It all started with funny remarks at shows that grew into humorous presentations on stage during his undergraduate days at the Bendel State University, Ekpoma.
From then on, Alleluya Atuyota Akporobomeriere (Ali Baba), the son of an educationist, decided he was going to earn a living doing what he knew best – comedy/entertainment. Over the years, he has come to be known as the doyen of comedy in Nigeria, one of Nigeria’s most successful comedians, and an inspiration to a generation of comedians.
At many occasions, this interview inclusive, Ali Baba is quick to say that comedy came about by accident.
“I was a professional heckler and I was very good. You find out that when a professional heckler goes for a show, people would want to sit with them so that they would know when a show went wrong.”
After many years as a spectator, in 1998, he was offered a golden opportunity during a university beauty pageant, to prove his mettle.
“The show was Miss DELSU, and they had a strip tease and that was the first time undergraduates ever heard of a striptease, so the place was jammed full. We all wanted to see the girl, and I tell you, everyone wanted to see that last of the clothes come off her body. She was wearing a skirt suit; she removed everything, except her pants and bra. Then she left the stage. Students were like, ‘No way! you must remove everything!’ They started throwing bottles and cans on stage, and that was when I was introduced.
“When I got on stage, I told them I wanted to go find out the state that she was in. And when I got back, I told them ‘if I die here, this is heaven!’ and students were like bring her out now and I told them that she’s just so scared and has goose pimples all over her, like the face of one of our registrars who had bumps. I started yabbing people, and by the time I was done, only a few people remembered the strip tease.
“Initially, I was paid N30 for the shows, and my allowance was N120. So, I thought if I continued with the shows, I could make more money than what I was getting from home, and that started it. I just knew I was called for it because if I am on stage, nothing else matters.”
20 YEARS and still going strong
Last month, the philosophy graduate celebrated two decades of being a stand-up comedian. He clears the air on retirement tales:
“What I said was that I was going to do fewer events. Really, you are as funny as your best joke. Unless you are not funny anymore, then you can call it quits. Fatai Rolling Dollars is still in music. So, it’s about your content, creativity, and originality.
“I promised, during my 20 years in stand-up shows, that I was going to have a separate show which will run every other week for people who cannot attend my regular shows.”
For the love of charity
Ali Baba has always loved to support the less privileged, and will stop at nothing to assist them. For this reason, the comedian is championing a charitable cause with his pet project – Ali Baba and the 40 Gifts.
“When I thought of the show I thought of the logistics of having it on TV and people phoning in and winning prizes, and how the prizes will be delivered. So I thought I could have something where people can just pick a ticket and win a prize instantly. ‘Ali Baba and the 40 Gifts’ has been 4 years coming and it is basically for people to come and win prizes. Every week, when the show comes, you fill out your case and send/text it to us. We look at it, and say, ‘this person says she has a husband who is sick and this and that.’ Let’s say we have five cases. We are now going to attend to two of them that looks like its urgent and the person’s life is at stake, and we can intervene. We would look at those instances and pick the issue that deserves our attention. We visit their houses and look if the situation really deserves our attention. If the person says he wants N500, 000, and we go there and it looks like a 1 million naira situation, we would give it to him or her.
This comedy business
Over the years, comedy in Nigeria has grown into a big business, attracting the mediocres and some bright hopefuls. For the Ali Baba, it is a pointer to the growth of the profession. However, there is more to be done in terms of ethics and morals.
“We are setting up a body, Comedians of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some comedians do not know the difference between being offensive and being funny and some do not know that what they do is a service and that if you service is not properly rendered, that’s breach of contract.
“Some do not know that you do not take two or three events and not show up. We are working on that so that as time goes on, the body would address them; and as time goes on, we would be able to have an academy of sort where intending comedians would learn a thing or two. I have discussed with some universities and they like the idea of including a form of comedy into their final year programme so that when Theatre Art students graduate, they can also become comedians.”