At over 50 years of age, the ever-charming Gbenga Adeyinka has his name associated with comedy in the Nigerian entertainment industry. The veteran comedian holds an impeccable record of making a deliberate effort in championing the growth of comedy in the South-Western part of the country. This became the base of his conversation with YUSUFF ADEBAYO in this interview where he also explained the rationale behind his monikers. Excerpts…
You crowned yourself the Grand Comedian of Nigeria which is perhaps a great moniker to have. How did that come about?
I first started out as Comedian of the Federal Republic (CFR) when I’d worked in all the 36 states of the federation. Then, it became a tag we were all using. Ali Baba was Grand Comedian of the Federal Republic (GCFR). Then, having worked all round the nation, I decided that you are what you call yourself. And without being vain, what one has done in the industry qualifies one for a little bit of chest-thumping.
Does that title place any sort of responsibility on you with respect to how you approach your craft as a comedian?
Yes. With a name like that comes a lot of responsibility not just to the craft itself but also to younger members of the community. You become a father-figure of sort. It affects the kind of jokes you tell because you are an ambassador of the craft. If you go to an event and you start telling raw jokes, it rubs off on the industry. So, it did come with a lot of responsibility and I thank God I’ve been able to lift my weight.
For someone born and schooled in Lagos for a long while, you’ve taken your craft mostly outside of Lagos which is a good thing for an entertainment industry that is very Lagos-centric. Where did that realisation that there is life outside of Lagos come from for you?
About 11 years ago, I sat down and asked myself, ‘what would you be remembered for when you’re dead and gone’. You know, people can never forget the names of Baba Sala, Jaguar, John Chukwu, Ali Baba. I realise that what makes them different is the fact that they saw a void and they filled that void. I went for A-levels in Ibadan and I saw a vibrant community that is very artcentric. So, then the idea came to me to boost premium and quality entertainment outside of Lagos. Lagos to me then was already saturated. I’d done Laffmattazz concert at Excellence Hotel, Ogba, I’d done Sheraton Hotel. So, I decided what is more and realised it was to build a platform that is bigger than me. And at a point, everybody was pushing the Warri agenda. You find people saying, ‘yeah, from Warri where we come from.’ I started feeling bad when even Yorubas started saying, ‘you know, for Warri.’ Igbo started saying the same. I felt the need to diversify and expand the base of the industry. And yes, 10 years after, I’ve been proven right. We’ve done Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ilorin, Oshogbo, Akure. We’ve built a platform that has allowed young comedy generals to grow.
Today, we see a lot of comedians stay back in their city and thrive without necessarily moving to Lagos. To what extent would you consider yourself to have influenced the culture and the confidence to do this?
I’ll say that it’s a lot about God but in my own little way, we’ve been able to instill confidence and polish the persona of the comedians in such places. In those days, being a Yoruba comedian, the word was even ‘oniyeye’, then it became ‘alawada’, now it has become ‘aderinposonu’. So, I wouldn’t say it’s all due to me but I’ve been able to be part of the process that has given these comedians the confidence to stay back and say this is what I do.
The comedy industry is witnessing an influx of new talent almost every other day. Do you sense that this mounts any pressure on any of you, the older comedians?
It will be selfish of me and many others who have been here for a while to not expect young people to come in because when we came in, there were other people there too. And for those who don’t have other people there, they would want a situation where what they started would grow. For us, the influx of new talents is amazing. It is also an opportunity for us to carve your niche and create your USP so as to remain relevant.
With social media, it feels like the entry level into the industry is pretty low these days. Does this bother you?
You know, comedy has become an all-comers affair but like they always say, the wheat will separate itself from the chaff. But then, people make the mistake of looking at comedians from the prism of stand-up comedy alone. There’s more to comedy beyond stand-up. And this is what a lot of upstarts have come to prove. What we are beginning to witness is the robustness and diversification in the industry and it shows the world that indeed we are a funny and talented people. The problem then is that a lot of people don’t want to stick to what they know. Just create your niche and be the best at it. The entry level is low but there’s no way you can tell someone who believes he has a gift to not express himself. Over time, if he perfects his art, he’ll get accepted. If not, he’ll look for something else to do.
In your assessment, does this new age process of becoming a comedian have any influence on the quality of the material that they churn out?
Yes. I believe that as you get older, you get more mature. You know, there are some jokes I won’t be caught dead cracking. So, when such comes to me, I call younger colleagues and pass it to them which is the same thing Ali Baba did for me. The new age process of going online, doing skits has affected the quality of the material so much but nobody becomes a premiership player the day he starts playing football. With time, you refine your materials. I never despise the days of little beginnings.
2020 was a rough year for the entertainment sector. And I spoke to you sometimes in April about the situation of things in the comedy industry. I mean you had to cancel your show. At that time, we didn’t even know how serious it was going to get. Looking at how everything panned out, how tough was the year for you as a comedian and for the comedy industry at large?
I won’t lie to you, 2020 is my worst year ever. I’ve never had it so bad. But then, it is also my best year because it allowed me look at something else to do. It allowed me strategise as a businessman. There are a lot of loans that someone has got his hands into because of the show but I know that things will get better. And for the com-edy industry as a whole, you’ll notice that the resilience of the industry came into play. A lot of our colleagues went online and started doing specials. It wasn’t as bad as it would have been but it wasn’t a good year nonetheless but we thank God. The industry will be back bigger, better and more attuned to current realities.
To what extent will this COVID experience serve as an epiphany for people in your industry to start diversifying their sources of revenue?
‘Dem no dey teach person wey wan go on top river how to swim or to look for life jacket.’ It’s a huge epiphany to use your word that you can’t survive without multiple streams of income. I know that a lot of us have tried our hands on some other things but we didn’t really pay attention. What COVID has done is to warn us to be aware and be sharp.
How excited are you about the prospects of the industry in the New Year?
I’m very excited. Once we catch a glimpse of the light, Nigeria hasn’t seen anything yet. I trust my colleagues; the elder ones and the younger ones. Expect newer experiences.
Are there fresh talents in that space who particularly interest you?
I’m a disciple of both the old and the new. Every day, when I see young talents, I’m just excited. There’s always something to learn from everybody. There are these two new guys from Ibadan, they act like NEPA people. Those guys are just off the chisel. Taaooma, Macaroni. You also see some stand-up comedians who were about to break into the mainstream just before COVID. For me, it’s a lot of awesomeness that’s about to be unleashed on Nigerians.
On the flipside, have you come across people you don’t consider funny enough?
I plead the fifth; in other words I’d rather not answer that.
So, what’s Gbenga Adeyinka up to for the New Year?
For me, people have always accused me of not doing things in Lagos. So, I’m working on about two things in Lagos. Of course, I’m also thinking of retirement ventures. A friend of mine and I are working on an online radio that’ll be dropping soon. So many things in the offing that joblessness has made us think about.
From breaking out with your ‘Shine Shine Bobo Promo’ for Star Game Show to publishing Laffmattazz magazine and becoming one of the most respected voices in the comedy space; at the end of all of these, what would you like to be remembered for?
That’s a tough one. I’d like to be remembered as that guy who came, tried his best and continued to try to reach new frontiers and be the best with what God has put in his hands. I want to be remembered as that tenacious fellow who helped an industry grow. If I’m remembered for that in the industry, then I’m more than fulfilled. Then, for my family, I want to be remembered as that father that did all he could to make the world a better place for them. And for Nigeria, I want to be remembered as one of the shining stars who helped put Nigeria on the global map.