Call him ‘fine boy’ or call him ‘wowo’, you could argue his looks but not his craft. Born Fagade Olufemi Ademola, the immensely talented comedian, actor, musician, interior decorator and painter has a career spanning two decades under his belt. In this interview with YUSUFF ADEBAYO, he reminisces on his journey into the comedy industry and the role the church had to play in this. Excerpts…
Perhaps the best way to start this conversation is pointing out that you studied Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. It sounds like a far stretch from what you are known for today. How did comedy happen?
Well, it’s a good question and I think both are not far-fetched from each other. Industrial Relations and Personnel Management is about coordination, managing people and increasing the relations between basically the management and the work force. I knew that I would need this. The talent is there.
So, I knew that I can blend in the two. I wanted to study Theatre Arts. You know those times when they just wanted you to become a Lawyer or a Doctor; just work in the office. So, I looked for what I could study to enable me to work anywhere.
That was why I went for the option of studying Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. But deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to use my certificate to work but I had to satisfy that feeling of getting educated and blending well.
So, I don’t think it’s far-fetched. They work hand in hand. I have to manage people every day.
You sing, you act and also do comedy. How did you keep these talents alive while you were chasing the qualification?
In everything we do in life, support system is very important. And the major one you need is family and friends. When you get these set of people encouraging you and supporting what you do, it’s a sign of success from the get go. So, the support system from my family and friends was very great. Having to do all of these in school was quite easy. Could have been tough at some point but it was easy because I have them. And thanks to God too.
How did the name, Omo Baba, come about?
I started with acting at the Church. I had my own band and it’s an Afrobeat gospel band. So, after a particular performance, an elderly man walked up to me, mistaking me for Femi and Seun Kuti’s brother and he said: ‘shey Omo Baba leyin na’ meaning ‘Are you Baba’s son too.’ I said yes because people called my dad, Baba in church. He said ‘thank God for you o! You are using your style for God. You don’t have a lot of ladies dancing behind you, just you and your backup singers.’
So, I told him, ‘oh no, I thought you were referring to my dad’. But then, when he left, I thought about it. Who is my father’s father? My grandfather. Who is my grandfather’s father? My great grandfather.
So, who is the father of all the fathers? That’s God and he created man in his own image.
So, the Omo Baba that you hear isn’t from Ali Baba or Baba Sala. It’s from that particular incident and it means the son of God.
Then, I added number one to it. Somebody was asking me where is the place of Jesus then? I said ‘just leave me’. There’s a number that can be greater than one.
For how long have you been doing this professionally?
When you talk about professionally, it means when you start earning money from the business but I peg it at when you stepped on stage and people started to recognise you, invite you for shows, not you begging for it. And I think the moment when people everywhere got to know me was ‘Nite of a Thousand Laughs’ in 2004. I was able to make the audition because I missed the audition of ‘Nite of a Thousand Laughs’ four good times before getting it right. It was Gbenga Adeyinka that gave me the information. So, it was from that 2004 that people got to know me. But before then, 80 percent of the comedians active at that time already knew me and they knew what I could do. So, I don’t like to tag the days of struggles to it. So, it’s been two decades.
We’ve seen a lot of people who are talented, start out and fall off the surface of the industry. How sure were you that entertainment was going to work out for you?
It’s not as easy as people think it is but you have to be strong. There are times you think you can do better in other things. So, for me, from a very tender age I’ve been celebrating myself. I’ll grant interviews to flowers in my father’s compound. I’ll say, ‘oh, there’s no time for pictures now. I need to leave.’ I was always doing that because I was sure that I’d eventually do something that people would love and celebrate. And whenever I had the opportunity to showcase my talent, I’d do it to the best of the ability. It’s just the strength to keep pushing that’s needed. And I didn’t rush anything.
In spite of being an entertainer, you seem to have a strong connection with the Church. Is that limiting in any way?
Thanks for noticing that. The church actually encouraged my talent. It gave me that early platform to showcase my talent. Though, for me, it’s about doing God’s work. I grew up being in the choir and drama group and that has given me that opportunity to understand some things ahead of time. And it’s not limiting me in any way. I’ve performed everywhere. What I’m saying is what matters. As a comedian, you don’t have any boundaries but there are things you should know when, where and how to say them.
Let’s talk about ‘Unknot Your Tie’, your comedy show specifically tailored towards working class if I’m right. What was the inspiration behind the show and to what extent has it justified the essence over time?
‘Unknot Your Tie’ is not a show. It’s a comedy club and it was created out of the passion for what I do. The biggest problem in the comedy industry in Nigeria is plagiarism. The copy and paste in the industry was getting to me so much. So, I decided to create a platform where only originality will be celebrated. If you are stepping on that stage, if your material is not original to the best of our knowledge, we’ll let you know. So, we use to have one on the mainland and on the Island. We had to stop because of the pandemic. So, we are trying to also grow new talents in the comedy industry that will become enviable to the world. And we say it’s strictly for working class and entrepreneurs. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, you’re stressed. You can come to the comedy club on Wednesdays, relax, let the traffic go and then go home to resume work on Thursdays. So, we’re doing doctors’ work as well. So, because of ‘Unknot Your Tie’ and the success recorded, we can now see a lot of other comedians starting up comedy clubs everywhere. So, ‘Unknot Your Tie’ is a comedy club, not a show and it’s growing like wildfire. A lot of your new, favorite comedians now started becoming very hot from ‘Unknot Your Tie’. We’re resuming very soon, the moment everything is clear.
What’s your take on the state of the comedy industry at the moment?
I addressed it earlier. I must say that the industry is doing well. The only problem is just the plagiarism part. Knowing who owns what. Seeing my material being performed by another comedian without giving me due credit, that has to stop for our industry to get better. Asides from that, I can see a lot of people doing well. The people before me are still relevant. I am relevant. And the new guys are thriving too. You know what, we’re over 200 million. We don’t have one million known comedians. So, we’re still growing.
Is there room for improvement?
Absolutely, there is. It wasn’t like this before but people are recognising comedians more. It can always get better. The younger ones should try to stay original. With that, it’ll be better; whether it’s standup or sitcom. Any style, just make sure you’re original even when you have someone you are looking up to. And that’s why you’ll see that someone that is unique will always make a headway.
Are there any projects from you that we have to be excited about in the New Year?
Yes, a lot. Like I mentioned earlier, this year, ‘Unknot Your Tie’ will come back. We’ve been off since March due to COVID-19. It’ll be bigger, better and greater. Other projects are going on and you’ll see other sides of Omo Baba besides just being a standup comedian. It’s going to be a great year.