GBENGA ADEYINKA EXCLUSIVE – ‘I STARTED COMEDY BY JUST FOOLING AROUND’
You cannot have an encounter with Gbenga Adeyinka and not take away two things. The first one is that he’s a jolly good fellow and the second one is that he’s hyper active. Unarguably one of Nigeria’s biggest comedy brands at the moment, the MD/CEO of Laughter Incorporated Ventures and a proud father of three (with two of them in the university) granted audience to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, at his office, on Agbaoku Street, off Opebi Road, in Ikeja, Lagos. They examined a lot of issues which we are sure will interest you. Excerpts…
What is your definition of comedy?
For me, and like a great comedian once said: comedy is anything you do that brings out laughter in people. For some, it’s dance; for some, it’s stand up; for some, it’s acting. But for me, anything that elicits laughter is comedy.
What makes a good comedian?
What makes a good comedian is the ability – and this is very pedantic – to make people laugh. But then, what makes you a different comedian is the details in what you say, your punch lines, the relevance to the occasion, because there are some jokes that are funny, but if said in the wrong place and out of context might end up not being funny. So, a lot of times appropriateness also determines how funny what you say is. For instance, no matter how funny a joke I tell, if I’m visiting somebody whose mother just had an accident or just got burnt and I start talking about how people who go to hell fire will suffer; it will be in bad taste. So, for me, it’s appropriateness, delivery and most importantly, the material you are giving out.
What is the biggest mistake that any comedian can make?
Believing that it’s just business as usual, believing that you don’t have to prepare. You have to prepare for every event. Every event is different. Believing that shebi, I’m funny; I will just go there and start telling jokes. And not taking the environment he or she is in, into consideration, before talking.
What is the best way to come about quality jokes?
Listening to people, reading, opening your eyes. But I think the best way is reading. A comedian once told me that: ah, me I don’t bother to read. And I told him, then you will be a lousy comedian. Because everyday, there’s something new to read. What God has done for all of us is that He has given us the materials to work with; He has given us the brain. How you now develop your brain is left to you; not left to God. You can tell God: Please, let me win this lottery. But if you don’t buy the ticket, you can’t win. So, God has given you that power. If you decide to be a comedian, that means that it’s given that God has given you the gift of garb, the gift of making people laugh. But it is now in your place to develop it, to buy books, to learn from the greats. Not necessarily steal from Ali Baba, but see what Ali Baba does that makes him unique; see what Basketmouth does, look at his style; how can you better that style, what can you do that is different from all that? Preparation for me is key.
What was the most critical thing you did that got you where you are today?
Believing that every day is a new challenge, not resting on my oars, the fear of failure, preparation. For me, preparation is key. If I have an event and you see me preparing, you will wonder: ah-ah, shebi na to just go tell dem jokes there? Why are you doing all this wahala? Try out the materials you are going to use on people before you go and say them. If you gauge people’s reactions, you will know that: dis one no work, dis one work. Once in a while, when you are working, try some jokes. Preparation does not mean that you should not be spontaneous. There are some times you try some spontaneous things and it works. That is your work as a comedian, but by and large, 90 percent – and all the greats do it. If anybody tells you they don’t do it; it’s a lie. All the greats do it. If you are going for an event that has to do with doctors, you have to write down at least four jokes that have to do with medicine that you are going to do when you get there. Eventually, as you go on, other things come to you. But if you get there and you don’t have any material to start with, and nothing comes to you, then you are messed up.
What are the attributes of a good joke?
There’s a book I have, it’s called The Comedy Bible. According to the book, a good joke is in three parts – there’s the intro, there’s the story and the punch line. The intro – you generally prepare people. Like – men, I love this country, Nigeria; Nigeria is a wonderful country. Then, you start your story – Nigeria is different from other countries. When we do our things in Nigeria, the way we do it is different from how others do it. In America, when whales get marooned on the shores, people come out and start pushing it – save the whale. But any whale that mistakenly comes to Nigeria to get marooned; then you look for a punch line to drop. Because when the story is long and unending, you lose your crowd. But it’s the intro, story, punch line. That is it.
What kind of jokes must a comedian not say?
Actually, there’s no joke that a comedian must not say. It depends on the situation in which you find yourself. It depends on the environment in which you find yourself. For instance, I notice that in Nigeria, we are very sensitive about sex, about vulgarity, and all that. But outside Nigeria, even in places as close as South Africa, you will know you are going for a show where they are going to talk about sex throughout. So, if you are a versatile comedian, you have to be able to feature in that environment. Then, if you are having a large concert where all caution must be thrown to the wind, if you don’t tell those kind of jokes, you might lose your crowd. But if you are having a corporate show, and you start talking about sex, they will think there’s something wrong with you, when in fact the MD of the company is looking at somebody he wants to have sex with. But merely talking about it loses you the crowd and loses you the job. So, for me, a comedian is supposed to be versatile. But that versatility must come with appropriateness. When people are about to eat, it’s not the best time to talk about there’s dis man, his stomach come dey run, e come go toilet, e come begin…I’ve heard comedians do it and it backfired. It’s not that the joke is not funny, it’s not that the joke should not be said, but it’s just the time and the place that he said it.
What is the best way to attain success in comedy and sustain it?
By seeing everyday as a challenge, by building other people. Ali Baba is in my estimation the greatest comedian of this generation and I’m a student of the Ali Baba school of thought and a student of the Ali Baba brand, so to say. How has Ali Baba achieved this? Ali Baba has achieved greatness by (1) being daring. He came to Lagos when nobody was a standup comedian. When nobody was a professional standup comedian. He decided to do it. So, he was daring. (2) He stuck to his art – well, this part I don’t know – he didn’t decide to be a government contractor at the detriment of comedy. Even if he does that, I’m not sure he does. He didn’t decide to be a transporter at the detriment of comedy. He kept going, he kept building the brand. Then (3) – Ali Baba is the biggest builder of comedians anywhere in Nigeria. So, apart from the fact that he has reinforced himself in the minds of people as the No. 1 comedy brand, all those people that he has built and even those that he has not built; because of the people he has built, we pay credence to his greatness. So, at the end of the day, he’s achieving more greatness, he’s achieving top-of-the-mind awareness, he’s achieving longevity and when the big brands come to Nigeria, if they want to use the foremost comedian, they will use him. Even if he stops being funny, he’s still going to be that brand. So, for me, it is sticking to your art, working everyday like it’s your first day on the job and helping other people to be great.
What got you interested in comedy in the first place?
What got me interested? I’ve always enjoyed making people to laugh. I didn’t know it was called comedy back then. I just knew that it was called fooling around. I loved to fool around, I loved to disturb classes, I loved to disturb people, I loved to be the centre of attraction. On campus, I was in a theatre group called Theatre 15 and I was doing MC for hall events, for departmental dinners and all that. When I graduated, people started telling me that I can do it. And that was when Ali Baba started ‘blowing’ and comedy started growing and people kept on saying you can do this thing now, why don’t you do it? Try it now, try it now and I saw that it was something I was comfortable doing; it was rough then. A lot of things needed to be straightened, because I wasn’t trained by anybody. I didn’t study under anybody, but I knew this was what I wanted to do; I knew it was something I always wanted to do and it’s like God had just prepared me all along for that part, because whatever I did had something to do with talking, had something to do with the theatre. I wanted to do Law in LASU, my uncle said no and now took me to Ikeja and was showing me all the hungry lawyers (Laughing). He didn’t show me the successful ones o! This one is a lawyer, that one is a lawyer.
Eventually, I didn’t go and I went to study for my A-levels. Luckily, when I was filling my form or before I filled my JAMB form, I came to UNILAG for my friend’s matriculation, I saw a theatre group called Theatre 15. They were on stage, I loved what they were doing, I said I’m going to come to UNILAG to study Theatre Arts. When I was filling the form, there was no Theatre Arts, but there was English, so I came to do English and ended up being in Theatre 15. I spoke all through my time in school. I graduated, they posted me to Benue. My aunty was Director of NYSC, Oyo State. She forgot I was going to graduate, so she didn’t do anything about my posting. I was posted to Benue State. When I was in camp, we did some stage things. I did a show; they posted me to Radio Benue, Makurdi. From Radio Benue, Makurdi, I came back. You know, everything just kind of pushed me towards what I wanted to do and what I realized was that entertainment was what I wanted to do and just decided to stick to it and the rest, like they say, is history.
You’ve been around now for over a decade. What would you say has kept you going?
What has kept me going is the fear of failure. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been thrown into the ocean of relative success. And not sustaining it would be a sign of career failure. So, that keeps me going. The desire to forge and break new grounds. The desire to prove people wrong, because a lot of people have said, and I know, that Gbenga Adeyinka is not funny; he’s not supposed to be doing this. So, the desire to prove a lot of people wrong has kept me going; the desire to build a career also. But most importantly, the desire to continue to feed my family. It’s a hunger-inspired project. I have to continue feeding them and if I fail, then that is going to stop. That’s it basically.
What is the greatest thing that comedy has done for you?
That’s a tough one. Comedy has blown my mind. There are things I never thought in my life I would achieve; there are people I never thought I would meet. Last week, I was at an event and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, that great man (Stresses it), was at the event and when I went to greet him, immediately I said good afternoon sir, he said Gbenga, how are you? I was shocked that he even knew who Gbenga was. I meet Presidents, I meet Governors, I meet ordinary people, I travel abroad…I can say that if I’ve travelled abroad ten times, nine of the times I’ve travelled, I didn’t pay. I’ve been to places I never thought I will go in my life, I’ve met people I never thought I will meet. I have the kind of luck that you only dream about. You know, you are on Instagram, you put up a picture and people start liking it – Oh, bros, keep it up; Ah, nice one. Those kind of things were fairy tales to me when I was growing up.
(Interruption) – How?
Because one of my dreams growing up was to run for office. But now, sometimes when I think about it, the first thing that comes to my mind is: People will say dis one no be comedy o! You better be sure o. But maybe I will be the first comedian to get an elective office, I don’t know. But one thing I think comedy might have done; not that it has done already – is that it might have robbed me of political office. But I’m still interested in political office. But not appointment. I want to run for office and win. Because if I get an appointment, it’s just going to be like any other appointment. I want to go on the streets, campaign. If it is House of Reps, if it is senate, if it is presidency, if it is governorship, I want to go on the streets. Growing up, I read a lot of books. I read the story of George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jnr; I’ve read the books of Obama and the whole thought of a campaign fascinates me and that is one thing I still want to do in my life.
But you’ve not made up your mind about the exact office you want to run for yet?
I have not made up my mind. In fact, I’m too scared to make up my mind because, let me tell you in all honesty, the reason: Am I comfortable enough to contest office? Do I have something to do if it fails? If I get into office and I come out, will I not just end up as a political jobber for the rest of my life once I get into politics? And I think that is the major problem of Nigeria. A lot of politicians do not have something they were doing before they became politicians. But even if they did, going into office, they allowed that to die. So, if I go into office now, when I come back, will I still be saying, ‘Then one day, one man come begin run…’ What will I come back to? So, maybe that’s one of my fears. But then one never says never.
In embracing comedy, who would you say influenced you the most?
In all honesty and I’m not saying this to pay lip service to anybody, the person who influenced me the most was Ali Baba. Indirectly! Because when I started; I’m a community child. I was brought up by my grandmother, then I went to this uncle and that uncle and I got the best education.
So, leaving all that and saying I wanted to do comedy, I had a lot people saying no. We sent you to the best schools in this country and you say you want to be Baba Sala, Olorun maje (God forbid); if it’s a job you need, go and meet Deji Adeleke, he will give you a job, go and meet this person…But Ali Baba and my mother. My mother was my biggest fan. If I decide to do anything, she will ask me, is this what you want to do and once I say yes; she will just let me be. But at that point that my community was talking, Ali Baba was doing comedy, he was successful at it and he was living well and my excuse was see, if you don’t want me to do this thing, give me something else that I can do that will give me such affluence, fame and contentment and I didn’t see any.
Which is the most memorable event that you have anchored and why?
I will say the very first event I did is the most memorable. My first event as a comedian. A lot of people will not remember it, but I have to give kudos to Remi Aboderin. They were having one event at Excellence Hotel (in Ogba, Lagos) and Remi Aboderin kept pushing me to Femi Davies and somebody else and I just found myself on stage, anchoring the event. It was the MKO Abiola something, something, something…I think MKO Abiola post humous birthday. I had been doing comedy, I had been doing weddings, but that one brought me, so to say, in contact with people like you who would write about it, who would talk about it and I was scared out of my wits that day. I did well, I did fairly well and then I told myself this is what I want to do. If that day had fallen on my face maybe I would have just run back.
Can you remember the worst event you have anchored?
The worst event I have anchored was in UNILAG and I was not even contracted to anchor it. It was the Shodeinde Hall End of Year Dinner or so. It was in the new men’s hall. They were having crisis and somebody just said why don’t you tell a couple of jokes. So, I now held the microphone and I was telling jokes. Somebody now started asking for food and meanwhile the food had finished. But you know the way students behave: ‘No, we go chop, we wan chop, if we no chop there will be trouble here…’ So, spontaneously, I just said dem tell una make una dey go, una no wan go. Okay, your food is being cooked then. Somebody just threw a bottle and once the person did that, the hall just scattered. It was serious trouble. That was my worst day on stage. In fact, I didn’t sleep in my room that night. I went to sleep in a female hostel, knowing that nobody would look for me there. It sort of started a mini riot on campus and I was telling myself that ah; now dem go rusticate me for dis school (Laughs).
Which of your jokes do you like best and why?
I think the joke I like best is my old school joke. There’s one joke about when we were growing up, our TV…No, no, no! I think the joke I like best is that my ‘A for Agbero’ joke. Where you have the child from my area reciting A to Z using his area as his own point of reference. Why do I like it? Because when I started comedy, everybody was an ajebutter. You were either from Warri – from Warri where we come from – or you were from my part of the country, but you were an ajebutter. There was a Tee A who was a fine boy. I think it was basically Tee A. But I came with the street slangs – ah, Kilonsele! Initially, most people were saying what’s wrong with this one; this one is so ‘rass’. But that reinforced me in people’s minds, that showed that this guy is different and people kind of liked it. If I go for events, even when I didn’t plan to say it; when I feel that I’ve over flogged this joke, people will say no, tell us that your joke – A for Agbero. But the one I love after that; even now, I’ve stopped doing it. But when you go for some events, somebody will say tell us that your joke about the songs of then and now. I love that one too. But I think my A for Agbero joke was that joke that really threw me into the open and it was not entirely my creation. I first heard it from Holy Mallam. He did his – if the children from the ‘tush’ area are going to do it, they will say A for Apple; B for Ball; C for Cat. But if the children from the other area want to do it, they will do A for Agbalumo; B for something and C for whatever. So, I now said to myself, come o, I can do this to Z. So, that day, I went home and wrote A to Z and that was it.
As a comedian, you make other people laugh, what makes you laugh?
Funny enough, I laugh a lot. I laugh at jokes. I love to laugh. I believe that if you can’t laugh, then you should not expect people to laugh. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you shouldn’t expect people to laugh at you or laugh at your jokes. I love comedy, I love comedy films. I think I’m one of comedy’s hugest fans. A good joke makes me laugh; a bad joke upsets me. If you do somebody’s joke…See, if you give me a joke now; I know it’s not my joke, but my job as a comedian is to refine that joke and make it better. Polish it and all that. But if I now tell that joke and another comedian says it the way I said it, I’m not happy. If he says it better than I said it, that makes me happy. Football makes me happy, music makes me happy.
Comedy has done a lot for you, what have you done for comedy?
I don’t want to beat my chest, but I’ve been one of comedy’s biggest fighters. Everywhere I go, I fight for comedy. In fact, a lot of people have even told me to drop the comedian from my appellation, but I can’t. Because comedy is what threw me into mainstream. I’ve tried my best in my own little way to build younger comedians. There’s this tour I do in the South West. Not being sectional or tribalistic or whatever; I’ve been to organizations where they said oh, this is a nice idea, let’s push it out and I said no. It’s not a Nigerian brand, it’s a brand I built for the South West. When I was growing up, the WNTV – I was not born then though – but what I’ve read is that WNTV was the first TV station in Nigeria. We had TV even before France and what they used to push WNTV then were the works of Baba Sala, Baba Mero, Jacob and Papa Lolo. We had comedy greats in the South West. But it’s such a shame that a lot of time, I go to events and I’m not saying this; like I said, to be sectional or to be tribal – and I hear Yoruba boys say in Warri where we come from. It hurts me, because I believe that we have enough materials. Anywhere in the world, the Warri brand of comedy is a powerful brand that brought contemporary standup comedy into the front burner. But Okey Bakassi is from the East; Julius Agwu is from the South South, with a lot of Eastern connection; I’m from the West. I have to build younger people and that’s why we are doing Laffmattaz in the South West and luckily, what we have done has brought up so many other young comedians; because you don’t have to be Warri to be funny, you don’t have to be Yoruba to be funny, but we must not forget where we are coming from.
You work for a lot of big brands, which additional brands would you like to work for but hasn’t been able to attract?
(Laughs) – If I say that, the brands I’m working for will fight me. But there are a lot of brands I will love to work for, because I like their direction. However, I’m very satisfied with the brands I’m working for. I’m very satisfied with Star, because of what they’ve done for me; I’m very satisfied working with Glo, because of its Nigerianess and all that. But sometimes you just wish – you see a concert, I won’t lie to you; you see some large concerts and you will say kai, if I was not affiliated with this brand, I should be doing this thing. But I won’t mention names so they won’t think I want to port and then deport me. For me, I love to work. People have always asked me: you have a lot of energy, do you use drugs? And I stand bold to say that anybody who has seen me use drugs can come out and say so. I’ve never taken drugs in my life, I’ve never smoked. People say Igbo is not even a drug, but I’ve never smoked one drag of weed. For me, my energy and excitement come from working. When I’m working, I enjoy it. Sometimes it goes beyond the money. So, for me, it’s a drug. That is why when I see somebody on a big brand doing rubbish, I feel like going on stage and slapping the person and collecting the microphone. But then, you can’t do all events.
Can you tell us about your family?
I try my best to hide my family from the press and a lot of my friends have fought me over this. But it’s built on my belief that they didn’t choose to do this; I chose to. But I can talk about them. My wife is an Assistant Director in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice. She’s a lawyer; I think she’s been practicing for over 20 years. Her name is Adeola Adeyinka. I hope she won’t fight me over this, but that’s her lot in life (Laughs). I have three kids. Two of them are in the university – one is studying Electrical/Electronics Engineering, but I won’t mention the name of the university for security reasons. His name is Gbenga Adeyinka, Jnr. The other one is also in the same university – she’s studying Industrial Relations and something – something. Her name is Adeola. And my last is a girl – she’s in SS1. Her name is Oluwatobilobajulo. I don’t have kids outside. Anybody who says I have kids outside should come and talk now (General laughter). I try my best to be a responsible family man because growing up, one thing I didn’t have was the love of my father, because I grew up with my grandmother. So, as much as possible, I try to give my children everything I can. But then I’m also very hard with them because my grandmother was very hard with me and I think that helps you.
NB: First published February 2014
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