Academy

THE BEAUTY AND BUSINESS OF COMEDY IN AFRICA

SHISKO TWINS (Oyedele Adebisi Yewande and Adigun Omobolanle Valentina) studied Theatre Arts in the University of Ibadan. The former is currently running a masters’ program in the University of Lagos, while the latter has bagged a masters’ degree from the University of Ibadan.

These two have carved a niche for themselves in the comedy industry as they were the winners of the “BASKET MOUTH COMIC ADVERT COMPETITION” on his show ‘Lord of the Ribs’ in 2017.

First, let’s get introduced to the term ‘Comedy’

Today, comedy is being explored by different individuals from different countries, in different ways. In Nigeria, comedy has become a serious business right from the practice of Legends like ‘Moses Olaiya’ Baba Sala), to that of the iconic figure ‘Ali Baba’.

Students who belonged to the Arts Department in Secondary school ought not to find the word ‘Comedy’ strange. As Arts students, our teachers taught us three basic forms of Literature which include: Drama, Poetry, and Prose. Drama was further divided into three basic types: Tragedy, Comedy, and Tragi-comedy. As we progressed into higher levels of study, we got more informed about the various other forms or types of drama. As a literature student, the general definition or description is given to comedy is “Comedy is a dramatic literary genre generally defined as the opposite of tragedy and characterized by the portrayal of amusing situations featuring ordinary people in ordinary situations.”

Then, while in secondary school, our thought basically is that any drama that ends happily is Comedy. Some of the features we were also taught is that; Comedy has a corrective or punitive character often ridiculing or satirizing problematic human behaviours. A comedy will normally be closer to the representation of everyday life than a tragedy and explore common human feelings rather than tragedy’s disastrous crimes. Its ending will usually be happy for the leading character. As we progressed in studies, not that the previous definitions we had memorized in our heads were totally wrong but we realized that the new definitions we were exposed to were more complex and detailed.

Comedy is a dramatic form that had its origins in ancient Greece, comedy is based on some deviation from normality in action, character, or thought. It must not pose a serious threat, and an “in-fun” tone is usually maintained. Comedy demands that an audience view the situation objectively.

Oscar Brockett & Robert J. Ball

Comedy is a dramatic form that had its origins in ancient Greece, comedy is based on some deviation from normality in action, character, or thought. It must not pose a serious threat, and an “in-fun” tone is usually maintained. Comedy demands that an audience view the situation objectively.

Henri Bergson argues that comedy requires “an anesthesia of the heart,” because it is difficult to laugh at anything about which we feel deeply. We may find it funny to slip on a banana peel, but if we discover that the person is a close relative who is just recovering from a serious operation, our concern will destroy the laughter. Similarly, we may dislike some things so intensely that we cannot see their ridiculous qualities. In different eras, the meaning of comedy differed but the very similar fact is that Comedy arouses emotions ranging from joy and scorn, with laughter as their common response.

Comedy can then be seen as the sub domain of the humorous in which humour is turned into art by mime artists, dramatists, television writers, cartoonists, music hall singers, stand up comedians and many others, including millions of ‘funny people’ who bring comedy into everyday life.

 In our modern society, the creativity caps of so many individuals seem to be constantly on their heads. Today, individuals have carved a niche for themselves. In a society where the rate of unemployed youth is on a high side, youths are gradually creating sources of income for themselves. The beauty in comedy is that it is showbiz. This simply means you put up a show, most times conveniently enjoying what you love doing and at the same time, comedy is business, you can make money from it.  Stand-up comedians are being paid for performing at shows, some comedians perform at a wedding or are even contracted as the Mc, Online comedians due to their social media influence are also paid to advertise products in a comic way. Some are made brand ambassadors; some are paid just to attend shows, to be the special guests, etc.

Comedy did not become serious business until Alleluia Atunyota Akporobomeriere, alias, Ali Baba, came on the scene. “Ali Baba, the celebrated pioneer of modern stand-up comedy in Nigeria had done his first show in 1988, at the pavilion of then Bendel State University, Ekpoma, for a paltry fee of fifty naira only then he dared the odds of negative public perceptions to have a breakthrough in comedy. Chuks Nwanne informs that 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 signalled the transformation in the business of stand-up comedy in the country.

Ali Baba recalled that “the appreciation level then was very low or non-existent because a comedian was last on the list of an event planner and the first to go if they decided to cut cost.” As it were, the King of Comedy has maintained his status as a front-liner in the comedy business, not bothered by the number of up-coming comedians. He has not retired because of the need to put adequate structures on the ground. His vision then is to put in place an institution that, “will regulate, promote and punish erring comedians, and help to improve creativity.” It is thus Ali Baba’s desire to ensure that there is a reward for hard work in the industry. This is all in the bid to justify his promotional catchphrase: “Ali Baba – Being Funny is Serious Business.” At a time, his children didn’t see comedy as a business because according to him, they thought:

that I don’t have a job; they say it all the time. For them, it’s their mum that goes to work. They say things like, “You just sit down there, watching TV. In the evening, you wear your suit and say you are going to work. What kind of work are you going to when people are coming home?” But in all, I’m really happy with nearly everything that happens in my life.

Today, it is generally agreed that it is Ali Baba that gave comedy “the beautiful face” it wears in Nigeria. He became the first comedian to be well paid in the country, driving a Monster Truck, with a personalized plate number, “Ali Baba 1,” and a Dodge Ram, acquired as showbiz apparatus, registered as, “Ali Baba 2”’ And this is why, almost all comedians like to page home and accord the deserving respect to him.

Comedy is beautiful as it aids happiness,  especially in a country like ours where we have so many unhappy people walking around. So many people feel things aren’t working as they ought to work in our country. Most people use comedy as an escape mechanism for their troubles and sorrows. So many people have sent us DMs for instance, thanking us for saving them from depression, for making them smile despite that they woke up in a bad mood.

Comedy shows are always filled with audiences not because people have so much money to spare but they want to go somewhere where they can laugh and forget their sorrows. On social media, comedians have large number of followers who even put on their post notification because they want to know when videos are posted. We all need something to brighten our day up.

Let’s also talk about movies, at the time when a movie like ‘Wedding Party’ was released into the market, almost everyone wanted to produce comedy because they felt that was the ‘selling thing’ because of the kind of profit that was realized from the movie. AY the comedian is known for his unique business sense. While so many sit and say he is not a funny comedian, he makes his cool cash because there is money in the game, you just need to know how to package your content and know the right places to market it to. In Africa and in the world at large, comedy has created a kind of network where comedians perform in other countries at the shows of their colleagues.

Basket Mouth for instance is known for inviting foreign comedians to perform at his show here in Nigeria, also our comedians here travel to foreign countries to perform based on invitation. Comedy is a beautiful business.

Finally, let me state that although many don’t do comedy because of their passion and love to do it, they do it because they see comedians living large and that’s why we have some boring comedians. Some people are in the game for the copy-cat phrase. Comedy is beyond that, you are either a master at it or a failure at it.

In conclusion, “Comedy is part of all of our lives in many different guises and in recent years, the way in which we interact with and consume comedy has changed dramatically, with technologies such as YouTube and Vine enabling users to create and share their comedic content with a global audience. Comedy is a beautiful tool and it is also a serious business.

Thank you.

Session moderated by

Oluwatomisin Olowoyo, Principal, CSA Academy

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