The Nigerian Comedy Industry: Joking into Billions

How leadership, mentoring and social media are driving the growth of Nigeria’s Comedy Industry

Olatunji Adegbite                                                                                                  July 2018

“Every day na the same thing…Suffer, suffer for world… Suffering and smiling!” – Fela Anikulapo-kuti.

Nigerians love to laugh; one can argue that humour is used as an antidote for stress, pain and suffering. Every year during the festive seasons, drive around the Island in Lagos, and you will see numerous posters for upcoming comedy shows – AY Live, Night of a thousand laughs, Crack Ya Ribs and many more. These shows attract a large sell-out crowd and rake in millions of Naira from tickets and sponsorships.

About 60 years ago, there was no such thing like the comedy industry in Nigeria; however, it is now the 3rd largest Entertainment industry in Nigeria (after Nollywood and Music) worth an estimated 50 billion Naira annually (Osae-Brown, 2015)[1].

Ali Baba the godfather of the comedy industry has a net worth over 3 billion Naira, Basketmouth who was mentored by Ali Baba has a net worth over 2 billion Naira and I Go Dye has a net worth of over 2 billion Naira as well (Vanguard, 2014)[2] – just to name a few!

It sounds almost ridiculous that an industry which officially started just about 25 years ago is generating so much revenue.

To understand how surreal, the success story of comedy industry is in Nigeria, we need to understand the journey of this industry in the nation.

First off, what is comedy?

Comedy is the transformation of humour into art (Sturges, 2010)[1]; it is any form of entertainment that is intended to make people laugh.

As hypothesized above, laughter is a remedy during troubling times (Rzendzian, 2017)[2]. People choose laughter as a way to grieve rather than tears. For example, Fifteen days after the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, The Onion, an American comedy newspaper published an article with the following headlines “U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We’re at War With” (Pappas, 2015)[3]. In short, the newspaper was poking fun at the terrorist attack where almost 3,000 people lost their lives. Surprisingly the public feedback to this article was mostly positive (Pappas, 2015) [4]; where people did not take offence to the joke, but rather used it as a way to relieve pain, fears and anxiety.

So why do people love comedy in Nigeria? There are 5 basic needs/events comedy addresses in the lives of Nigerians:

Event 1: Unwinding/after intense work

Event 2: Hanging out with friends

Event 3: For leisure/when bored

Event 4: In party/celebration

Event 5: When feeling down/ill

From Generation to Generation, Humour has always been there

In Nigeria, humour as a profession emerged in the 1950s with acts like Baba Sala, Samanja, Gringory, Zebrudaya, PapiLuwe, Jagua, Aderupoko, Papa Lolo and Jacob, starting out the profession (Taiwo, 2017)[5].

Their artistic performance was showcased in theatres, on stage and on televisions throughout the eighties (Taiwo, 2017) [1]. However, unfortunately for these men, the profession was not a lucrative business as it is now; and many were struggling to cater to their needs from their income (Taiwo, 2017).

The second generation of Nigerian comedians consist of artists like Yibo Koko, Alibaba, Baba Suwe, Tony One-week, Agoma, John Chukwu, Away Away, Sam Loco, Late Gbenga Adeboye, Mohammed Danjuma, Allam Blow, Basorge Tariah Junior, Julius Agwu, Osofia, Mr Latin, and Okey Bakassi, (Taiwo, 2017) [1].

Ali Baba the Revolutionary

Ali Baba (legal name Atunyota Alleluya Akporobome), is a second-generation comedian who is credited with revolutionizing the comedy industry (Ayakoroma, 2017)[1]. In 1990, Ali Baba began his comedy career by appearing on television and radio shows (Ayakoroma, 2017) [2]. In an attempt to advance his career as a comedian, and to change the public perception of the comedy industry – at this point the industry was not seen as a real profession- Ali Baba registered his company in 1993 (Ayakoroma, 2017) [3]. He then bought billboard spaces on three prestigious streets in Lagos’ Central Business District that read ‘Ali Baba – Being Funny is Serious Business’ (Ayakoroma, 2017) [4]. Ali Baba’s actions was one of the most transformative actions in the industry.

Humourpreneurs

Comedians were now being perceived as professionals; humourpreneurs who were demanding higher pay and receiving over 500 million Naira in endorsements and contracts both locally and internationally from brands like, Globacom, MTN, Haven Homes, Virgin Atlantic, Rebtel, Indomie, Coca Cola and Naira Bet (Taiwo, 2017; Augoye, 2017) [1][2] 

Comedians were and still are increasing their exposure by hosting independent comedy shows and comedy competitions in Nigeria and abroad. Examples include Opa William’s Nite of a Thousand Laughs, Basketmouth’s Uncensored (which brings in almost 100 million Naira annually[1] (Vanguard, 2014)), AY’s Open Mic Competition and Ali Baba’s Spontaneity Comedy Talent Hunt & January 1st event.

In addition, comedians are also taking their exposure and growth into their own hands by producing skits and making it available to the general public through social media (Belanger, 2015)[2].

As the demand for comedians was and still is increasing, so is their supply. We now have a third generation of comedians that include Seyi Law, Bovi, Teju Oyelakin (Babyface), Omo Baba, Gandoki, Shakara, MC Ovie, Laff Doctor, I Go Save, Princess, Lepacious Bose, Helen Paul, Aboki4Christ, Akpororo and Emmanuella (Taiwo, 2017) [3].

(Wo) Humourpreneurs

With the rise of the 3rd generation comedians, came the rise of women in the comedy industry. Rising above gender discrimination and perceptions of inadequacy, there are women who are taking the comedy industry by storm namely Mandy, Princess, Lepacious Bose, Helen Paul, Funke Akindele, Maraji, Chigul, Gina Obedapo Yashere and Jocelyn Jess Esien (Women.ng, 2015)[1].

The first female comedy show in Nigeria was held in March 2018, and it was a platform for these (Wo) Humourpreneurs to showcase their talent and be appreciated (Times News, 2018)[2]. More of this should be done to grow the demand female comedians as well as supply.

Mentorship & Social media as Growth drivers

Mentorship is essential to the industry and Ali Baba has been cited emphasising the importance of mentorship. In an interview with Adie Vannessa Offiong from Daily Trust, Ali Baba mentions that he feels a sense of responsibility to younger comedians, and that he is ‘a pathfinder for them so [his] performances must be exemplary (Offiong, 2017)[1].

It appears that the mentorship drive Alibaba started, producing comedians such as Basketmouth and AY has spurred these beneficiaries and others to adopt same model, thus driving industry growth. Ayo Makun (AY) launched his AY Open Mic show in 2006 and through the platform discovered comedians like Seyi Law, Pencil, Elenu, Funny bone amongst others. Basketmouth has also used his platform to aid the career of comedians such as Bovi and Buchi. Ali Baba’s Spontaneity competition has exposed also acts like Laff Doctor, and MC Ovie (The Nation, 2017; Princephelar, 2018)[2][3]

In addition, comedy shows like Nite of a Thousand Laughs, AY Live, and Basketmouth Uncensored bring together both existing and up-and-coming comedians, with some performing and others who aren’t being present as a way of encouraging the performers, drive collaboration and growth among the newer acts.

The independent comedy shows and competitions that veterans (for example Ali Baba, AY and Basketmouth) host are bringing exposure to the industry, thus exposing comedians to the public and industry.

Social media – platform for industry democratisation and fragmentation

The boom of social media is the second source of growth for the industry. The onset of GSM and increased internet penetration in Nigeria inevitably led to the democratisation and further fragmentation of the industry. Social media also serves as a check to the ‘inherent excesses of a Nigerian mentorship system’ which may have turned the industry into a nepotism-influenced oligopoly like its afro-pop music counterpart.

Naspire analysis indicates that social media brought a new wave of comedians who have no inherent loyalty to any of the earlier generations of comedians. Suffice to note that it took some time for the older comedians to embrace social media until they realised market share and patronage was being threatened. Today, Instagram comedians such as Lasisi Elenu (700k followers in 1 year), Maraji (840k followers in 3 years), Woli Agba (584k followers), Woli Arole (708k followers), are smiling to the bank largely by riding on the back of their social media following. These new comedians have a higher social media following than the earlier generation comedians and can stand on their own without the hand-holding of veterans.

Differentiation as a means of competition

The comedy industry is one that is constantly evolving and is very fragmented with different segments but one common thread; the infusion of humour. Due to its high fragmentation, humourpreneurs have devised multiple differentiation tactics while not doing away with the collaborative ethos of earlier generations. This is a rather exceptional attitude to business as it may have been expected that price will be the main basis of competition.

The approaches to differentiation may also form basis for further segmenting the market and include:

  1. Musicomedy – this approach to differentiation was pioneered by MC Basketmouth and later made popular by Julius Agwu (using the Awilo Logomba hit song). It involves intertwining lyrics and melodies of popular songs to the comic relief of audiences. Kenny Blaq and Emma Oh My God are front runners of this now.
  2. MCing – it appears that this is now the niche of older/second generation comedians. They mainly appeal to High Networth individuals (HNIs), Blue chips, Multi-national companies and Politicians, and this segment has largely been captured by Alibaba, Gbenga Adeyinka, Tee-A, AY Makun and MC Abbey.
  • Social media – the advent of social media has no doubt increased the supply of comedians, with Instagram, Youtube and Facebook being the predominant channels. Comedians utilising these channels include Woli Arole, Williams Uchemba, MC lively, Asiri, Maraji, Broda Shaggi.

Social media has also been used as a mentoring platform for up and coming comedians as Alibaba regularly dishes out professional advice on such platforms.

  1. Social critic based – these comedians largely latch on the socio-economic and political issues in the country and smartly use emotions such as anger to humuorise these situations. Social media remains the main channel of delivery for this and Lasisi Elenu (the rants comedian), MC lively (of the ‘Agidi’ claim to fame) and Broda Shaggi are examples of such humourpreneurs.
  2. Tag-team–This involves use of collaboration as a means of competition/differentiation. Though it appears risky, this approach has launched the careers of fast rising comedians such as Woli-agba & Dele, Woli Arole & Asiri and Still ringing.
  3. Religious content and platform – Nigerians are obviously religious. Therefore, use of religion and religious organisations as platforms for comedy abound. Comedians with gospel content for humuor include Akpororo, Woli agba & Dele, Woli Arole & Asiri, Acapella. Others such as MC Abbey, are now resident MCs for mega churches and regularly perform at church events. While Islam is not inherently averse to comedy, no Islam based comedian is yet famous.
  • Territorialism oligopolies – Lagos is the home of entertainment in Nigeria and as such is resident to most comedians. However, some comedians have bucked the Lagos-based trend and found success in differentiation based on location. Warri is home to I Go Die and I Go Save; Port Harcourt is home to Dan the Humourous and Arinze Baba; Abuja comedians include Chuks The General and MC Tagwaye (who rakes millions mimicking President Buhari).
  • Comedy Shows are television and/or radio broadcasts of comedy acts hosted by comedians and non-comedians for example ‘The Other News’ by Okey Bakassi.
  1. Comedy writers are cartoonists, those who write comic sketches and scripts for sitcoms. They include Akinola Akinlade and Yomi Alvin, writers of Jenifa Diary.

It is worthy of note that most comedians employ more than one of these differentiation tactics.

Where do the opportunities lie?

The exposure of comedians and their demand has grown the humour merchandise to be the 3rd largest in the Entertainment industry in Nigeria (after Nollywood and Music), worth an estimated 50 billion Naira annually (Osae-Brown, 2015)[1].

Although it’s the 3rd largest Entertainment Industry in Nigeria, we do not yet have Comedy clubs where people can experience authentic comedy live nor do we have Television or Radio channels dedicated solely to comedy – as is the case in our Nollywood and Music industries. These are definitely areas of opportunity!

Pilot Media Initiatives; an American company that makes comedic news television shows, saw an opportunity in this market and in 2017 started a political comedy show called ‘The Other News’ hosted by Okey Bakassi (Chen, 2018)[1]. ‘The Other News’ is Nigeria’s first prime time show presenting news in a satire format similar to ‘The Daily News’ in the United States (Chen, 2018) [2]

Corporates and multinationals within Nigeria are also starting to see the importance of our comedy industry and the opportunities present. In 2017, MTN the top telecommunications company launched Comedy +, a digital platform which houses Nigerian comedy content to increase supply of content as well as to create additional sources of income for comedians (Warami, 2017)[3].

Comedy is a very persuasive tool and can be used for cultural change, transformation and uprising (Campsiano, 2016)[4]. For example, the American comedian Hannibal Buress’ stand-up comedy performance in 2014 encouraged more women to come forward with sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby by alluding to Cosby’s covert sexual misbehaviour (Graves, 2018)[5]. Since then Bill Cosby has been charged and found guilty of sexual assault and has lost numerous endorsements (Graves, 2018)[6]. In Nigeria, comedy can be used as a tool to reach the masses and communicate with an average Nigerian. Policy makers and religious establishments can use comedy to influence cultural changes, transformation and growth in our nation. Comedians can also do more to use their talent to drive change. Multi- faceted artist, Falz The Bahd guy seems to be leading in use of comedy and music to address societal issues, as recently portrayed in his musicomedy video – This is Nigeria.

Views of an Opinionated Nigerian

Comedy is regarded as one of the best sources of laughter in the world; and in Nigeria, I will argue it is one the best and relatively easiest sources of wealth.

In comparison to the top 2 entertainment segments in Nigeria; the comedy industry is fairly easy to penetrate with very minimal entry and exit barriers. For instance, In Nollywood and the Music industries, you need a minimal level of talent; be able to act, direct, sing, or produce … but in the comedy industry, you just need to make people laugh.

Now, in the context of Nigeria, making people laugh is not that difficult. We have a culture of making fun of everything! Foreign accents, foreigners doing things locals do, our Government, our policies, our traditions, other people’s traditions, ethnic tensions, terrorism, corruption, greed and it goes on and on.

In the same vein, anyone can make us laugh; the person begging for money on the streets, people who just crashed into each other in traffic, bus drivers, road safety officers, the police- just about anybody.

The other day, my grandmother said my dog and I are starting to look alike and my cousin laughed till he fell off the couch. The message itself was not funny (well, not to me) but the messenger and the delivery was funny. This bolsters my point; if you get the message right or the messenger right or just the delivery right, then you are a funny. Now, if you get the message right (which is fairly easy as we will laugh at anything), and you get the messenger right (which is also fairly easy as we will laugh at anyone) and you get the delivery right (all about perfect timing) then you have hit the jack pot! You are a comedian and can be earning a minimum of 4 million Naira per show like Alibaba (Vanguard, 2014)[1].

I strongly believe the growth in the comedy industry is a result of more people realizing how much money they can make from the industry (supply) and so they tap into the general public’s need for belonging, socializing and ‘being in on the joke’ to increase demand. When you have people like Alibaba owning 10 luxury cars worth over 300 million Naira (Amagiya, 2014)[1], why not? After all, it is an honest day’s job

Learning points

  • Will the industry remain collaborative?
  • What other opportunities exist that can further cement this exciting industry’s profile and generate more revenue for its stakeholders?
  • What are the threats to this industry and incumbent humourpreneurs?
  • Any evolving catalysts that may disrupt existing players?
  • Are the older generation of comedians slow to react to style of new era comedians?
  • Why has social media launched the careers of several comedians into the big league but yet to do same in the Nigerian music industry?

References

[1] Osae-Brown, Funke (2015). Nigeria’s Comedy Business Rakes in N50 Billion yearly, say Analysts. Business Day Online. Retrieved on May 25th 2018, from http://www.businessdayonline.com/nigerias-comedy-business-rakes-in-n50bn-yearly-say-analysts/

[3] Sturges, Paul (2010). Comedy as Freedom of Expression. Information Science Loughborough University. Published in Journal of Documentation 66(2) 2010, 279-293. Retrived on May 25th 2018 from https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/faife/publications/sturges/comedy.pdf

[4] Rzendzian, Katie (2017). How to Succeed in Funny Business: An Interview with Comedy Club Owner Andrew Dorfman. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://vendini.com/comedy-clubs-best-known-comedians-live-stand-up-comedy

[5] Pappas, Nick J. (2015). Why Comedy Matters in Tragic Times. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://thecoffeelicious.com/why-comedy-matters-in-tragic-times-3f02669c497d

[6] Pappas, Nick J. (2015). Why Comedy Matters in Tragic Times. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://thecoffeelicious.com/why-comedy-matters-in-tragic-times-3f02669c497d

[7] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[8] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[9] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[10] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[11] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[12] Ayakorama, Barclays E. (2017) The Rise of Stand-up Comedy Genre in Nigeria: From Nothing to Something in Artistic Entertainment. National Institute for Cultural Orientation. Retrieved on May 25th from http://www.nico.gov.ng/index.php/category-list-2/1151-the-rise-of-stand-up-comedy-genre-in-nigeria

[13] Ayakorama, Barclays E. (2017) The Rise of Stand-up Comedy Genre in Nigeria: From Nothing to Something in Artistic Entertainment. National Institute for Cultural Orientation. Retrieved on May 25th from http://www.nico.gov.ng/index.php/category-list-2/1151-the-rise-of-stand-up-comedy-genre-in-nigeria

[14] Ayakorama, Barclays E. (2017) The Rise of Stand-up Comedy Genre in Nigeria: From Nothing to Something in Artistic Entertainment. National Institute for Cultural Orientation. Retrieved on May 25th from http://www.nico.gov.ng/index.php/category-list-2/1151-the-rise-of-stand-up-comedy-genre-in-nigeria

[15] Ayakorama, Barclays E. (2017) The Rise of Stand-up Comedy Genre in Nigeria: From Nothing to Something in Artistic Entertainment. National Institute for Cultural Orientation. Retrieved on May 25th from http://www.nico.gov.ng/index.php/category-list-2/1151-the-rise-of-stand-up-comedy-genre-in-nigeria

[16] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[17] Augoye, Jayne (2017). From fans to endorsements, Nigerian Instagram comedians take shine off ‘analogue’ colleagues. Premium Times. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/features-and-interviews/234358-fans-endorsements-nigerian-instagram-comedians-take-shine-off-analogue-colleagues.html

[18] Vanguard (2014). 10 Richest Nigerian Comedians and their sources of wealth. Retrieved on May 29th 2018 from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/05/10-richest-nigerian-com-edians-sources-wealth/

[19] Belanger, Jullian M. (2015). Comedy meets Media: How Three New Media Features Have Influenced changes in the Production of Stand up Comedy. Comedy Studies, 6:2141-147. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://doi.org/10.1080/2040610X.2015.1083162

[20] Taiwo, Olatunde. (2017). From Jagua to Ali Baba: Humour in Contemporary Nigeria. AGOGO: Journal of Humanities Vol 3. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://journals.oouagoiwoye.edu.ng/v2/index.php/AJH/article/view/99

[21] Women.ng (2015). 8 Badass Nigerian Female Comedians. Retrieved on May 29th 2018 from http://woman.ng/2015/11/8-badass-nigerian-female-comedians/

[22] Times News (2018). “Ladies of Laughter”; First All-Female Comedy Show Hits Lagos. Retrieved on May 29th 2018 from https://www.timenewsng.com/2018/02/ladies-of-laughter-first-all-female.html

[23] Offiong, Adie V. (2017). I Once Earned N500 per Month for Comedy – Ali Baba. Daily Trust. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/weekend-mag/i-once-earned-n500-per-month-for-comedy-ali-baba/196535.html

[24] The Nation (2017). Laff doctor wins brand new car at Ali baba’s ‘spontaneity’. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from http://thenationonlineng.net/laff-doctor-wins-brand-new-car-ali-babas-spontaneity/

[25] Princephelar Blog (2018). MC Ovie Emerges Winner Of Ali Baba Spontaneity. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://princephelar.com/2018/01/02/mc-ovie-emerges-winner-of-ali-baba-spontaneity/

[26] Osae-Brown, Funke (2015). Nigeria’s Comedy Business Rakes in N50 Billion yearly, say Analysts. Business Day Online. Retrieved on May 25th 2018, from http://www.businessdayonline.com/nigerias-comedy-business-rakes-in-n50bn-yearly-say-analysts/

[27] Chen, Adrian. (2018). Using Comedy to Strength Nigeria’s Democracy. A news-satire series modelled on “The Daily Show” aims to empower viewers. Will the joke get lost in translation? The New Yorker. Retrieved on May 25th from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/22/using-comedy-to-strengthen-nigerias-democracy

[28] Chen, Adrian. (2018). Using Comedy to Strength Nigeria’s Democracy. A news-satire series modelled on “The Daily Show” aims to empower viewers. Will the joke get lost in translation? The New Yorker. Retrieved on May 25th from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/22/using-comedy-to-strengthen-nigerias-democracy

[29] Warami, Urowayino (2017). Ali Baba, Opa Williams commend MTN’s Comedy Plus (Comedy+). The Vanguard. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/03/ali-baba-opa-williams-commend-mtns-comedy-plus-comedy/

[30] Campisano, Frankie (2016). A Case Study of Comedian Hannibal Buress and Humor as an Agent for Change. Media Arts & Entertainment Elon University PP 25-35. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from web/academics/communications/research/vol7no2/03_Frankie_Campisano.pdf

[31] Graves, Lucia (2018). Hannibal Buress: how a comedian reignited the Bill Cosby allegations. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/26/hannibal-buress-how-a-comedian-reignited-the-bill-cosby-allegations

[32] Graves, Lucia (2018). Hannibal Buress: how a comedian reignited the Bill Cosby allegations. Retrieved on May 25th 2018 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/26/hannibal-buress-how-a-comedian-reignited-the-bill-cosby-allegations

[33] Vanguard (2014). 10 Richest Nigerian Comedians and their sources of wealth. Retrieved on May 29th 2018 from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/05/10-richest-nigerian-com-edians-sources-wealth/

[34] Amagiya, Florence (2014). Ali Baba’s Luxury Lifestyle. Vanguard. Retrieved on May 29th 2018 from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/ali-babas-luxury-lifestyle/

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