My regrets – Ali Baba

My regrets – Ali Baba
February 20 13:21 2016 Print This Article

Once upon a time he was a youth who armed with only a dream and the cloths on his back relocated to Lagos to pursue his dream against the advice of his dad but ended up homeless at the Lagos Bar Beach.

However, he did not lose focus but clung unto his dream and today, he is a source of inspiration to mil­lions of youths as he has brought fame, prestige, re­spect and of course wealth to stand-up comedy. And last year, he opened up a new front in his career when he unveiled Spontaneity; a talent show designed to discover fresh talents in comedy and raise standards by implanting professionalism.

Almost three decades after he made that daring movie, today Ali Baba is a billionaire and in this chat with TONY OGAGA ERHARIEFE and RUMMY CHUKWUMA, he opens up on the journey so far and his plans for the comedy industry.

Excerpts:

It’s almost three decades since you made that daring movie that transformed your life forever. Ali Baba, are you living your dream?

Hmmm…I’m not leaving a nightmare though (laugh­ter). But what I would say is that I’ve gotten to a point in my career where there’s hardly anything that I want to do that I can’t afford. Dreams are hopes and anticipations that you wish to fulfill. And so today, if I want to drive any car, I can afford it; if I wish to go to UK and spend a week, I can afford it. In fact, there are very few things I want in my life that I can’t afford against the backdrop of my career. 27 years down the road, you’ve taken the comedy industry from nowhere to somewhere and raised many successful comedians.

In fact, comedy has become a very lucrative industry and factions are beginning to emerge. What do you make of these factions? Well, there are no factions in comedy. It happens in music as well. Rap artistes like relating with rap artistes they share similar traits with.

What happens is that a few comedians figure that this and that are the kind of people I can relate with and then they kind of bond. For instance, if the comedians you’re rolling with are smokers, you guys will have common ground if you’re a smoker; if they like drinking, you’ll have common ground if you also drink; if they like clubbing and you do, you’ll have common ground as well.

However, for a comedian like Holy Mal­lam who neither smokes nor drinks, it will be hard for you to have him in a clique that has smokers and drinkers. So, water finds its level naturally. There are different char­acters in the business and everybody relates differently. But the common thing is that we’re comedians and we relate well on that level. I think that ‘the faction thing’ is nothing more than ‘you’re not in my group, I’m not in your group thing.’ It’s not for words to be exchanged and really, nearly all of them relate with me and I relate with all of them very well. Let’s say they don’t expose those factions to me. Though I hear about them but whenever I invite them over, they don’t exhibit factional traits.

It’s almost three decades since you made that daring move to relocate to Lagos in search of greener pastures but ended up at the Lagos Bar Beach. Did you believe that you’d be here some­day, so comfortable and empowering younger people with a platform like Spontaneity?

I knew that I would make it but I didn’t know that it would be this big; I didn’t think that the impact would be this strong. Back then when it started I was in school. My allowance was between N120 and N150 and then I started doing shows and I discovered I could end earn more money and here we are today. Sir, is any of your kids taking after you? None, except you’re talking about taking after me as in sports, art works and painting. My daughter paints, sings and writes. Another daughter of mine is into fashion while another sings and is into broadcasting but they all have great sense of humour but not commercially. Having influenced so many young Nigerians, is it not surprising that none of your kids is a stand-up comedian? They initially didn’t think that it was a business worth going into because they didn’t know there was money in it. But they have great sense of humuor and that’s as far as they are influenced, not that they’re looking to become the next Alibaba (laughter).

Earlier, you made mention that some come­dians are repeating jokes in Nigeria and that means they’re not original? What could be done about this?

It’s just like you have quakes in every kind of busi­ness. If you start selling cars today and somebody sees that car business is doing very well, the next thing is that somebody will open a shop and begin to sell cars too. If somebody starts making plantain chips and is successful, shortly after, every other person wants to make plantain chips. So, that’s the point. There are people who do stuff just because somebody is doing it and making.

Today, people see you as the pillar of comedy in Nigeria, is there any way comedians are unit­ing to organise and regulate the industry so it doesn’t become an all comers’ affair?

Yes. I think Spontaneity is one of such interventions. The second thing is that YouTube and social media are help­ing us greatly. Today, you find that once a comedian does a joke and uploads it, everybody knows that that comedian is the owner of the joke and not many people would want to repeat that joke for obvious reasons. What has been hap­pening before now was that because there was nothing that recorded the jokes, comedians just picked anybody’s joke and told it like it was their own. So, if the guy is in Port Harcourt and he lays hand on 10 jokes from Lagos, he tells them until he gets another fresh set and continues to tell the new set until he gets another set so it’s a cycle. And then when the owner of the joke goes to Port Harcourt to perform, everybody is like ‘hey! I’ve heard this joke be­fore.’ Today if a comedian tells a joke in Lagos that is not his, with the network televisions that we’re having and You­Tube, instagram, twitter and facebook, a lot of people will instantly put up the message that it’s not his joke.

Unlike past presidents, it would seem the cur­rent president is not favourably disposed to entertainment, how is that affecting the industry?

That’s totally wrong; President Buhari is favourably inclined to entertainment! The man called us for a meeting and he has said he wants the entertainment in­dustry to produce at least 20 per cent of the GDP. We opened his eyes to it and he asked, ‘what does the entertainment industry need to make a lot of money?’ And we said ‘look at AY, his movie, 30 Days in Atlanta, has grossed nearly N300 million. What it means is that if every other movie gets that kind of support and if Buhari decides to run for re-election, AY can say, Mr. President, take N20m instead of expecting Buhari to give him money.’ So Buhari should just create an enabling environment for people to make it. That said, we need platforms, and what are the platforms? There are places where these talents can exhibit their creativity like Spontaneity. So we need a lot more TV stations and more airtime and if royalties are being paid, a lot of musicians wouldn’t be depending on concerts and that will mean they will be able to pay their taxes as well and entertainment will no longer be an informal sector; it will become a sector that is structured, and that’s what he’s working towards.

Has there been any time you felt like quitting and just walking away due to challenges?

For me as a comedian, there has been none. I have been performing since the days of Abacha. I think the thing is that as comedians, we actually have a longer life span than musicians. What happens with a lot of musicians in Nigeria is that fans are crazy over them but when they find out that the musician has gotten married, they feel he is ‘out of the market.’ So talking about challenges, I’ve had none. But I will say that we enjoyed in the Obansanjo era because Obasanjo had a great sense of humour and because he had a great sense of humour, the governors from different states appreciated humuor as well. And as they say, ‘if it’s good on top, it trickles to the bottom.’ It wasn’t so rosy in Yar’adua’s time before he took ill. Then, when Jonathan came, it was not any different but some of our colleagues still benefited. However, What I’d say is that we as comedians and mas­ters of ceremony would benefit anyway; whether it’s a very tough regime or a free regime because our services are needed by everybody and everybody wants to laugh be­cause laughter is the best medicine.

You turned 50 last year, how does it feel turning 50? And when you look back the last 50 years, do you have any regret?

The only regret I have is that I didn’t start early enough or that it took me long to break even in the stand-up com­edy industry. Unlike now, a comedian can hit the scene and become a big fish in a year. But in my case, it took from 1987 to 2007 before people got to understand that comedy is something that should be appreciated. So it took a long while but we’re there now. So for me, really, we’ve gotten to a point where I look back and say it was all worth it be­cause comedians are now benefitting from the work that we started and we would like to mention that late Mohammed Danjuma played a great role because it wasn’t easy. So how does it feel turning 50? Well, nothing has changed. I just feel like there’s a lot more to be done and quickly. – Culled from The Sun.

Culled from: The Citizen Ng

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