Koffi has been popular since his school days. He was part of the popular Twilight zone television show. The next thing, he was on stage doing jokes like other comedians. Classifying him into a particular art can be misleading. He is involved in acting, singing, dancing and comedy, yet he studied Chemistry at the University of Lagos. He never practised his course. In fact, he jumped into stardom the day he left school. The all-round entertainer spoke with Hazeez Balogun and Sukanmi Ogunade recently.
My name is Koffi Idowu Nuel. I am a comedian, an actor and a singer. First in a family of four, born to a Togolese mother and a Nigerian father from Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos. I attended Kuramo Primary School, Victoria Island and because I was naughty, my mother later sent me to Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. I proceeded to the University of Lagos to read Chemistry and while in the University, I joined Theatre 15, a theatre club. That was where I honed my skill. I first started as a stage actor, then fully blossomed into becoming a comedian and, of course, music came along the line while having fun. Since my fans love my musical ability, they encouraged me further to take it more serious.
My ultimate inspiration is from God but my environment supports that a lot. It is things that I see around me that inspire me in writing my jokes. We can talk about Presidency, to ministers and many other things that happen in the society. The things we read in the papers and hear on the news are also part of what makes my jokes. That is why my humour is a bit directed towards the intellectual, I hardly tell beer parlour’s joke. I read a lot, I perceive a lot and I see a lot, these things reflect in the things I say. I always tell people that God is the ultimate comedian, God is funny and it is from the abundance of what he has that He gives to us.
I didn’t exactly go into comedy. Comedy just happened. When I was in school, I was in theater 15, so it was while doing all the things we were doing that the comedy inclination came and I was just having fun with every thing we were doing. And gradually, it metamorphosed into being a comedian that would open a show, then before school was over, I was already getting paid as a comedian, as master of ceremonies for my friends’ gigs, dinners, department, faculty and occasions, so by the time school was over I moved full time into the trade zone because when I was in school I was already getting gigs from outside school, like weddings and launchings. I started paying my bills even in my final year in school. I was not asking my parents for nothing and even when I felt there was need for me to find my certificate and look for a job, my hands were already full.
Theatre 15 is a theatre club in the University of Lagos where students meet after lecture and have a theatre production and rehearsals about things that are happening in the campus environment. KB of Trybesmen used to be a member, Teju BabyFace, Tee A, Gbenga Adeyinka, Blackky back in the days and a host of others. It was an avenue to groom yourself to learn to be a master of stage and that was where I spent most of my quality time, so after lectures, I would go for rehearsals . And that was how I started.
We also did the TV drama, Twilight Zone. It was a drama centred on school happenings. That was where we all started from - myself, Yaw, KB, Biola and others. It was while we were doing that, being the character that I was, I used to sing and mix songs a lot so people liked it, and I started doing my own songs and work.
Initially I wanted to be pharmacist. Because I lost my aunt when I was in JSS 3 and I vowed that the remedy to her sickness would have been some medicare, and I decided that I will help to save mankind by producing drugs, making people well and making people happy. I didn’t know I could do it through another means.I thought it was only through injection and medicine. I didn’t know it was possible through laughter that God was going to redirect it. I am naturally an art person, working with crayon. I was good in anything literature. So, when I told my parents that I was going to the sciences, they were surprised that ah! ah! you are naturally good with the arts’ Why would you want to go to the sciences? I told them I wanted to study Pharmacy, then reminded me that I wasn’t good with Maths but I insisted I would survive. Though, I wasn’t doing well in my SS1, but by SS2 I got on and by SS3 I cleared all my papers. When JAMB jambed me twice, I accepted the offer to read Chemistry instead of Pharmacy. I eventually ended up being an artiste, so am still in the ‘ist’.
Every parent fears for the future of their children. It was not the comedy. It was the fact that I was acting and taking theatre seriously. And my mum was like, ‘what is wrong with this boy’, but by the time she saw I was indeed pursuing my dream, I was focused, I was not doing bad and I was paying my bills, she told herself that, ‘is like this boy knows what he is doing’ so she let me be. Besides, my dad had no problem. Whatever you want to do, pursue it and meet the conclusion. Can you believe that few years later when it was time for me to go and serve, my mum was like, ‘what are you going to serve? Kilo fe lo se nibe (what are you going there to do), you better stay at home and face your business’, and I was like, ‘but you were agitating a lot for me to go and serve before now’, and she was like, ‘abeg, abeg, green white green tokan pariwo kiri (this green white green you have been shouting around), you better face your business’. But I told her that though my business is doing well but I must still go and serve my nation, which I did. At that point she realized that if I can pay my bills, then this is a future. As a matter of fact, my younger ones at that point, who were not doing well in school, she told them that, ‘you can see your brother is doing well, you better be like him’. In fact, one of my younger one has a drama group now, and the other is in arts school. I personally believe there is future in the arts and really we can see now that there is future in the arts. The sciences are dead in this country.
I have actually taken it upon myself, if others are not willing to. We have decided to sanitize the industry before it collapses. All we see is that a lot of industry suddenly reach a point, it collapse. You now wonder what happened tot that industry. It is because some things and errors were not checked from the onset. When the industry now reaches it peak, those things that you didn’t check will constitute problems and crumble it. So, now that comedians are getting new waves, recognition and what they need, we need to checkmate the industry. If not, if we carry it to the next generation, we would be infected worse than we could ever imagine. Nollywood suffered a lot of setbacks last year. The music industry also has its own fair share of the lapses. All these problems sprang up because they are not together. There is no cohesion until recently when some music artistes started collaborating in order t o address the issues. World over, there are lots of associations. There is the Rotary Club, Rotaract Club; there are different associations for different professional bodies. All these are geared towards the development of the members. If we allow this piracy to continue, it will suddenly get to a point where people would not want to talk to people. This comedian would not want to talk to that comedian and they will start drifting apart. When this happens, you will notice that the brotherliness of comedians will now break and the reason why comedians are growing is because we are together. And that is why musicians are copying us and are beginning to see the relevance of being together.
Also, if this is not checked, there will be a lot of bad blood and when bad blood comes in, people will drift apart. Before you know it, a comedian would want to do a show for N150, 000 and another comedian would collect N20, 000 because he doesn’t like him. If this begins to happen frequently, comedians will begin to look tattered and the older ones will be the only ones there. Consequently, the future of the association will be destroyed because the older ones will later fade off and only few ordinary people will come in and do nonsense. For instance, there is a set of Alli and the others. Those are the grown ones. Then there is a set of the intermediary which includes the Basket Mouths, the Koffis, the Gordons, the AYs and other. And there is another generation coming after them and most of these guys are the ones with the problem, the Elenus, the Seyi Laws, the Shakaras and others. The problem with this generation is that most of them lack originality. Many of them are putting on our jokes and the jokes of those coming behind them. Now if we don’t sanitize that generation, it means that generation will kill the industry. Our generation and Alli’s generation will be the only ones that will survive. If they are pitching our jokes and pitching the jokes of the younger ones because they are not original, a time would come when they won’t be able to survive the market and people will disregard them. By then, we would probably have moved on to other things. I, for instance, don’t intend carrying the mic and cracking jokes all the rest of my life. I have plans for the future. Already people see me as a producer and a director. I am an entrepreneur. I am no longer an entertainment. My ‘ent’ has moved to another ‘ent’. I am preparing for that already. I do movies. I do music and I produce works. So a time will come when people will feel they need young blood to be cracking jokes because one would grow old and they can only pay you money for endorsement to appear. For instance, in the music space, new songs are coming up. Now some of the older musicians are complaining that the new ones are drifting from the old pattern of indigenous music to hip-hop. Meanwhile, the truth is the older ones did not leave any serious sustainable platforms for the younger ones to follow in this regard. That is why I was talking about sanity in the industry. One person cannot come and say five people’s jokes for peanuts at the expense of the real owners of the joke, and call himself a comedian. At the end of the day, the finances of comedians will be nothing to write home about. He will just be famous with an empty pocket to go with. So I am taking it upon myself to fight for it. Na me be the head of government for this fight. I carry dagger now. This is because it is not everything that government will do for you and as it is not government that asked you to be a comedian.
If there are 50 known comedians, you will see at least 30 in a show. Now if there are caucus groups, will all the thirty belong to one? Personally, I have, in one way or the other, done something with virtually every comedians in Nigeria and I know that is what most of my colleagues do too. Some people think there is a caucus thing in the industry because they see close elements working together. It is only natural that it is the people you see everyday that you mostly relate with. But that does not mean when others come, you won’t extend your fellowship to them. For instance, for the past two years, every time I do Bursting Loose, I have my close friends with me. The first time I did Bursting Loose, I invited Tuface and he didn’t turn up but this year, he said will make it. I have a couple of several comedians in the first one. The following year, another set of comedians. This year, I still have another set, so where is the caucus? The problem is that of availability. Most of these people are not available.
I was born 11th March, 1977
Never, not even one. I do what I do passionately and I love what I am doing. There is nothing better than loving what you do.
Life has taught me to be who I am and never change been who I am. Life has also taught me to appreciate mankind and love God, and to treat everyone with respect.
Comedians and the country
Comedians are the boldest when it comes to saying certain things impromptu on a spot. Musicians have to take their music to the studio to record it and probably get it banned. But in comedy, once a comedian talks, it drops. And some of these comments are what many public figure fears; as a result they try to behave in order not to be used for jokes. Everything that happens, we have a joke around it, in that way the society is informed, the society takes note, the society get prepared for the future occurrence of such things. There many things we don’t fight physically but when we write and say our jokes, it hits those people concerned and they readjust. For instance, nobody can come and try a Rev. King stunt anymore because we talked about it. Also, what we say can be used as a reference point. That is, we help people to keep abreast of the history.
Nigerian comedy vs. foreign
Nigeria comedy is just starting, not that being funny is just starting but the comedy trade as a business. We are still here celebrating stand up comedy but its lots more than that. In Yankee for instance, they have segmented it. They have stand-up comedians, they have the acting comedians, they have the clowns, they have the caricature. All their different element of comedians is doing well over there. But the Nigeria comedy is still based on the one that stays directly on the stage and talk. We have not yet gotten to that stage that we respect clowns. Here, we see a clown as a yeye nonsense kiddies party people. But abroad, clowns come on stage, fully dressed in their costumes. They do mockery and mimickery and the audience participate with them to say who they are. Some people are facial comedians. They come to do facial expressions. Some do body movements and this is what they are paid for. We are yet to get there here. But recently, we have started having some thing close to different department. All these are geared towards improving the industry. For now, we are still crawling.
Well it is not an embarrassing moment. Some people say it is embarrassing when fans mob you, ask for money and your autographs. It is part of the job. If you are not famous, they won’t come to you. They just want to be part of your success, it is a blessing, and so you must learn to manage it.
I am aqua-phobia. I am Pisces but I don’t really like water.
I have been happily married for two years now. We were in Unilag together. We met there. We were more of friends before we became lovers.
Like I said, it was the friendship. I am not a very choosy person. I don’t look for a perfect thing. I just like things to be organized and look okay.