I am out of stand-up comedy for good – Ali Baba
He was a child born after several other girls, so, he was named Aleluyah, a name that depicts utmost gratitude by his parents (for having ...
a male child at last). He is a comedian of great repute and an achiever worthy of note. In this interview with FUNMI ELUGBAJU, the renown rib-cracker clarifies the popular notion that he was leaving the comic scene saying he had only bowed out of stand up comedy for good. He also spoke about his accidental entry into the world of comedy, the challenges therein and his future plans.
How did you come about the name, Ali Baba?
Ali Baba is derived from my baptismal name Aleluyah. I was born after several girls and so when I was born my grandmother was very happy that my mum had a son because she has been having only girls. So, she named me Aleluyah and during school my colleagues couldn't call me Aleluyah; they called me Ali and from then Ali Baba.
How did you get into the comedy industry?
I got into comedy by accident. I was in a show and I was passing comments as a heckler and somebody there was supposed to perform on stage and that didn't happen. One of the organisers of the shows walked up to me and said can you help us to pacify the audience? That was what I did and have been doing since 1988.
What is your motivation?
One thing was the drive to convince my father that choosing comedy was not a wrong decision because he thought that I should have read Law. So, when I decided that I was going to do comedy he thought that I had made a wrong decision and I always had that drive to prove him wrong, that I was okay. The other thing is that comedy was doing everything for me. Comedy provided everything every other job would have provided and even more, so are the drives. The other thing is job satisfaction. Comedy is a fulfilling career and the fact that the inspiration comes from God all the time and the materials are there.
How do you source materials for your show?
Anywhere and everywhere. Nigeria has been very good to us. There has been so many things that have happened in this country that is just enough material for anybody to build on. We have a very fertile ground for materials for entertainment and comedy.
How would you rate the comedy industry in Nigeria?
We are not there yet, we are still scratching the surface. We are not at the optimum level yet. We will soon get there but right now we are not up there. We are beginning to come into an industry but a lot of people think we have arrived. No, comedy is still far from the dream that I think of. The dream I think of and expect it to be, my hopes for it are still not there. We need structures, structures that will enhance the practice of the profession. Once that is done, we need a professional body, we need ethics, we need professional etiquette. All these are needed for the industry to grow.
What do you have to say about comedians recycling their jokes?
We always have quacks in every profession and comedy is a very difficult profession. It is not like music where somebody comes and performs one song and he can do the same song again in the same event. If there is a wedding reception you come there and do the song at the beginning of the wedding reception and you do it again at the evening and maybe they now have a night party you will do it again and people will still like it is not so with comedy. You can't do that. If you do a joke, you can't repeat that same joke again at that same event because people already know the joke now. But you have the 50-50 chance of not everybody having being at the event. Let me tell you one, there is an event for 1000 people and you do a joke, one out of those 1000 people see you and tell you, oh! this is the joke that that guy did at that event. You go to another event of a different one thousand people and you are one of those 1000 people and I happen to be cracking the same joke, and the one who was at the previous event says don't mind him, at that show he did that joke, the other 999 people didn't hear the joke but because you had heard it before you feel it is a recycled joke. That opinion as far as I am concerned should be viewed wrong. For instance, do you know how many people pay for DSTV even when they recycle movies all the time? The media is also not free of this guilt: there are photographs that newspapers recycle. You use the photograph of a person for a story and when you interview the person again, you use the same photograph. When a sports reporter takes the picture of Kanu Nwakwo on the pitch, he uses the picture anytime he is writing a story, he puts that same picture of Kanu Nwakwo and nobody complains. What I am trying to say is that a lot of them need materials that either the older comedians had done to grow. If you look at idols, American Idols, the contestant on the show use songs of musicians to grow, they don't sing their own song, they use the songs of other musicians to grow and that is something that is obtainable everywhere. When they come into their own and they have established themselves, they begin to make their own jokes but they need those ones to start, to learn the ropes and gain confidence.
Apart from comedy, what else do you do?
I have an event centre called Xqzamoi. I write and then I do a lot of investments
How would you describe your coming into limelight?
I can't remember precisely how it all happened, it is rather difficult to place a hand on.. It wasn't like Timi Dakolo or Omawunmi, West African Idol or as with Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It wasn't like that at all, it was rather a continuous growth that occurred over time.
How do you cope with female admirers being a married man?
Now, there is the need for you to be able to draw the line between people who want you for unprintable reasons and there are some who just like you because you are a comedian and they just like your personality. For instance, there are people that admire Cardinal Okogie but they wouldn't think of wanting to sleep with him just because of that. So, you need to draw that line. As a comedian, I have a lot of admirers and fans, they come time after time with one request or the other: Oh, I need your car; I like you and all that. But you see, I have a way of handling them, I don't joke with my family and I mince no word about that. I draw the line always. Besides,you must also know that it is not everybody that says Ali I like you, I want to have your number that wants to date you too. So, you don't miscalculate.
What is your reaction on Michael Jackson's death?
It was shocking but everybody has a set time.. He has contributed so much even more than than people who have lived for 90 years and he did all this contribution when he was even not up to thirty. He gave his all, he had shortcomings but I think most people will remember him for the good he has done. It was painful to have him die especially when he had a mother of all concerts coming up. But I still think that Michael Jackson is a man that can't die because he is so legendary. Like they say Thriller is the world's highest selling record. It's going to be the world's highest selling record continuously. It was painful but I think it was okay. It was something that was meant to happen because nothing happens without God.
How rich are you?
I am comfortable; at least I am sure of where my next meal and that of the people I am responsible to will come from.
Talking about people that you are responsible to, how did you meet your wife?
I went to the bank to open an account, there, I saw her for the first time. We became friends but did not propose to her until much later. It was after several months that I did that and with the help of a friend of hers who introduced us and the subject that there is this guy that says he likes you, maybe you guys should just get together and talk. We are where we are today.
Were you a star then?
I was hustling, this was in 1993 or 1994.
You are unquestionably one of the stylish people in the entertainment industry. How would you describe your sense of style?
I dress to the occasion. I am a jeans and T-shirt person. If I am not in one of these things that I am wearing now, I will be in my jeans and my T-shirts. I wear native only when I am going to church. I hardly wear a suit to church. If it were not for my wife, I would wear jeans and T shirt to church because I feel most comfortable in it. However, a lot of people don't know that the cost of an attire is not judgeable by its weight or colour but by its quality. Somebody may wear a suit and the suit may not be up to the cost of jeans somebody else is wearing but because it is a jean, they will just feel the person is not with a good sense of dressing. But, I feel clothes are just for covering and so, shouldn't constitute any big deal. As for me, I feel more comfortable in a jeans but when I'm working I wear a suit.
But a lot of comedians wear suits during their shows. Why?
It's a corporate demand of the event. You know most of our styles depend on the event that we do. You do a corporate event and so you need to dress to fit that purpose.
Would you advise any of your kids to go into comedy?
If they have the talent, yes. I will only direct their steps and styles if need be, but I am just checking them out now and I will get to know which talent and career is for who and guide them accordingly.
Let's talk about Nollywood. What do you think about it?
I am neither an actor nor a producer, but I think they are trying. What I think needs to be done is for the scripts to be improved upon because the dialogue is what really catches me in any movie. If the dialogue is watery, the story won't come out as it should. So, I think script writers need to be invested in the industry.
Who are your favourite actors?
Hmmmn. I like Sam Loco, Ayo Mogaji, Toun Oni, Joke Jacobs, Patience Ozokwor, Nkem Owoh - that mad man. I like people who interpret roles well, I like those who are stiff, that every role you give to them they have to stare up in disguise, make one proverb from one old place and get the job done in the most impressive manner never imagined. I hate those who play stereotyped role. I like creative people and I like movies that are well done.
I like Denzel Washington; Morgan Freeman; Samuel Jackson; Julia Roberts; Angelina Jolie; Pierce Brosnan (that's the James bond that I like after Sean Connery). They are many. I always think there are different actors for different roles. For action movie, there is someone that I prefer and for other roles there are other people that I prefer. Will Smith is another one that I like in some movies and I actually like him for some of his songs. I like his songs because he doesn't curse.
Who would you say is your role model?
I pick people for certain areas of my life. There are some people I pick for their utterances, there are some I treasure for their taste in cars, qualitative choice of logic reasoning and so on. I actually don't have one person, they are many. For dressing, I look at RMD; for being a gentle man, Ogunlesi; for brotherly advice, I look at Tunji Alapini and Eddy Lawani. There are several people and then when I look at generosity and those that are of good example, that I wish to be like, I look at Alico Dangote, Femi Otedola and Peter Odili. They are people who are very generous and it amazes me because they are very generous. These kind of people make me feel that I should give to the poor.
What are your pains in the industry?
None. God has been so good. I will be an ingrate to say that despite everything He has done for me that I have no cause to regret anything.
You have mentioned God a couple of times in your conversation. You must be really close to Him?
No matter what you do in this world, if you are not going to make heaven, it is wasted. Somebody was telling me that they said Michael Jackson gave his life to Christ before two weeks before he died. Do you know if God Himself said that now that this guy has given his life to Christ let me take him now because he might change his mind or might just become more wacko? So, I think like my grandmother will say when you are lying on your bedspread it is not whether you have cars or connection or you are paying the best doctor. The question is are you prepared to meet your maker? That's all. So, whatever we are doing in life it's just for us to live another day and be okay so that when the time comes for the roll to be called we will be there.
How do you cope with publicity and the media?
The media is a necessary evil. Just as I am a comedian and I look for materials to entertain with time after time, the media is also looking for something to sell their newspapers. In my own case I am careful so that I don't annoy anybody, the media most times don't. For instance, somebody just writes that Ali Baba loses N400 million and people begin to wonder where he got that kind of money from. Then, you read further and you discover that it was all about a job that would have been, then you have a mixed feeling of embarrassment and relief if I may put it that way. The media generally take delight in celebrating negative stories, if I had done a job that would have landed me in some N 400 million people will not read the story as it really is but, they would have preferred it in a screaming headline like, 'Ali Baba loses N400 million' to generate more rumour and rooms for criticism. On another hand, we also have the public who also corroborates the media time after time. The public also asks questions that generate some things that make the press write some certain things. Let me give you an example:s When the public sees that you have achieved something they want to know why and because they don't know the why they create a reason. A young girl is driving a car, her uncle gave her. She starts driving it. The next thing is, how did that girl get the car, she must be sleeping around everywhere. They have created a reason for her to have that car. When they find out that it was the uncle that gave the car to her they will not withdraw what they have said, they don't seem to be apologetic. Now the press says Ali Baba was leaving off women because they did not know how much I was earning and then it occurred to them that I was earning a particular amount of money. Then, the next thing is why should Ali Baba be charging that kind of money, then they saw that other comedians are charging the same kind of money and the next thing they say is ahhh a group of millionaires, but then forgetting that at the time they said I was feeding off a particular woman they have not corrected that to say that from all we have seen it means that he should have been able to live the kind of lifestyle that he was living. We also find it hard to believe that that artiste are good and should be well paid. Instead, you will say that they are overcharging. Instead you will say what is he doing that he is charging that kind of amount. A lot of people don't know where you are coming from. Some of them think that Ali Baba started comedy from Obasanjo's time in 2003 forgetting that I have been in this business professionally since 1990. Some would even go to the extent of dictating your bill to you because as far as they are concerned, you are just like any other young comedian, forgetting that if you had started working in the place he is working, maybe a bank in 1990, you would have either been an executive director, an MD or something else. To them, the fact that you are a comedian means your job should not command the kind of money that him and his contemporaries is commanding. So, the press will write all sorts, but people and Nigerians are very enlightened people. The people who have paid you to do something for them before will read a story and call you and say that I just read this and it says that a woman took you to court because she paid you N120,000 and you should return the money. You have people who have paid for your services before who come to your defence. Some of them will write that you are stingy and all that, but those of them that you have helped will come to your defence, people who are friends to the person you have helped will definitely come to your defence too.
How did you come up with the name Xqzmoi, your event centre?
Xqzmoi is a French word for excuse me. Like somebody coming to ask.
When was your most embarrassing moment?
It is embarrassing so I won't tell you.
Are you retired now?
I am not retired.. There are speculations that I probably want to retire and seriously it is not that I want to retire. Instead, it is that I do not want to be doing stand- up comedy for people anymore. What I mean by this is that I would no longer go for any 10-20mins event, I mean those familiar scenes where we have someone come up during an event to say, ladies and gentlemen, the programmme is going on but for 20mins lets bring in Ali Baba. Like they say in my place, you grow up to a point where nobody konks (knocks) your head
What are your favourite meals?
Beans and dodo, next is vegetable and eba, third position is booli, (roasted plantain) and groundnut. I can stop anywhere to buy it even if there is plantain flu.