Atunnyota Alleluya Akpobome better known as Ali Baba is the undisputed king of comedy, a title reportedly given to him by his colleagues. Since hitting the comedy scene in 1993, he has grown to become a household name with the high and mighty as his friends. He changed the lot of comedians in the country and set many of them up for the big league. The 1990 graduate of Religious Studies/Philosophy, from the then Bendel State University, Ekpoma has established a reputation that is hard to beat, leaving him in a class of his own. In this interview with Adia Ukoyen, in Uyo, he speaks on the secret behind his success and lots more.
You are regarded as the King of Comdey, which is to say that you are on top of your act. How were you able to reach this enviable height in your career?
It is God. The success I have recorded so far could be anybody’s lot. Many of the people that we started this race together are still hustling. I think my success is because I was able to help some people succeed in the career they had chosen. For some people, it is no big deal and I could look like any other struggling man while for others I could look like an achiever. I still like to see myself as a struggling man.
When did you get your first break?
In 1998 and it happened by accident. Some people were billed to perform at a show but they didn’t turn up. I was called upon to do the job and I did a credible job. That was how it all begun.
So you are saying that you became a comedian by accident?
Yes, that is what happened.
What would you have been if you were not a comedian?
I attended the Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma where I graduated in 1991 and I studied Philosophy/Religious Studies. I guess the expectation was after graduation, I would get a job, a white collar job as Philosophy is an all encompassing field of study. I actually thought I was going to be either a lawyer or an engineer because I had the opportunity. My allowance then as a student was N120. After that first accident where I cracked a few jokes and they were well received, I went on to do more. It suddenly dawned on me that I was earning more than I got as an “allawi”. Of course, it made sense to try and pursue comedy as a career. Today, I am glad I did, even though I am still a struggling comedian.
Struggling, yet it is rumoured that you earn nothing less than 1 million naira per show?
Hmmm. Where did you get that joke from? Have you not heard me say that I am struggling. When I was younger, I did more shows for less money, now I do fewer shows for more money to allow for the younger ones to grow. This industry is growing and I am proud of the younger ones. If we do not pave the way for their growth, there would not be room for development and choices. I have come to a point in this career that I cannot do every job. I’m at the point of making this profession grow; I shouldn’t be killing it.
What are your passions?
My family. I’m happily married. I have five kids and my youngest daughter turned one recently. She is a very pretty girl and I have two boys and two girls. I think sometimes your success depends how happy you are at home and how much support you have from your wife, and believe me, I have it from these people. I like my job. I’m passionate about my family.
Were you born Ali Baba, and how was growing up?
My name is Ali Baba. I was born on June 24, 1965. I am from Delta State. Ali Baba is my stage name while Alleluya is my baptismal name.
Strange name. Who gave you the name and why Alleluya?
Praise the Lord, Alleluya. That was the cry that came at my birth since I was born after many female children. So, it was a day of joy at my birth day and my maternal grandmother gave me the name. My mother was a farmer, but she no longer farms while my father retired as a head teacher in Abraka before joining the army. My growing up was eventful.
It was happy. I grew up partly in Warri and in Lagos. It was a very interesting childhood. We grew up in the barracks, and you have all kinds of people from all tribes. I had my primary education at St. Michael Primary School in Ojo and then Command Secondary School. I went to Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma in Edo State where I graduated in 1991. I then went for my Youth Services in Abuja. I came back and settled for comedy in Lagos. My parents are elderly and they reside in Delta State.
What lessons has life taught you?
That nothing is given to you that is not supposed to be used to help others and if you stop progressing, progress would leave you. If you stop working hard or stop preparing yourself for challenges when you meet challenges, you’ll be unprepared. That is why they say that, “preparation plus opportunity bring success”.
So if you were supposed to get a job as a driver and you did not learn how to drive, when the opportunity comes to become the driver you lose it. The same thing happens in other areas of life. Whatever is worth doing must be done well. I also believe that if your success cannot make other people successful then it is wasted. I also believe that it is better to have a child than to have an abortion. There are quite a lot of things I believe in. So my philosophy of life depends on what situation I find myself. in I just began to learn another one again that patience is what you need to drive in Lagos safely.
Speaking of driving, I understand that you are a car freak, is this true?
Driving in Lagos is hell. And for me, the only way to make this hell less hell is to drive good cars. This does not necessarily make me a car freak. I just don’t want to live hell on earth on the streets of Lagos. You want the truth? Yes, I love cars but I am not a car freak. Freaks remind me of psychos.
So, if it is not cars, it has to be dogs.
Oh, yes, I love dogs. But not just any dogs o. I love my dogs.
I heard a joke by you about your dogs and your wife and her people.
Please, you heard, it is no proof that it was me, especially since my wife was there, abeg.
How do you get your jokes?
You see a funny situation and you quickly say this could be funny and you make use of it. After a while, because you are looking out for something funny, it comes to you naturally.
Have you had any problems with people over jokes you have cracked before?
No; none. I draw a line between being funny and being offensive. There are people who take it for granted that because another person is getting away with a person, then you, can get away with that person, too.
When you are not Ali Baba the comedian, who are you?
I’m a father, a friend and a family man. I’m a homeboy.
How do you relax?
I like watching movies. I like photography. I like to read books. I like watching people, watching documentaries and dancing. If I go to club, I would dance even if nobody is dancing with me. I like cycling and swimming with my children.
What is style for you?
I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of person. I like bespoke suits; most of my suits are bespoke. I like blazers just as I like tying the Urhobo wrapper. I like boots and slippers. I wear slippers but I wear shoes mostly when I’m at work.