fawehimi, he didn’t show me Rotimi Williams, he showed me all those charge and bail lawyers. So, I ended up not studying Law. I went to the International School, Ibadan for my A-levels. Unfortunately for them, on your way to ISI, you’ll pass Theatre Arts department. I used to hear drum beats, and I’ll be asking what are these one doing here? So, I’ll go inside, stop and see them and I’ll say to myself, “This is what I want to do.” I didn’t tell them; when I was filling my JAMB form, I didn’t tell them, but before I filled my JAMB form, my bestfriend, Rotimi Alowoaye, we sat for exams together and all that; I had gotten admission to study Architecture in UNILAG, so he invited me over for his matriculation. I got to UNILAG the day before the matric, we went to see a stage play called Jambitos, put together by Theatre 15. I told myself, I’m coming to this school, and this is where I want to be. I got back, there was no Theatre Arts in UNILAG, I filled my form, first choice, English in UNILAG, second choice, English in UNILAG, third choice, English in UNILAG. Result came, they picked me, I was number three in my department. I can never forget my matric number, 870102003. That was my matric number. I got to school, joined Theatre 15 and did a lot of stage plays. They’ll always pick me for the funny roles, after a while, people started inviting me for their hall dinners, for their departmental dinners, to anchor this, to anchor that. I never knew that was comedy, I just knew I enjoyed making people laugh, I knew I enjoyed being on stage. I graduated, I went to serve in Benue. In Benue, I was acting, one thing led to the other, I met a couple of people, I organized a show on campus with some friends, I anchored it, I didn’t know it was comedy. I got back to Lagos, comedy had started, there was a particular guy called Ali Baba, who was making money from comedy. That was how I auditioned to join Theatre 15 and became big in comedy. I always wanted to work in a bank. In fact, Davido’s father, Deji Adeleke, who is my uncle, and who owned Pacific Merchant Bank; he told me immediately I graduate, I should come and see him and I’ll have a job. But, I went to see him, at that point, they were starting Pacific Savings and Loans, so he told me to hold on. For the time being, I started working with my uncle, my salary was never enough. So, I started my children’s entertainment outfit, I was painting my face, playing with children, then lo and behold, I went to Mitv, I saw Akin Akindele, the Bashorun of Alagbado. I will hear him on radio and he’ll be telling jokes, so we’ll throw jokes back and forth. So, a certain Funmi Farodoye, I think she’s Funmi Davies now, she saw me and said, “Excuse me, I’d like for you to please come and be a part of my programme.” She said I’ll be telling jokes, I said no, she told me that the jokes I was telling, I should come and tell them on TV. So, when we started, the programme was called “Gist Night.” People will call me and say I was funny, after a while, what killed me was one day, someone called and said, “Oh, you’re so funny, how much do you charge?” I was in shock; that was how I started. When I started, people started calling and calling. So, one of the guys I knew in camp then was working in Metropolitan Bank; Metropolitan Bank then was having their dinner, because then, I was doing children’s entertainment, I had DJ services; he asked me if I could come and play music for them, I said yes. So, I went there to play music and I saw Ali Baba. So, he was telling Ali Baba that this is our own Ali Baba here, this guy is too funny. After Ali Baba was done on stage, he called me on stage and gave me the opportunity to talk. I came on stage, people laughed and Ali Baba came to meet me and asked me what my work was. He asked me if I was a comedian, I said no, that I only owned a children’s entertainment company and I worked at Spotlight Engineering and comedy was just a side show. So, he told me that I could actually be successful as a stand-up comedian, I said God forbid! For me, comedy was never my choice; I keep telling people that I never chose comedy, I think from the very onset, God had planned what I was going to do. As I was telling you, when I went to UNILAG then, I told myself I was going to join Theatre 15, I was going to study English. Then, what killed me finally was the room my friend stayed in was E109, Makama Bida Hall and I told myself I would be posted to this room in this hall of residence. I didn’t do anything about it, but when my letter of accommodation came, that was the exact, same room they gave me. So, I knew that God had a hand in what I wanted to do. So, I didn’t romance comedy before my wife thinks I’m cheating on her, it was comedy that romanced me and because I’m very weak, I fell for it.
The journey so far, how would you describe it?
Let me not be ungrateful to God, I think apart from last year and the very first year I started comedy, it’s been smooth sailing for me; God has been extremely good to me. I see doors open, I’ve met people I never thought I’d meet in my life, I’ve been to places I never thought I’d go to in my life. I’ve met presidents, not just of Nigeria, of African countries, I’ve equally met an American president, all because of comedy. Comedy has done so much for me.
To have a taste of success in comedy, what must one do?
You must be tenacious. You must never say die; there’ll be dark days and you must be ready to pay your dues. I’ve gone to places as far as Enugu without being paid. My break in entertainment came from a free show. A senior colleague of mine who is my younger brother, Tee A, had a gig for an event company. In those days, we call them agencies, he sent me to do an event. He said I should go, when I come back he’ll pay me. I never knew he was giving me a break. Money was not the major thing for me, so when I came back I didn’t even ask him for the money because he was giving me a platform. So, I went to do this Valentine’s show that they organized and the guy told me, “Wow, you are good, please keep in touch.” When they needed somebody to handle Star Quest, it was that guy that helped me, they called me, I didn’t even audition, they gave me three venues. I think it was Benin, Enugu and Asaba. Benin was the last; I did Enugu and I did Asaba. The last day, I went to meet the MD of Nigerian Breweries then, Odimegwu Festus; I went to say thank you sir and he said, “My friend, I’ll see you at the next venue”. I said, “No sir, they gave me only three venues”. He said, “What? That’s impossible, you’re doing everything.” So, the agency said no, we’ve paid other MCs for other locations and he said they should keep the money and that was how I got my first break from a free show. So, for you to have a taste of success, you must not despise little beginnings, you must be tenacious, you must have your eyes on the goal. What should be your target is excellence and a taste of success. It doesn’t come if you lose focus on money and all that. I always tell people, be faithful to your art and your art will be faithful to you.
As at the time you started, what gave you the confidence that you could make it in comedy?
One, I knew I could do it and then two, I told you I was a community project. All my uncles and aunts were angry with me that after sending me to all the best schools in this country, you say you want to be Baba Sala; it’s wrong and me, I have a problem in life – I don’t like people telling me what to do. One of them was even saying I was lazy, I didn’t want to work, that Uncle Deji told me to come and take a job, I didn’t go. But because they went on and on about it, I told myself that I had to make a success of this and what did I decide to do? I decided from the onset that I was going to do it like a job. I was going to observe international best practices the best way I could at that point and I would build on that. That’s why when I started, I called myself “The Next In Line.” After I had worked in the 36 States of Nigeria; I was the first comedian to call myself “Comedian of The Federal Republic.” So, for me, it was a desire to prove people wrong and I’m not ashamed to say this – Ali Baba was my role model, is my role model and will always continue to be my role model. He gave me belief. Even when he didn’t know me, so I told myself that if somebody could come from outside Lagos; he wasn’t born in this part, he doesn’t know people in this part and he’s making a success of something, me, I was born here, I know people here, I must make a success of this too. At every point, when I wanted to give up, I always saw him as an inspiration and I always told myself in my mind “don’t stop” and the fact that my family will tell me didn’t we tell you always kept me going then.
Talking about giving up, was there ever a time you contemplated quitting comedy to go back to your nine to five job?
There was o! In those days, one of the biggest challenges I had was breaking into mainstream, but then I was also blessed because I broke into mainstream early. But you see, those days, the money we made was sustainability money, it was not big boy money, at least for me who was just breaking in. Remember those days of these Star Trek shows we did, I took night bus to majority of the places. I can never forget, it was Femi Davies that advised me one day, because I was talking to him, I thought I was being smart on that; I said, “See me, what do I do? That money is not enough for me to take a flight, but you see, I’ll keep some of the money, I will take night bus, I’ll go to the place, I won’t sleep in the hotel, I’ll wait at the venue till morning, then I’ll perform, the next morning, I enter night bus again, I’m back in Lagos.” He said, “Gbenga, you are fooling yourself and destroying your career, it’s not those people that are in the night bus that are your target audience, your target audience are in the aeroplane that you are refusing to take, so if it is two thousand you are going to keep after taking plane to where you are going, they would have seen you on TV. So, if they see you in real life, they’ll remember you, some will give you their cards.” So, I now started… There was no money. There was one time, I just had my first daughter, we were living in Oke Ira, in Ogba, Lagos, then and I was supposed to pay house rent, it was terrible! Luckily, in those days, there was nothing I was not doing – I was doing children’s party entertainment, I was doing stand-up comedy, I was doing printing, I was doing video recording, I was doing DJ. There’s nothing I was not doing. So, I got this job, I printed the people’s wedding invitation cards, I also got the job to cover their wedding for video coverage. So, this evening, I went to deliver the job to them, they had a few things to adjust, but they paid me my balance because that was the money I was supposed to use to pay my house rent. I don’t know if you remember that bin at Ojota? I didn’t know there was no fuel in my car, and that was how the fuel finished in my car; boys just came out from everywhere with cutlasses, they took the money, they took my house rent, they took the tapes, I ran after them to drop the tapes. That was the day I knew that armed robbers had bosses. So, they dropped the tapes because their boss told them to. Don’t forget they stole my house rent, so I couldn’t pay my house rent. That was when I knew that Jesus is not from Ibadan, that was when I knew that Angel Gabriel does not have tribal marks. My landlord, I would dodge him, I will leave home early in the morning before anybody wakes up, I’ll get home very late at night, the man would have locked the gate, I’ll jump fence to enter my house. By the time I wake up in the morning, they would have put candle and juju in front of my house. Long and short of it, I had to send my family to live with my in-laws…
What must a comedian do first after being engaged to perform somewhere?
The first thing he needs to do is research, research, research; he must find out the type of event. If it is a medical event, you must have a little understanding of medical terminologies, you must know some medical jokes; if it is a wedding, you must ask about the history of the family, let it not be a place where the mother doesn’t have a husband, the father of the bride has been useless, you need to do a lot of research. My own philosophy is this – he who fails to plan, plans to fail. Being funny is not enough, every Dick and Harry, every Ade and Olu in Nigeria is funny. Being funny is not enough, you must research and you must be prepared to do every show as if it’s your first show.
What must a comedian do first on arriving at an event venue or the home of a client?
There are two different things; if you’re arriving at the home of a client, be appropriately dressed, look responsible. My brother, Julius Agwu will say you must dress the way you want to be addressed. Unluckily for you, you’re a comedian, nobody takes you seriously. So, you must now turn the mind of the people around that what I do is comedy and it’s a serious business. Dress well, smell nice, don’t let body odour kill them at the person’s house, look good, never believe that you must look like a comedian to be called a comedian. Now, if as a comedian you get to the event, familiarize yourself with the programme and always have more than your required materials. I always have first five, second five and third five. You’re lucky if you’re doing just comedy alone because you can be called abruptly. A comedian must have spontaneity and also be versatile because you can be called at any time, but if you are MCing the event, it’s a different thing. As MC, you are the master of ceremonies. A lot of people say it’s not your business, but me as MC, if I get to events, I go to the back and talk to the engineers and ask them if they’ve balanced everything, I go to the drinks people, I go to the food people, I go round to make sure we are all on the same page, because people will forget the food they ate, they’ll forget the drink they drank, they might even forget the music they listened to, but they’ll never forget what you said on the microphone and how professional you were; that is what gets you more jobs.
So, what edge does Gbenga Adeyinka have over other comedians?
I think it’s better to allow people say that, but one thing I know about myself is that I’m very versatile, I can work a large crowd into frenzy and I can operate a little crowd, I can work in Mushin and I can also work in Banana Island.
I think God has blessed me with the gift of versatility. I might not be the funniest comedian, but I know how to read my audience, I know how to prepare for my events and God has been kind to me.
What jokes must a comedian not tell?
See, it’s also a matter of style. I won’t be caught dead depending on the situation. I try my best not to tell dirty jokes. I might insinuate – Okey Bakassi is the best when it comes to telling dirty jokes and it’s not dirty. I don’t know how to explain that well, but he tells a very raw joke and it’s not wrong; he’s telling it with all maturity. I will not say don’t tell dirty jokes. BM (Basket mouth) tells a lot of dirty jokes and it works for him, but me, I don’t tell dirty jokes. I can’t say there’s no joke a comedian cannot tell, but I’ll just say that you have to be aware of what is appropriate where you are. If I’m doing a large concert show, what those boys want to hear are dirty jokes, but I won’t tell dirty jokes because I know it will be shown on TV because I have children. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and tell them don’t do that, and that’s what guides a lot of the things I do.
Do you have any regret pitching your tent with comedy?
I thank God for allowing me find actualization, for allowing me discover myself, for allowing me to do what I love and make small ‘pepper’ from it. But sometimes I wish I was not a comedian because I have political aspirations and it is going to take a lot for Nigerians to vote for a comedian as president. But it has happened in other countries of the world. So, it might also happen in Nigeria.
What is the sweetest thing about being a comedian?
For me, the sweetest thing, when I first started, when I’m walking in the street, I’ll be wondering if people don’t know me, but now, I always pray for people not to greet me. Comedy opens doors for you. There was a time my driver called me that the bakery bus broke down on the road, and the guy called me and said LASTMA wants to tow our vehicle. I told him to give the guy the phone, so I said hello, he said he knows the voice, I said yes, it’s me, Gbenga Adeyinka and he shouted hey! How are you now? We’ve not been seeing you since, I told him it was the bread that was making people not to see me and the guy let us go. So, it does a lot for you. In this house, if not for comedy, I would have not known you…
What prompted your going into the bread business?
It is a hunger-inspired project o! I’ve always loved multiple streams of income and this is one thing that has always scared me; God, I’m not using this to chastise anybody, I’m only trying to praise your name. But when I see older entertainers, the situation they are in, I start getting scared, I start asking myself what can I do, because I am a realist; I know that I can’t do comedy forever. Just like I came and I blew, other people will come and they’ll blow, they’ll push me too out of the market. That is the truth of life unless I’m lying to myself. So, I’ve always asked what can I do? I’ve tried my hands at a lot of things, but you know when you’re not desperate, when you’re not pushed to the wall, you’ll just try this and go. I’ve traded in gold, they ‘chop’ my money, I’ve traded in crypto currency, they ‘chop’ my money, I’ve bought land that eventually I won’t see, I’ve done real estate, I’ve done different things, but lo and behold, I’ve always wanted to do something… That lockdown time, I had small change, but I had a big problem. I don’t know if I’ve told you before – I collected loans from the bank to do Laugh Matters and usually, what happens is I have a contract with a huge multinational, so after we finish my shows, they pay me off. But lockdown came and the multinational said that it was lockdown, they were not making money; this year we can’t do the contract. I hate feeling useless and during that lockdown I was feeling really useless. I was waking up, sleeping, I exercised and I nearly died. So, I told myself what can I do? I had this property that had been lying there, so I said let me become an engineer, so I went there and we renovated that place and made everything up to date. I kept thinking of what to do. I don’t know if you know Deji Ogunshaki, the guy who contested for governor of Ekiti State in this last dispensation? I was just talking to him and I don’t know how the idea came up, so I asked him how does a bakery run and he told me and that was how I came up with this whole bakery thing. I’m also going into water production. The NAFDAC number is almost ready, the name is ‘The First Water’, and we need investors.
So, what stands your bread out, why should I buy your bread?
My people say if a lizard falls down from a tree top and if he looks round and nobody praises him, he will nod his head and say he tried. Once you eat our bread, you won’t eat any other bread again. It is a taste of good life. My competitors don’t put some things we put in our bread. In Ikorodu today, we’re the only people who put milk in our bread. Our bread is slightly more profitable than other breads, but a taste will convince you. I know somebody who is diabetic, she’s the mother of one of our suppliers, she said she’s not supposed to eat bread, but anytime they supply bread, she always takes one and she doesn’t know when she finishes it. What we’ve decided to do for business reasons, you know when you start, you’re very excited, when we first started, we started distributing to as far as Ajah, Lekki, then we realized that it’s not profitable, because of the money we use for petrol. So, we decided to concentrate on the Ikorodu market for now. So, just hit me up for yours…