Why Nigerians don't take comedians seriously -I Go Save
Otaghware Otas Onodjayeke, popularly known as 'I Go Save,' is among the comedians currently creating waves in the industry. He tells our REPORTER, Ifeoma Meze, in this interview how his journey into comedy started and the most embarrassing moments in his career. Excerpts:
How did you start your comedy career?
I started my comedy life back in 1992, though comedy runs in my family. I think I am a born comedian because I had been doing it since I was very small. When I was very young, I used to bring my peers together to tell them stories, moonlight stories and they used to laugh so much that it got to a stage when they paid me like one N1.50 just to tell them stories and make them laugh. I was quite young then and the money was not really like a pay off because it was not coming often and I never believed I could do it. I was having fun with what I was doing then. Later in my secondary school, I joined a Social Variety Club and I was made the zonal president, Delta State. Then later, Plats Club, I was the social director there. I was their comedian. I cracked jokes and I did mock news. Mock news is presenting real life happenings in a very funny manner, which still makes a whole lot of sense to people. In 1994, I met with my friend, 'I Go Die' when we were having a zonal meeting for Plats Club and we happened to be doing the same thing, comedy and the mock news. Also we found out that we lived very close to one another, like two streets away from each other. We came together and thought about making the mock news real as it was being done on the Television. So we had rehearsals and started presenting them in our zonal meetings and also started handling the comedy on Tunde Omonude's TV talk show on Delta TV every Saturday. It was a huge one, it blew us and people got to know us.
What year was that?
That was around 1996. We continued with the mock news. It became a popular programme, because on every Saturday people were glued to their TV sets just to watch us and laugh. Later, it metamorphosed into stand-up comedy. Comedy started paying more then. We started having shows. We did a show at Ogwulaga and we were paid N80 in 1996, it was a big pay to us. People started inviting us for their weddings, birthdays and some we would just go out of promise of buying us drinks and food because we enjoyed what we were doing and not because of the cash. The jobs were flowing in little by little.
How did you come about the name I Go Save?
It was just the name I was using then.
Did you guys form the name together?
Yes. The 'die' means to transform and change your mood. The 'save' was to save people through laughter. I realised that people die at the peak of their life, which most times is early and it was because they do not find or create time to laugh. When you laugh, it stretches your veins and muscles and when your muscles are stretched, it helps in proper blood circulation. When your blood circulates well, you tend to live longer. So I decided to bear the stage name I Go Save. I save people through laughter. Things were like that until I got admitted into the university and we were separated. I continued the stand-up comedy. Later Opa Williams Night of A thousand Laughs gave me the big blow in year 2000. Though I did one in 1999, but was pirated.
These days that comedians are springing up daily, what distinguishes you from others?
First of all, I Go Save is a brand and as a brand, the only thing that can separate you from others is the way you package your jokes and the way you present yourself. For example, I deliver my jokes with a lot of energy and I stress on the things I am talking about on the stage. If I have three persons involved in a particular joke, I try to portray and demonstrate the three persons in a way the audience would feel they are actually seeing the three on stage. I display a lot of energy and I do a lot of description on stage. There are times that I don't plan what I am going to say, I just get to the venue where I am supposed to perform and what I will say just comes to me and I deliver according to the kind of event that I am performing at. I like talking about politics because it is from politic that our country can actually have a re-birth. Our politicians, whom we call and see as our leaders are now dealers.
You have been travelling a lot to UK and USA in recent times. What has been responsible for this?
Yes, I have been travelling a lot especially last year when I was doing the I Go Save tour. I was touring Europe because I had so many shows that were unattended. My management also booked shows down here in Nigeria because I did not update them on what was going on there. So, shows I had abroad were clashing with the ones I had in Nigeria here. I had to come back to Nigeria to handle the shows because I had already exhausted the time that was given to me by my management to spend. This year I was supposed to continue the show in Europe, in the cities that I couldn't reach last time that I went. I had to continue from where I stopped. I touched few cities like Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Belgium.
As you just got back into the country, did you finish with the shows you had there?
I still didn't finish the shows. There were a lot of shows and they were just pumping in. I would say I got a little homesick and I had projects and things lined up for me to do in Nigeria. I placed that one on hold.
What kind of project is that?
I did my I Go Save Unusual show on March 28 before we started the Europe tour of this year. The show was a huge success, first of its kind in Benin. No comedian had ever done his one-man show there. The show was a sell-out because we had an unexpected turnout of 7000 people while we expected 3000. I was happy and grateful to my colleagues who were solidly behind me. People like Basketmouth, AY, Ali Baba, I Go Die, Gordons, and musicians like MI, Timaya and some other upcoming artistes. The show was peaceful and had a good timing. The show started at 11p.m. and ended at about 2.30a.m.
Editing the show is part of the projects that brought me back because there are marketers that are interested to market the CDs. I had to come back to do the editing and give it a perfect touch before its release. The main project is on the show having to go round the country. We are planning on having the show in other states because Global Media based in Accra Ghana had an agreement to support I Go Save Unusual. They promised to pump in millions of naira to promote it round Nigeria. Global Media is an organisation made up of Nigerians, based in Ghana. They are passionate about promoting musical and comedy talent and are not really after what they benefit from projects they sponsor, so far as it yields positive results. I wrote to many multinational companies that promised sponsorship, but after running their adverts on my promo, they started giving me stories. I was supposed to have cancelled the show, but Global Media came in.
How did you get to meet Global Media?
I met them when they did their movie premier in Ghana; I performed along side I Go Die. They promised to sponsor me in anything that I wanted to do but I thought it was just one of those promises until I did the I Go Save Unusual, which cost me millions. They were impressed and now we are working on doing the show in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kaduna, Jos and other states.
Many often ask 'who really is I Go Save?'
My name is Otaghware Otas Onodjayeke, popularly known as 'I Go Save' on stage. I attended Akara Nursery School, a very local nursery school where the children were picked from house to house. Then we did not use book, we only went to school with slate and chalk. After that I went to Alero Primary School Warri. My secondary school was in Ese College, Warri, before Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State. I studied Painting and General Art and I graduated in 2005. I served my country in Lagos State. I am from Ethiope East Local Government Area in Delta State. I grew up in Warri, the fifth child in a family of eight.
I Go Save is a normal man, very crazy on stage and a very normal person off stage. Being a comedian is a very technical and pressing job. I know every job has its own hazards but I think the hazards you pass through as a comedian are not common. You pass through insults and daily embarrassments. People do not know the difference between you on stage and you off stage. They don't know when to joke and when not to joke. You could be at the airport and a fan comes up and says things like 'fool, where are you traveling to?' or 'see this idiot.' They might stand with their wives and get carried away, forgetting that you are a man like them. They forget that you are not I Go Save right now but Otas. So all those kinds of embarrassment, you just have to take them. Sometimes, some people go as far as spanking you on the head.
I was once in a bank and a lady spanked my head and said 'I Go Save, Mumu, so you still have a bank account.'
The spanking was so loud that everybody turned my direction. I felt very bad but I didn't have to react because she was my fan and that was the way she felt she could appreciate what I did. The husband noticed that my mood changed and he apologised though I told him that I understood, but I was not happy within me. Being a comedian is painful sometimes, but I really enjoy seeing myself making people laugh.
So you are saying that there is misconception people have about being a comedian?
People see comedians as very unserious fellows, and it is a big misconception because comedians have two sides. They are comedians and they are also human beings like every other individual with Do's and Don'ts. Sometimes people call you by 12:30 a.m. to crack joke for them. People ask for jokes outside the stage as if it is pay as you go or free. I once compared making a joke for free to a man I went to buy electronics for. Being funny is a serious business and it does not come free. I feel embarrassed when people see me on the street and ask me to come and make them laugh. If I were boxer would they come and say 'come and throw some punches at me.' By the time they lose some teeth then they will think twice. People embarrass comedian a lot.
Tell us more about your trips?
My trip has been good so far. Shows abroad pay well though lots of taxes come with them. I just did one of my musical videos too and I have one audio comedy CD, though not impressed with it so I did not sell it out. The audio featured a colleague of mine that I like so much. People call him 'SimCard.' The audio has jokes and music. I did P-Square remix while Simcard did 'African Queen' remix as 'Wowo Queen.' We voiced it in a studio here in Nigeria but mixed in the UK. When you listen to it, it sounds like a show. I did that because most comedy CDs are just visual. So I wanted something people could listen to in the car, offices and at night when they don't really want light.
What is your strength in terms of long hour performance?
I don't know how that happens, to be frank. My having two or three shows a day depends on the location and timing. All should not be at the same time because I am a human being. I can do six shows a day depending on the location and timing, so far the money keeps coming.
I only have like six jokes in mind each time I go on stage but when you get there at least as a comedian you must have an eye for things happening where you are performing. The era of tortoise and lion folk tales kind of comedy has gone. Comedy has really advanced from what it used to be. You have to make jokes that also educate people as they laugh.
While in Europe, did you go to different shows with the same jokes or you formed another jokes?
Of course, you can't go to different shows with the same jokes, because you have different people, different venue, different setting. From the setting you get your jokes. They are even more excited, when you use things around them, things that they are seeing to make jokes. You have to be very creative in this business of comedy. I have realised from my tours that African comedy is well recognised abroad. They appreciate it very well. People are actually embracing comedy because people really want to laugh. Comedy is coming in almost every aspect of our lives. I was recently watching CNN and I saw Nollywood as the second largest movie body in the world after Hollywood and it is a big plus to us. I am very proud to be a Nigerian.
So would you say that comedy business is very lucrative?
Comedy business is not just lucrative, but very lucrative. There was time that if you went to a family to ask for their daughter's hand in marriage and you told them your profession was comedy, the father would chase you with a cutlass. But now, the table has turned. Things have really changed because comedians have taken time to stand out and show people what we worth. We have proved to the whole world, not just Nigeria or Africa that we are comedians and we are doing the job well and we are getting well paid. Comedy has been able to break its way into every home in Nigeria.
What measures are you putting in place to help upcoming comedians?
I am already putting a boost to other comedians. Each show I go, abroad or in Nigeria, I try as much as possible to take at least one upcoming comedian along. I am aware that there are talents in comedy who are also very good. I pick some of them and I pay them from my money. That is a way of encouraging them. Soon I will be organising a comedy talent hunt. It is going to be like The Next Comedy King.
What has been your most embarrassing moment in this career?
My most embarrassing moment was the day a lady spanked my head in a bank. I felt the ground should just open for me to enter because I am a very shy person. I don't really like some kinds of embarrassing attentions.