Looking at what comedy has grown to become in our society today, we are compelled to make conscious efforts to revive the memories of those who started off this aspect of art in this part of our world. It is quite unfortunate that a lot of us are already forgetting them under the influence of the modern-day comedians. Worse still, some of the upcoming youths and modern-day comedians do not even know who were the fore-fathers of comedy in this great country of ours. We’re using this opportunity to jog your memory a bit, in case you are forgetting too soon. These are the major founding fathers of comedy in Nigeria:
5. James Iroha (Gringory Akabogu)
Though this veteran comedian and actor is now late, that cannot stop us from bringing up memories of him. This extra-ordinarily comical fellow worked hand in hand with Chika Okpala, (always acting as his houseboy in most of the comic episodes) through the period I’ll love to call the dawn of comedy in our country, Nigeria. He was one of those who engaged in comedy when it was almost as good as nothing. Then, it was done in the crudest but most hilarious ways; granting tremendous relief Nigerian men and women who were still hurting from the pangs of the Nigerian Civil War. He was also there at the early stages of Nollywood and acted in such films as Nneka the Pretty Serpent, among others. He died in 2012 at the age of 69.
4. Chika Okpala (Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, Alias 4:30)
The very young Nigerians may not have been opportuned to enjoy his comedy audios which were all over the place in the 80’s and early 90’s. Chika Okpala is what I’ll love to call a legend when it comes to the history of Nigerian comedy. He is popularly known as Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, an appellation he got from his role as “Chief Zebrudaya” in the TV comedy series New Masquerade(1983-1993). He, together with some colleagues were the ones who produced the classicals in African comedy. This man became famous for using incorrect English in his role as ‘chief Zebrudaya’ and continued with that style years after New Masquerade was rested.
3. John Chukwu (JC)
John Chukwu (JC) is regarded as one of the founding fathers of stand-up or modern-day comedy in Nigeria. He was a contemporary of Ali Baba. He owned a Klass Nite Ckub, a fun spot in the heart of Ikeja, Lagos in the 1980’s. He dedicated Fridays for comedy at the club and presented a comedy programme on NTA. John Chukwu brought jokes to the doorsteps of Nigerians that in a way suited the context in life. He used his jokes to correct the ills in the society. JC was a spontaneous comedian who saw life from funny perspectives — so he made jokes from everything about life and his spur of the moment jokes were next to none. He really lived to put smiles on people’s faces. He made people everywhere to forget their sorrows. Unfortunately, when his fame peaked, the popular master of ceremonies and comedian took ill and later died. The likes of John include people like Late Mohammed Danjuma, who was the first host of the annual Nite of a thousand laughs event. He died after a protracted illness on October 7, 2005.
2. Jude Edesiri Onakpoma (Away-Away)
The ex-Nigerian comedian, Jude Away-Away, was one of the people who laid the foundations of comedy for today’s Nigerian comedians. He is a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from one of Nigeria’s Ivy league Colleges – The University of Benin. Jude started engaging in comedy right from his undergraduate years back in the late 80’s. Here is what he had to say about his journey in the comedy art:
I was the first Nigerian university graduate to perform “stand-up” comedy. I branded the comedy business and made it a business to thrive on, with respect and dignity. I performed for royalty and the Nigerian elite society. I also performed back in the days for everyone, including the less privileged. I would dress in business attires. Most known comedians on television screens then were clowns. Their materials were stereotypes then, yet the audience was forced to laugh along because they presented their materials by being clowns. I refused to be a clown.”
He now resides in the US and is still a music-comedian and a doctor of clinical psychology, working with behavioural health patients in New York and Connecticut. Combining the two professions to help mental patients.
1. Alleluia Akporobome (Ali Baba)
Alibaba is actually the one and only man who gave final credence and meaning to comedy in Nigeria. He is the one, I’ll say who made comedy to become “something” – a rewarding business.
Comedy did not become serious business until Alleluia Atunyota Akporobomeriere, alias, Ali Baba, came on the scene. He had done his first show in 1988, at the pavilion of then Bendel State University, Ekpoma, for a paltry fee of fifty naira only (Umukoro 4). Ali Baba dared the odds of negative public perceptions to have a breakthrough in comedy. He took to this genre of art when comedians were seen as “ne’er-do-wells”. He has dimmed the impressive record of his precursors, such as the late John Chukwu (JC), Tony St. Iyke, and much later, Jude Away Away, who were good, great men that were into stand-up comedy, but did not take it to the level Ali Baba has done. By 1998, Ali registered a company, Ali Baba Hiccupurathird. That year, he erected three billboards in strategic locations in Lagos: Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island; Osborne Road, Ikoyi; and Marina, Lagos, paying N150,000 for each billboard per year. The billboards carried a simple message: “Ali Baba – Being Funny is Serious Business;” and it signaled the transformation in the business of stand-up comedy in the country.
The 50-year-old Alibaba has been a professional stand up comedian for straight 22 years and has in the last 14 years received several awards. Today, it is generally agreed that it is Ali Baba that gave comedy “the beautiful face” it wears in Nigeria, and as well became the first comedian to be well paid in the country.
This is what he has to say in one of his numerous interviews:
Before, people do not know how much comedians are paid. But thank God that top comedians in the country are blowing up and they are getting respect from people. Look at Julius Agwu, Baskethmouth, Tee A, Okey Bakassi, AY… they are all doing well and we thank God for that.”