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Laughing All The Way To The Bank: Enthronement of the Comic Reign
The joke is on you, if you think these guys are not serious. Times were when nobody could hold up his head and claim to be a comedian in Nigeria. Those who did anything close, preferred to be known as Masters-of-Ceremony (MC). It was more prestigious to go by the appellation of an MC than to be associated with a bunch of people who were described with some of the worst epithets, like 'loafers', 'people with no future ambition', jokers' and the like.
Even the late great John Chukwu remained on the verge and never quite made the transition into full time comedy. Then came a gentleman with an outrageous stage name, 'Allam Bloo'. He was garrulous. Much of his jokes offended the sensitivity of many right-thinking members of the public. The ugly shapes into which he contorted his face could only match his raucous jokes. He made very bold moves, even coming on television to ply his trade. Naturally, Allam Bolo's comic era took a back seat as suddenly as it began.
There was the irrepressible, Mohammed Danjuma, who passed on recently. There were other gentlemen who were co-travellers in the comedy train during that period that comedy was trying to find its place in the scheme of things. These gentlemen include Femi Segun, Patrick Doyle, Femi Jarett, Tunji Sotimirin and Bisi Olatilo. Incidentally, these people were not devoted to comedy; they breezed in and out of it.
Out of Port Harcourt came, Yibo Koko who may just qualify as the Nigerian comedian with the most outstanding education. Yibo recently returned from a session of training in London, which will help to up his game in the area of film production. What is known as the Nigerian comedy industry today, probably took roots a little over 10 years ago. There are two landmarks that signpost the current age of prosperity for Nigerian comedians. Number One: Opa Williams gave the teeming number of Nigerian comedians and the public something to look forward to with the entrenchment of a session of frolicking called 'A Night of a Thousand Laughs'.
Strategically positioned to hold on Nigeria's anniversary every October 1, the programme has since taken a life of its own, churning out an increasing number of deliverables like Cds, T-Shirts and other memorabilia. Number Two: The industry witnessed the arrival of Atunnyota Alleluya Akpobome, better known as, Ali Baba. Every one in the industry agrees that it was Akpobome who gave comedy the beautiful face it wears today in Nigeria. So where exactly can you find Nigerian comedians today? Rubbing shoulders in the thriving market place with the best professionals in the land; and they have every material evidence of well-being to show for the good turn that their lives have taken.
English actor and theatre manager, David Garrick has a legend that many in industry are driven by. To Garrick's eternal credit stands, "comedy is a very serious thing". Now, if we say that Nigerian comedians are laughing all the way to the bank, who is to refute this assertion? NSEOBONG OKON-EKONG reports on some of the leading lights of the comedy industry in Nigeria.
ATUNNYOTA ALLELUYA AKPOBOME (Ali Baba)
Targetting the Rich
Undoubtedly, the first comedian to be well paid in Nigeria. He hit the scene with a bang in 1993 and has never looked back since. From the beginning, Akpobome set out to play in the big league. It was a deliberate choice that he made and took all of five years to nuture, packaging himself to perform for those who appreciate his art. In 1998, Ali registered his company, “Ali Baba Hiccupurathird”.
You think the name of his enterprise is funny, but he meant business. That was the year he erected three billboards in strategic locations in Lagos: Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island, Osborne Road, Ikoyi and the Marina. He paid N150,000 for each billboard per year for two years. It was like a thunder bolt that hit the landscape when organisers of events found it hard to pay comedians amounts ranging between N10,000 and N20,000. The billboard carried a simple message “Ali Baba-Being Funny is Serious Business”.
Today, the 1990 graduate of Religious Studies/Philosophy, Bendel State University, Ekpoma has established a reputation that is had to beat. You can see him driving around town in a Monster Truck with a personalised plate number “Ali Baba 1”. The other car, which he explains were acquired as showbiz apparatus, is a Dodge Ram registered as “Ali Baba 2”. But don't think you will see Ali driving to church on a Sunday morning in those elaborate cars. You are more likely to see him in a Lexus, an E-Class, a LR3 or Landcruiser. So Alleluya says “praise the Lord” you know there is a good reason to rejoice!