My dream for comedy is to be as big as oil - Gbenga Adeyinka
His name is Gbenga Adeyinka the 1st. He is popularly called the Comedian of the Federal Republic (CFR). Apart from being a comedian, he is a... publisher, an actor and a television presenter. He is a well known face in the Star Quest show and has been a Star Ambassador for seven years. He is happily married with kids and he is one of the most sought after comedian in the country today. In this interview with FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON, Adeyinka speaks on his life as a comedian, a father and a husband. He also reminisces on his childhood and his growing up years in Surulere, Lagos. Excerpts:
How has the comedy world being?
God has been good. He has been faithful and He has been moving our weights and he has been making things happen.
How did you get into comedy?
For me, it has been something I have always wanted to do and I like to do even as a growing child.
Is it then a dream come true?
Yes, it is a dream come true. But it was not like I wanted to be a comedian. All I just wanted to do was just to make people laugh. Whilst I was on campus at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), I had the opportunity of being a Master of Ceremony (MC) because I was in a theatre group. I did a lot of comic roles. So people started calling me to MC their events. Upon graduation, people started calling me to come and MC their weddings and all that. I later went to Murhi International Television (MITV). I was doing children entertainment programmes there. Later on, Funmi Davies then wanted me to be a part of her comedy programme and that was how I got into the comedy world. Then the Star Quest thing came and put me on 36 stations in Nigeria. That just blended up everything and seven years after I am still the Star Ambassador and I'm still doing comedy.
What has the Star Quest experience being like?
It was fantastic. It was my big break because when I started, I was struggling and hustling and that one came and put me on television. It was something different. It was not totally comedy. It was a television presentation with a flare of comedy and all that. It was hard in the beginning because there were no scripts. They were things I had to say from my head after I have been given a background research of the brand and I guess God just decided that is what he wanted me to do. Seven years down the line, I don't think they are complaining.
What inspires your jokes?
What inspires my jokes are things I see. When I first started, I started with area boys because back then in Lagos, we had more area boys than the normal people. In those days, if they call you an area boy, you will not fight. This is unlike now that if they call you an area boy, you will feel offended. As I moved on, I started reading and I started listening to people. But I think in comedy, what you see determines a lot of what you say.
What is your opinion about the kind of jokes being churned out by your temporaries?
I guess everybody has his or her own style. This person's style might not work for me and my style might not work for that person. I think it is the duty of everybody to be on top of his game doing what he thinks is going to make him big. But I always tell people that raw jokes will not take you any where. I think a lot of people in the industry are trying. They are pulling their weights. Just like in every other industry, you have the very good ones and the quacks. Everybody cannot be a professional. I think with what we have, we can see that majority of Nigerian comedians are professionals.
As a family man, what kind of a father and husband are you?
I am tough on my children when I need to be tough. But when we are playing, you will not believe I am their father. You will think that may be I am an uncle who comes to visit. I have also realised that a father does not have to be loved. You have to be hard when you have to be hard so that at the end of the day, when they grow up, they will ralise that all this man did all that time he was shouting and all that time he was making noise was for my own good.
Have there not been times you were serious about something and they took it for a joke?
(Laughs) Countless occasions that it has happened until I shouted. Once I shout, they know that I am serious. But a lot of times they just go 'daddy please now. Daddy, daddy now, tell the joke o. I am extra soft but when I am hard with them, I am totally hard.
How are you enjoying the job and how well has it paid off?
Well, I thank and praise God.
How much do you charge per show?
I thank God, like I said. God is good. I have been able to pay my children school fees, I have an office of my own, I have about 12 members of staff, I live in my own house and I drive the car I want to drive. I think God has been good to me. I can say that it has not done what it should do yet but it is paying off. There is still more for me to get from comedy. We have not gotten there yet. When I hear my colleagues say Nigerian comedians are making lots of money, I just laugh. You have comedians like Jimmy Fox. He has made so much money from comedy. He has done movies, he's done films and he has done songs. No Nigerian comedian has made a million dollar yet. So what are we making noise about? And the talent God gave them is the same thing he gave us. So I think we need to work more on our act and be more professional and let people know that what we do is show business. It is show when you hold the microphone and you are telling jokes. It is business when you are away from the microphone. A lot of us have not distinguished between both. I think we should be more professional. That way, people will take us more seriously.
You have had shows home and abroad. What is the experience outside the country like?
I have done shows in the United Kingdom, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa and I was the first stand up comedian to perform in Ghana. We have opened a lot of doors in Ghana. I have done shows in Ghana and the first one we did in Ghana was the launch of Ovation magazine in Ghana. I did three Ghana music awards. I have also done Legend Night. I started a show in Ghana with Chatter House, our own version of 'Night of a thousand laughs.' We add one year to it every year. I did night of a thousand laughs, night of 1001 laughs.... I did One, I did Two and I did Seven and also will be the comedian for a communications company's relaunch, which is coming up very soon also in Ghana. Ghana is like home for me. The talent God gave everyone of us in the business is equal home and abroad because comedy is unusual. It is only the language that is different. Once you can explain yourself when you start, the crowd will flow.
What do you think stands you out from others as a comedian?
I think what stands me out is my versatility. I can work in Mushin and blend with the Mushin people. I can work in Aso Rock and blend. I do corporate events, which is what I think gets me all the jobs. I can do large concerts and I can do small dinners for 10 people. That is the versatility that I am talking about. I also know what is appropriate. I know that you don't go and tell raw jokes when you are in church. I know what is appropriate. I guess that is what stands me out.
What was your growing up years like? Could it have influenced who you are now?
Growing up helped me a lot because I grew up in Surulere. In those days, Surulere was called new Lagos and it was a mixed grill of the Hausas, Ibos and the Yorubas, the middle class. So I was friend to a lot of people from different tribes and I learnt a lot of things. I also spent a lot of time playing football and I learnt a lot from that. Schooling in Lagos also helped me because back in those days at school, you would tell somebody, tell me one joke, I will tell you another. Then, I am from a family of extroverts; people who are very outgoing and who like to speak their minds and I think that helped me a lot.
Are you the first?
I am not the first, I am actually the second but luckily for me, I grew up with my grandparents. So there were lots of people I could learn from. In fact, I cook very well. I had my own day of cooking when I was growing up. In my house, everybody had a day they will cook.
What about now?
I still cook. Sometimes on Sunday when I am at home and they have gone to church, I cook what they will eat in the afternoon and I cook very well. Even my wife says I cook very well.
How would you describe yourself as a husband and a father?
I think I am not a finished product. I am somebody who is learning on the job. I have never been a father and a husband before. This is my first time. So I'm learning on the job and I am doing my best to be the very best that I can be. But by and large, I think I will score myself very high because I put my family first. That is one of those things I learnt from my mother.
Given the nature of your job, you are exposed to people of all sexes and calibre of people, especially the female gender. How do you prevent female advances and admiration from interfering with your home?
I think it is a stupid man who does not know where to place what. If you go out and you meet women, they have a role they are playing and once you disrupt the course of nature, then God will not be happy with you. It is just like asking me, how I handle my house girl at home. She has her own role. So those roles should never mix and that is it for me.
Have there not been some stubborn ones?
When you try to be as humble as I am and you are bending for everybody, they will say that one is an idiot, leave him alone and they will move on. It is always a fantastic trick.
What is your dream for stand up comedy in Nigeria?
My dream is for us to be as big as the oil industry. As it is now, on the West coast, apart from our Nollywood movies, oil and football, another thing they are beginning to know us for is our comedy. I think kudos should be given to a lot of those who are before me. I pray that one day when comedians are being mentioned, like say in America, they will say there's one guy who tells joke like Alibaba in Nigeria, there is one comedian in America who sounds like Gbenga Adeyinka. This is because a lot of times we say: that guy is like Bill Cosby. My personal dream is to own a comedy channel that will be supported by other things like they use comedy to support other things now. A 24-hour movie channel that will show the world that truly Nigeria is the land of laughter.
Any intention to diversify into may be acting or other areas of the art?
All through my stay in campus, I was doing one stage production or the other. As it is now, I have done a soap opera for Mnet called 'Édge of paradise.' I have also featured in a couple of Nigerian home videos. I have done two Yoruba movies: Aro meta and Alabarin for Femi Davies. I did one English but I can't remember the title now. For me, it is more time consuming than comedy. So I will rather just stick to comedy. You have to be on location. Take one, cut, action, close up, close down, bend down.... I will rather just do my comedy.
Apart from stand up comedy and acting once in a while, is there no other thing you do?
I have a comedy magazine called Laff Mataz. I also have a couple of television programmes that I also do. We have Crack House, Laffmatazz, the television programme that gave birth to the magazine. We have top five comedians and one other one. We have just been commissioned by Proudly Africa. I also do a lot of traveling here and there for shows. It takes my time but that is all I do.
So how do you compensate your wife and kids for all these time your job takes?
When I am around, I give them my all and when I am not around, thank god for mobile telephone, I call them and I bribe them too. I bribe them with gifts.
How come you are Gbenga Adeyinka the 1st?
I have always wanted to be the very best in what I do. A lot of people in my family did not want me to be a comedian. They will say We sent you to the best schools in this country and you insist of doing Baba Sala. They didn't like the idea at all.
How did you now convince them to do your bidding?
I am a very stubborn person when I have made up my mind about something. My mum was very supportive. Once she was convinced that I was sure of my decision, she threw her weight behind me and today they I thank God that I ca make them proud. This is what you want to do? I said yes and she said okay. And today, they are happy and proud of me.