Gbenga Adeyinka The 1st is one comedian who hardly needs any introduction in Nigeria. The Comedian of The Federal Republic (CFR) has evolved into a brand over the years. In this interview with Street Journal’s WOLE ADEJUMO, the ace comedian spoke on how his journey into stand up comedy started from his days in the University of Lagos when his jokes were remunerated only with hugs and simple statements like “thank you” and “God bless you”. He also spoke on his show slated for Ibadan in August and the kind of excitement he gets when he is on stage. Excerpts:
How did you get into stand up comedy?
Stand up comedy is something I have done practically all my life. I did a couple of stage plays in UNILAG. I belonged to a theatre troupe called Theatre 15 and a lot of the roles they gave me were very comic roles. So eventually people would call me to help them MC their end of the year faculty dinner, hall dinner and all that and it went on like that. When I graduated, people who knew me in school would invite me to help them anchor their wedding but nobody was paying anybody. It was just thank you. In school, they were paying me with hugs; they would say “that was nice”. Outside school they were paying me with “God will bless you.”
But after I worked with my uncle for some time at Sparklight Engineering, I decided to start my own children entertainment outfit. I went to MITV back in the days. Then I used to hang with Akin Akindele a lot and I would tell him, okay you tell me a joke and I will tell you one. That was close to MITV and Funmi Farodoye who I didn’t know was a presenter in MITV then, she used to be Funmi Davies, she called me one day and said oh, I am starting a new programme and I will like you to be on it. I said for what? She said comedy. I said “I am not a comedian”. She said “just come and do what you do here on the programme”. I started that, after some time, I met Ali Baba and I went to supply music at a bank end of the year party and somebody who knew me from UNILAG said “ah, local champion. This is our own local champion from UNILAG then” he said tell a couple of jokes.
When I finished, he said so what do you do? I said I work in a construction firm because I was too embarrassed to say I had a children party entertainment outfit. He said “ah you are doing bricklayer, you are wasting your time” that you are supposed to be a comedian. I said me? Comedian? God forbid (snaps fingers over his head). I pushed it forward, not knowing that I should have pushed it backwards. So eventually I met it upfront.
Ali Baba gave me a gig. They paid. I said ah! “Money dey this thing?” Since then, mo kan la ‘ri mo straight ni (I faced it headlong). So basically that was how I found myself in stand up comedy.
There is so much noise about your show slated for August in Ibadan. Why did you decide to stage it in Ibadan?
This is payback time for me. When I couldn’t pass JAMB in Lagos, I came back to Ibadan for my A Levels. Very cool place and I passed JAMB. It pains me that many people don’t know is the father of stand up comedy in Nigeria. A lot of times people talk about Warri 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 the channel was Erin Keekee, Baba Sala, Baba Mero, Ajimajasan, Awada Kerikeri , all that while, I was doing my A Levels in Ibadan, I remembered that Jacob, Papalolo and Aderupoko were on TV and it was vibrant. I remember that in those days, we would go to KS Cinema to watch movies.
No I know that there are few comedy shows in Ibadan. I have done one or two. This is like a missionary exercise for me to give back and at the same time build something again. For me, Ibadan deserves to grow where stand up comedy is concerned and coupled with the fact that there are very few South West stand up comedians. I am looking at a situation where if we do this, a lot of more people will be confident to do their own shows and that way we will build more comedians.
Back in the UNILAG days, there was a particular show where you had this weird costume on. Is comedy an innate thing in you or how did it evolve?
Initially, I didn’t know what stand up comedy was. For me it was just the desire to make people laugh. You know when you are sitting down with your friends and you are telling jokes. That was it for me, I didn’t know it was comedy. I just knew it was fun and that is the kind of person I am. I don’t like to be in a place where people are not making noise, people are not generally having fun, people are not drinking. Even in church, I like to make noise, not to talk of not being in church.
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 four years, you can be as fit as hell but you can’t be as skilful as Jay Jay Okocha. If Jay Jay Okocha does not run, he will still play football because he has it innately. So it is something I have always had but I didn’t know what it was. It was just a desire to have fun and tell jokes and I think I discovered it during one incidence in UNILAG. You know back in the days in UNILAG once light goes, pam, the generator comes on, pam. So it was close to exam, unluckily for them, we had not read. And light went. Gen did not come on. People started gathering that “ope o, we won’t do this exam.” Before you could say Jack Robinson, people had gathered in the New Hall. I had a classmate, we used to call him Bullet in those days, he was a fantastic trumpeter. Then we had this routine we used to do, you know those were the days of “e ma binu o, won ni eyin na fe je guber sugbon thug la mo yin si. Ti nba gbo to, orun loo ti pe gi. Giri o mu o” You know, we had that routine and that of “how many mineral resources do we have? We have Coke, Fanta ” so we went on a bus, he played the trumpet, we told jokes, people gathered.
At the end of the day, people started shouting and before we knew it, light came back. People screamed “”nooooo”. Then the VC sent for me, I even thought they were going to rusticate me because I was in year one. He sent for me and said “that was a good one, thank you very much.” That was the first time I stood up to do comedy.
Has there ever been a time you looked back and asked yourself why am I even in this comedy business?
I am a bull, it takes me a lot of time 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 at home and all that but once I get on stage, the stage is like a drug for me. Once I get on stage, I am too fired up, I am too excited to regret anything. So maybe sometimes when I feel bad, when I am down and I remember that experience, it spurs me to want to continue. And I know that like everything in life, if you are consistent, you will make it.
When you decided to go into comedy full time, what was the reaction from your parents?
I grew up with my grandmother and a couple of uncles. We used to have this meeting every first day of the year but because of work, I would not go. For the first three years of my career, I was always the matter of discussion at the meeting. It was always like “we sent Gbenga Adeyinka to the best schools in the country, yet he says he wants to be Baba Sala. But after some years down the line, they allowed me.
You worked with an Engineering firm, but you didn’t study an Engineering related course.
I studied English but I actually set up a corporate affairs department for him, I did corporate affairs and admin and now I think he has one of the best corporate affairs departments in a construction firm because those Engineers don’t even think of advertising or talking to the press.
What was growing up like?
Growing up was fun. I used to be very rascally. I was crazy about football; I grew up in what was known as New Lagos in those days: Surulere, Ogunlana Drive, Akerele. A lot of comedians would tell you “ah we were poor when we were young”, I won’t lie we were not poor. In fact I think I was too sheltered, I wanted to be on the street, I wanted to know what was happening so a lot of times you would find me in Shitta where they are playing football, you would find me in Onilegogoro and my parents would beat me like there is no tomorrow.
There was a particular day I was sent to go and grind pepper and I left the pepper bowl on the floor and started playing football. After waiting for some time, they sent someone from home to go and look for me. The person came, took the pepper, went to grind it and they made soup. Around 7 pm, I just remembered that I had to grind pepper. And when I didn’t see the pepper, aah, I just tore my clothes and when I got back home, I said some people came to fight me and they tore my clothes. Ah, they beat the living daylights out of me that day. I think I had a football addiction back in the days.
What would you have been if you had not been a comedian?
If God had given me the opportunity, I would have been a footballer. I love football like mad, don’t look at my big stomach. My coach in UNILAG saw me one day and said “ah ah, what are you doing with all this big stomach?” or I would have been an actor or a teacher. Those are the things I am passionate about. I like teaching people and imparting. And even comedy is like teaching. I have a comedy school. I have a group of young comedians that I mentor and one thing I believe is that if you are successful, it is not you. Your success is traced to other people that are related to you that are successful. The relationship may not be by blood, but they are close to you.
From Gbenga Adeyinka to Gbenga Adeyinka the 1st, to Laffmatazz to Gbenga Adeyinka and Friends and now Gbamu Gbamu, how would you describe the journey so far?
It has been rough, tough, interesting, annoying, mad, sane, it has been a mixed grill of everything. The day people realise that I enjoy what I do, they will stop paying me because seriously, I don’t understand why people pay me. They pay me to come and have fun.
I like seeing people laugh. When I tell a joke and you laugh, I get so excited. So that to me is what this job Is all about. It takes a lot of strength and energy but if I was abroad, I wouldn’t be doing just one job. I would be washing dead bodies, sweeping the floor, doing bouncer because I have big stomach, so why can’t I stay in my country and do as much as I can do? That’s why I have been doing one thing after the other.
What would you say being a comedian has done to you?
If you see what comedy has done to me, it’s not just money, that is the least of it. Okay, you are at the airport and a Governor sees you and breaks protocol, and comes to pat your back “hee, Gbenguze, bawo ni now?” You can call the Governor and say “egbon, se e wa pa?” and he tells you “Gbenga, maa bo ninu ile” (Gbenga, come inside).
Somebody was asking me how rich are you? I said in Naira and kobo, I am not very rich because for me, Naira and kobo is not money but in support, in people that I consider to be my friends, I am richer than Bill Gates. And that is what comedy has done for me; I have met people I never thought I could meet in my life. Last week at the Alakija’s birthday, I saw Otunba Subomi Balogun. I went to where he sat down and prostrated, he said bawo ni? (How are you?). He didn’t see the face of the person greeting him. When I now got up and he saw me, he said “aah, Gbenguze, omokomo, omokomo”. You know, Otunba Subomi Balogun should not play with me. I would see Dangote and throw jokes at him. I would say “I’ll like to introduce Alhaji Aliko Dangote, a lot of people say I look like him.” He said “ah Gbenga you don’t look like me.” Comedy is taking me to places I never thought I would get to. I have performed for Presidents.
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, I turned them to English. It is only normal for young comedians to steal the jokes of a more accomplished comedian. One thing I always tell people is if you steal my joke, do it better than I would do it.
Some of the best jokes I have told in my life are the jokes of people that would come to me and say “ehen Gbenga, let me tell you this joke, you will know how to smoothen it out.” 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? We read books, who has an original joke anyway? I read a lot of books; 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. But Ali Baba will know that olosi ni e Gbenga, o pa joke yen. Do you understand? That is the best way to redo a joke.
As a comedian, when would you describe as your most embarrassing moment?
(Laughs) I don’t get embarrassed my brother. 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. But what will you do? Let’s assume you are petty now, you get to your office and your boss is 24, he is your boss. If he talks to you anyhow, “what’s wrong with you? You are so dumb” The response will be I am sorry sir. So if I get to an event and they embarrass me, it is I am sorry sir. But I don’t remember any.
And this is a question one of you fans posted on Twitter …
(Reads the question) what’s his plan for his bulging tummy? Ah, I don’t know o. but I have done everything to make this tummy go down. There was a time I was using Tianshi like I was going to die. There was a time I was doing one hour exercise like I was going to die. (Hisses) it doesn’t work for me.