There was no industry like it ten years ago and no ‘reasonable’ young person even contemplated making a living by it. How do you even explain it to your friends and family without being considered insane?
When Ali Baba, one of the pioneers of comedy in Nigeria, told his father he wanted to do comedy for living, the old man quickly disowned him. But the young man stood his ground, bade his home state of Delta bye, relocated to Lagos – Nigeria’s commercial capital, and launched a career in comedy.
Today his story is a lesson in determination, focus and perseverance. comedy is big business ”racking in millions of Naira” Ali Baba earns from an hour’s performance what many young corporate executives do not earn as monthly salary.
He makes money by making others laugh and often has more shows in a year than he’s got time for. Comedians are multi- millionaires.“That’s not one of those jokes,” a friend who is an entertainment journalist recently told me.
It’s not clear whether we have billionaire in the industry yet.
Comedy is a relatively new industry in Nigeria, if it could be called one. But it is already one sector that is spinning the entrepreneurial and creative ingenuity of many young people. In Ali Baba’s days, you could count the number of full time comedians on your fingers and the five fingers won’t be exhausted. Today the list is long and continues to grow.
From Basket Mouth, to Baby Face, AY, I Go Die, Funny Bone, I Go Save, Bovi, Sim Card, Lepacious, Don’t Jealous Me, Klint de Drunk, Ice Prince, Julius Agwu, the list goes on. These folks are not just entertainers, they are role models for a new generation of Nigerians.
Most of them like Ali Baba come from the oil rich Niger Delta region. Warri, the bustling city in Delta state, is widely regarded as the factory where comedians are made. But it is not the only breeding ground. Port Harcourt and Benin City – also Niger Delta cities, have their fair share of comedians.
In the face of abject poverty, many youth in the region resorted to kidnapping of oil workers and demanding for ransom, but the Ali Baba generation decided to poke fun at life and make joke out of the many complexities and difficulties around them. The result is a bulging industry that today employs full time a growing number of young college educated Nigerians.
Rather than kidnap oil workers, they compere in their conferences, workshops and parties and earn handsomely for their creativity. They do not depend on government for anything, rather they help the governments make the people laugh in the face of despondency, wanton neglect and monumental misrule.
Theirs is an industry on the rise; one that has emerged from being a collection of the NFA (No future ambition) as they were once called to become a practice for the witty, resilient, humorous and very enterprising minds.
Like Nollywood under whose bigger umbrella it falls, the comedy industry in Nigeria is a phenomenon. Its growth has marveled many. All over Africa Nigerian comedians are admired and in great demand. They host regular shows all over Africa and parts of Europe and America.
Theirs is a media industry that is owned, driven and operated by young Africans, for Africans with no government support whatsoever. The traditional flagships in Nigeria’s creative industry have been music and theatre, but comedy has emerged as a new kid on the block.
In a country where there are a lot to be angry about, a ticket to a life concert by Basket Mouth, Ali Baba or I Go Die, can be a big anti-depression therapy. Shino Peters, one of Nigeria’s afro-juju musicians has a track in one of his albums with the refrain ‘dance, dance, dance and forget your sorrow’. For these comedy merchants, it is ‘laugh, laugh, laugh and forget your sorrow’. For many of their clients, the therapy is working. I’ve found them very effective myself.
The rising profile of Ali Baba and company shows that great entrepreneurs are not necessarily extraordinary beings. They are ordinary folks who do ordinary things extraordinarily.