He is one comedian whose name has evolved to become a brand in the entertainment industry; Gbenga Adeyinka The 1st needs no introduction when it comes to stand up comedy. In this interview with Segun Adebayo, the graduate of English opens up on his journey into comedy strongest point, growing up fun and his show that comes up in Ibadan in a fortnight. Excerpts
YOU are one comedian who puts a lot of energy into your performance particularly on stage, but some people have argued that such performance doesn’t come naturally, why?
That’s a very funny question. I don’t know what they mean by not natural, but the fact is that my desire to make people laugh anywhere gives me much energy to do what I know how to do. I don’t like to be in a place where people are not making noise or not shouting or generally making fun. I love to keep where I am as lively as I could. My performance is very natural and in fact, there is no amount of drugs that can induce the kind of excitement that I get when I am on stage. The desire to have fun and crack joke make my performance so energetic. Even in the church; I like to make noise, not to talk of while on stage. Those who are saying things like that don’t really know who I am.
Let’s talk about how you started, is comedy an innate thing or you actually found yourself doing it because of the monetary aspect that comes with it?
Honestly, when I started, I never knew what stand up comedy was. For me, what I care so much about was to make people laugh. Stand up comedy has been something I have done practically all my life. I belong to a theatre group then in school and virtually all the roles they gave me to act were comic , so I was doing comedy throughout my time in school. Eventually, people who knew what I could do, would call me to anchor their programmes for them, end of the year faculty dinner and other events like that. It went on like that until I graduated from UNILAG. When I graduated, people who knew me back in school would invite me to anchor their weddings, but nobody was paying anybody. What I got then was ‘thank you’ or that was a ‘great performance’ or ‘God will bless you’.
But you didn’t study Engineering in school?
I studied English; I actually set up corporate affairs department for my uncle’s construction firm.
When you graduated from school, did you ever have time to work?
I worked for a couple of years with my uncle at my uncle’s construction company. After sometime, I decided to establish my own children entertainment outfit.
Then I used to hang out with Akin Akindele a lot and I would tell him to tell me a joke and I would tell him one in return. That was very close to MITV and Funmi Farodoye, who I didn’t know was a presenter in MITV then, who used to be Funmi Davies. She called me one day and said she was starting a new programme and she wanted me to be part of it. I told her that I am not a comedian but she asked me to come and do what I usually do. So, after some time, I met Ali Baba. I had gone to supply music at an event during a bank’s end of the year party and somebody who knew me from UNILAG said, this was our own local champion when we were in school. That day, I told a couple of jokes and when I finished, he asked me, ‘’what do you do’’. I told him that I work with a construction firm because I was too embarrassed to say I had a children party. He said I was supposed to be a comedian. That day, I said God forbid! So Ali Baba actually gave me a gig and they paid and I was very happy.
You studied English and you ended up being a comedian, one would have expected you to be a teacher or a lecturer?
The good thing about English is that it prepares you for the world. I majored in Grammar ; English prepared me for what I never knew I was going to become in the future because I learnt a lot of things. Left to me, I would have loved to be a teacher, only that they say the reward is in heaven. I don’t want to wait till I get to heaven to get the reward. If God had given me the opportunity, I would have become a footballer.
Even with your protruding belly?
Don’t look at my big stomach, my brother; my coach in UNILAG saw me one day and said that what are you doing with this big stomach? For me, even the comedy I do is like teaching, I have a comedy school, and I believe that one’s success should be traced to other people that are related to one.
Your name has evolved to become an household name in the industry, how does this make you feel?
It has been very interesting, tough, mad, annoying and fulfilling. In fact, the day people realise that I enjoy what I am doing, they will stop paying me, because I don’t know why people pay me to come and have fun or crack jokes. I like seeing people laugh, when I tell a joke and you laugh, I am so excited. If I was in London or America, I won’t be doing just one job; I will be washing dead bodies, sweeping ground or be a bouncer because I have big stomach. So why can’t I stay in my country and keep doing different things related to my passion and be good at it.
What was your growing up like?
I grew up with my grandmother. Growing up for me was very rascally. I grew up in Surulere, like a lot of comedians will tell you that they were poor when they were young. In my own case, I won’t lie to you, we were not poor. In fact, I think I was too sheltered because I wanted to be on the street to know what was happening. So, a lot of times you find me where they are playing football because I wanted to be part of the whole fun. My parents will beat me like there is no tomorrow but I will always go out. I think I had a football addiction back in the days.
Can you remember some of the pranks you played while growing up?
As I said, I am addicted to football and I support the best team in the world, Arsenal. I was sent to go and grind pepper one day, I dropped the pepper and started playing football and it was like a drug to me. So, when I was supposed to come back home and I didn’t turn up on time, they had to send somebody else to look for me. The person carried the bowl of pepper and took it home. After the match, before I got home, I had torn my clothes. When I got home that day, I told my parents that I was attacked by some guys , they poured the pepper into a gutter and beat me. That day, I was given the beating of my life. My grandmother used to fast a lot during the lent period, but me, when I go to school I will eat but on coming back home, I will rub sand on my mouth so that it would be very dry. Basically, I would say I had fun while growing up. It was a constructive rascality that I had, not the kind of rascality that young ones imbibe these days.
There has been this buzz about the show you are bringing to Ibadan in a fortnight, what brought about the idea?
Luckily for me, this is a payback time. When I couldn’t pass JAMB in Lagos, I came down to Ibadan for my A levels.
(Cuts in)…. How many times did you attempt to write the JAMB?
Don’t let us talk about that, my brother, why now… Ibadan was a very cool place and I passed my JAMB because of the quiet environment where I studied. It pains me that Ibadan, the father of stand up comedy in Nigeria is no more what it used to be. But this is something a lot of people don’t know. Often time, people talk about Warri and other places like that as the home of comedy, but for me, Ibadan is the home of comedy because when WNTV started in those days, what they used to push was Erin keke, Baba Sala, Baba mero, Ajimajasan, Awada kerikeri. While I was doing my A’ Levels in Ibadan, I remember that Jacob Papalolo and Aderupoko were on TV and it was very vibrant. Now, there are very few comedy shows in Ibadan. I remember that in those days, we would go to KS Cinema to watch movies. What I am doing now is like a missionary exercise to give back, at the same time build something again. For me, Ibadan deserves to grow as far as stand up comedy is concerned and couple with the fact that there are very few South West stand up comedians. I am looking at a situation where if we do this, more people will be confident to do their own shows and that way we will build more comedians.
What makes you think this kind of show will work in Ibadan where people don’t buy into such things compared to the kind of crowd that it would attract in Lagos?
I am a never-say-die kind of person and I know the show will sell. But if it does not sell, we will keep moving. I want what we are about to do to become a show of preference in Ibadan. I want people to look forward to Gbenga Adeyinka and friends every holiday season in Ibadan and for me, it is not all about money, but I like money, I won’t lie because money answers many things. I do not also despise the days of little beginning. When I started as a comedian, it was difficult, but when we kept at it, things changed. I think with what we have put into this, the artistes, the concepts and the noise will work.
Some of your colleagues do say that they learnt comedy or somebody taught them how to crack jokes, do you believe that comedy can be learnt?
My belief is that you can’t learn comedy. You must have it to develop it. It is just like football. If you like, start running from the old Toll Gate to Iwo Road every morning for the next four years, I tell you, you can be fit as hell, but can’t be skillful as Jay Jay Okocha. If Jay Jay Okocha does not run, he will still play football because he has it in him. So, it is something I have always had but I didn’t know what it was. So, you must have the comedy thing in you before you start to work on how to maximize it, not that you learn it.
Have you ever taught of doing something else since you started?
I am a bull; it takes a lot of time for me to make up my mind but once I make up my mind on something, even a trailer cannot drag me from it. I keep going and going. There has never been such a time. Maybe I have said oh! I wish I had more time to spend with comedy; once I get on stage, the stage is like a drug for me. Once I get there, I am too fired up; too excited to regret anything. Maybe sometimes when I feel bad, when I am down and I remember that experience, it spurs me to want to continue.
How rich are you?
In Naira and Kobo, I am not rich but in terms of support and in terms of people that I consider to be my friends, I am richer than Bill Gate. I have met people that I never thought I could meet in my life. I have met people that if I die today, my children will not suffer.
But you were said to have hated comedy when you started, how could what you hated be something that has brought you wealth?
I hated comedy. Why would you call me a comedian? I hate to hear that. Why we were starting, it was a kind of rubbish because you can’t face your parents and say you want to be a comedian. But now, there is no other thing I would rather be apart from being a president.
Among comedians now, there is so much talk about joke piracy. What’s your take on it?
I always tell people, when I started, I used people’s jokes. The jokes I started with were the jokes of Gbenga Adeboye and others. I used the jokes of greats and I turned them into English. It is normal for young comedians to steal the jokes of a more accomplished comedian. One thing I always tell people is that if you steal my joke, do it better than I would have done it. Some of the best jokes I have told in my life are the jokes of people that would come to me and say you have done my joke very well. Those are some of the best jokes I have told in my life. So a young comedian is supposed to steal jokes to start with but when it gets to a certain level, he should start creating his own materials so that other young comedians coming will see him as a role model and steal his own jokes too. And what are we talking about, who has an original joke anyway? I read a lot of books and I know a lot of the most successful comedians in the world read a lot of books. There is a book called the Bible of comedy. It tells you “read books, read joke books to get ideas.” To me, what is wrong is if you tell a joke, then I take it verbatim, you are there, I don’t credit you. I can just say let me tell you what Ali Baba told me one time, then I will tell the joke.
As a comedian, when would you describe as your most embarrassing moment?
I don’t get embarrassed. The whole business of comedy is embarrassment. There are some times that people you know should not talk to you would come and talk to you anyhow. So, if I get to an event and they embarrass me, it is I am sorry sir. I don’t remember any embarrassing moment.
It was rumoured recently that you died, how did this affect you?
It was a very funny period because it was also rumoured that I was the one who orchestrated it so that my Ibadan show will sell. I am still living till today and I will continue to live.