I always see myself as a product of grace, says AY
You are celebrated the world over right now as a comedian and an award-winning filmmaker, but what was the most difficult point of your career?
The celebration has been ongoing. I think the most difficult part of my career was the early stage when it wasn’t easy to get other people in the industry to accept me as a stand up comedian. Reason being that they already knew me at the time as the Personal Assistant to Ali Baba, the king of comedy. So, flagging off, to say that I want to go into stand up comedy, was a joke on its own because it was pretty difficult for them to relate to the fact that this same guy that we see around Ali Baba, running around and making sure things are in place, is the one that we are now going to start calling our colleague. So, it was quite a challenge but with time, and they were patient enough to listen to me, watch me and then make the conclusion that this guy has come to stay.
What made you stay in spite of this early challenge?
I was already determined to do something because I had looked at the industry and the comedians at the time. I already noticed that I stood the chance. Not judging them based on whether they were good or not, but doing a general assessment and assessing myself; it was just enough for me saying ‘if you are a little bit patient someday you are just going to make something out of this.’
You seem to have surpassed some of these colleagues, who looked down on you back then. You are not even a filmmaker but you have set two records. What do you think is responsible for it?
To start with, I can’t see myself as someone who has surpassed anybody in the industry. But I can see myself as that individual, who consistently set out to do something for himself and deriving pleasure in doing it. Achieving results, put together, is what I count on. And that is also what I will like to improve on as well.
What could be the reason for that? I would give it to the passion; the dedication that I attach to the profession is something that gives me room to climb. So I just outdo myself when necessary.
Do you think that Edo and Delta States are unfairly represented in jokes by comedians?
That is one fight that I think a lot of people, stakeholders, have fought; they think that comedians tend to bring down Warri. Let me use Warri as a typical example or the Niger Delta region. But you know, comedians are used to saying what people can relate with; not that most of those things do not exist. Even if you call it a myth, but once you place it against the background of that region, it becomes more acceptable and even more appreciated. But what we also preach against is that which affects people from that region so people do not just jump into conclusion and go beyond seeing it as a joke or believing that we are not a people to be reckoned with.
Apart from that, most of the comedians who use this Warri, Edo or what have you, do so because that is when the joke will sink in. It is like talking about reggae music and you are mentioning New York. They won’t buy it. But if you are talking about reggae music and you mention Jamaica, you gain that extra attention; they know what you are talking about; they can also relate with where you are coming from. But for comedy, once you crack a joke and you mention Warri, people are like, ‘wetin don happen for Warri again?’
So, it gives you that extra attention. That is why you even see an Igbo comedian coming to say, ‘for Warri enh’ and then the people say, ‘which Warri? We know you?’ and stuff like that. So, it is just that those who understand that it is all about making people laugh accept it. But some people take it to the extreme.
In other words, you don’t think that they are unfairly represented whether on television, in film or comedy?
I think represented, depicted or what have you, depends on the individual. I have done two films now playing the Akpos character, representing what I believe a Warri boy will stand for and then it is highly accepted by people from that region. Like ‘ok, we no dey carry last.’ You need to show it, you need to prove it and all that. But maybe if I had gone ahead on A Trip to Jamaica or 30 Days in Atlanta, saying Akpos is an armed robber or Anini and all of that, then somebody can say, ‘why are you putting us out there in that light?’ So, I think it all depends on the individual, how they depict or represent the Edo/Delta region.
When you did 30 Days in Atlanta and then A Trip to Jamaica, did you envisage the kind of success that has come with those films?
30 Days in Atlanta was a shocker and an eye-opener for me to properly see moviemaking as another line of business for the AY brand. And knowing all the things we did in 30 Days in Atlanta, and based on acceptance from lovers of the brand, I already knew that A Trip to Jamaica was going to surpass 30 Days in Atlanta from the beginning. My knowing it, coupled with the fact that I always see myself as a product of grace; I just do things and they come out well. Like I always tell people, I don’t see all of that happening to me because I am the funniest or because I probably would even count myself among the funniest guys in the gig. But I just see myself as somebody who enjoys favour, some sort of divine favour, coupled with hard work, passion, interest and the dedication attached to the profession and then I just succeed.
What shape will your Easter show take this year?
AY Live is on Easter Sunday, April 16. Usually, I tell people that it is going to be different and when they come they find out that it is indeed different. And because I have overused the words ‘it is going to be different,’ I am trying to look for other words to use. I probably would say ‘Easter Sunday this year would definitely blow your mind and blow the minds of people who are looking forward to seeing the show!’ Quite a lot of things will come; they will hit you from left to right and centre and all put together the simple idea will be just to make you laugh.
So, will you do Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and the U.K.?
We will do Owerri as well this year.
When was the last time you took a vacation?
My kind of holiday is usually on the go. You can call it the working holiday. Get off the set, spend extra few minutes to know what the city is like and come right back to work. I am a workaholic. I think if the word ‘work’ goes out of the dictionary, I would be an apology even to myself. But one other thing I can say is that, yeah I work, I work on the go. That is what I am.
What film project are you working on right now?
The next one has been shot. Right now we are taking care of the post-production, trying to make sure that it comes out the way it ought to come out. I can, in all confidence, say that this new project titled 10 Days in Sun City will definitely relegate every other Akpos series that I have done as the AY brand. So that is where we are.
Who is in it?
It is easy to let you know that we have the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Adesua Etomi, Mercy Johnson, false the bad guy, Akpos himself as AY and quite a good number of actors, who came and played themselves in the movie from Solid Star to 2baba and, of course, to Peter of P-Square. Yeah, 10 Days in Sun City is a new one with a difference that makes a lot of sense.
How different was making 30 Days in Atlanta from A Trip to Jamaica and may be even 100 Days in Sun City?
30 Days in Atlanta was an experimental mission. It was an eye-opening mission and, after it did well, I knew that to whom much is given, much is expected. It now made A Trip to Jamaica pose some sort of challenge in terms of finance, in terms of directorial approach from the angle of the director. But at the end of the day, it made more money than 30 Days in Atlanta. But I must generally say that it is even more challenging for any creative individual when you get one right because everybody will be looking out for your next work and they will be super ready to find mistakes, which they can use to relegate you to the background. But as much as you can surpass all of that and maintain your focus, the sky will be your limit.
I think there was a lot of ‘mistake-finding,’ as you call it, particularly in the last film in the reviews. How did that make you feel?
Well, I wasn’t in the know of ‘mistake-finding.’ All I gathered was a consensus, which confirmed that to a vast majority, the film was good, the film was excellent. But to another set of people, it wasn’t up to their own expectations, especially when they were comparing it to our own work, which was 30 Days in Atlanta. But the only thing I took from people like that, rather than ignore them and allow myself to be celebrated by those who already had a package or songs of praises for me, I decided to also go to my drawing board concerning future projects. In as much as the number was less but then less, means more in terms of improvement for me as a brand.
You were here long before there was an organised entertainment industry. How would you assess the Nigerian entertainment industry at this point?
Coming from when I came into the industry, I would say that it has gone farther in terms of improvement. It has gained recognition and attention especially; people now want to respect and pay attention to the Made-in-Nigeria brands and entertainment personalities. Well, it is still a growing industry but where we are right now is something that is doing well, something that has been accepted by the corporate world. Before now, nobody could just come out and say ‘I am a stand up comedian!’ You will look very funny, not just to yourself but to everybody around you because nobody would believe that you spent all that time going to school to come and have a mic in front of you, tell some jokes and say that is your profession. For you to know that the industry has come of age, the level of respect that is given to entertainers even before a gig happens tells you that it is no longer a joking business.
What lesson did you learn from doing Open Mic?
It was a lesson learned before I probably got involved. I got involved as a result of being opportune to meet somebody who showed me the way, in terms of comedy, who helped me gain inroad into the industry. That was Ali Baba. So, I already learned that giving back was vital and key because if he never provided a platform, I probably won’t be where I am today. So, the lesson there is for me to continue to talk to people, stakeholders, kings of the industry – that it is very important to give, or provide platforms for young artistes, young comedians, young musicians because the more you do that the more you help to grow the industry and the more you help to set the industry in motion. And when the industry is in motion, it pays off everybody in the long run.
So, there is hope that Open Mic or something like that will eventually happen?
Of course, yes! Corporate World Entertainment is already thinking like that.
You are a theatre person, but you seem to have moved away from the stage. Is there a reason why you are not doing theatre?
I think you haven’t carried out your investigations properly. When you say theatre is it until I go to National Theatre, or Terra Kulture that you will see the theatre in me? In each AY Live that comes up yearly, there is a staged drama, comedy play, which is sometimes a collection of different occurrences within the year and then we play it out in a skit. When Yaw did his own live theatre show, the last one, I was the one who went on stage with him. And I have had many more of such proposals to play out for the AY brand.
So for me, that is theatre, and apart from that, I am not some guy that anybody can just relegate to the background when they want to discuss theatre because I majored in directing. Apart from majoring in directing, I was one of the few students, who directed a convocation production, which meant a lot to any theatre undergraduate at the time.
Prof. Sam Ukala, who won The Nigerian Prize for Literature in 2014 for his play Iredi War, once said that while you were at Delta State University, Abraka, you presented him an award that you organised, but he did not accept it. Did that make you feel bad?
I think at the time, Professor Sam Ukala needed me to be focused on the primary reason that brought me to school and he did not see the need for all those external showbiz practises on campus. But it was the same Professor Sam Ukala, who also made a pronouncement during one of our vival, when I was able to do well in presenting a production and he said to me, and I will quote him, ‘you have been able to bring some of your showbiz matrix into the theatre and you have also mixed the theatre with showbiz. When you go out there, tell them I taught you.’
Before this pronouncement, he didn’t have an understanding of what it meant to gather people, celebrate people, like in show business. All he needed for this student in particular, known as Richard Ayodeji Makun, was for him to be focused. He had already probably gathered that this guy had been on campus for years and had confirmed the fact that it was as a result of his not being stable with his academics, so to speak.
Richard Ayodeji Makun, you clearly can differentiate between show and the business, but most artistes can’t. Where did this come from – was it from your school days, from growing up, working with Ali Baba or it is part of your DNA?
The business part, as much as people think that I have it, I still see myself as a learner when it comes to doing the business of show business. But the outer result, what people see out there, tends to put me in the picture. I am the kind of guy, who just wants to sell out Eko Hotel (any performance hall) and as soon as the people are happy, I am happy. But good enough, when you begin to handle responsibilities, and when you also have a platform that can be monetised, you have no choice but to become a businessman.
So it has nothing to do with growing up in the right environment?
It has nothing to do with my father; he was a banker.
What event in your childhood has had the greatest impact on you?
What event would that be? Me sitting in front of the TV and seeing some people that I work with today and believing that it would be nice to become one of them, based on the way they do their thing. A typical example is Richard Mofe-Damijo. You know, seeing him and saying one day I would like to be like this bros to the point of getting to meet him to start doing what he is doing and also to be recognised in the same industry, where he is as well. For me, one of the major things that has helped me collectively across board is to always believe that I could do anything.
The day somebody was running late at a normal school campus birthday and he turned out to be the MC and I said to myself, ‘you can grab this mic and talk. Is it not just to talk?’ And from just talking, it became a profession. Or is it not just to act? From just acting it becomes a profession. Or is it not just to go on stage and do comedy? Just saying that and becoming it. Is it not just to open a company and produce your own stuff? From just doing that and it is happening. So, that is why I am always quick to say ‘ok, this is an individual with some level of divine endorsement.’ So all he needs to do is to just open his heart to anything he says he wants to do and it happens.
If someone were to make a film about you, what do you think it would be titled?
The hustler (laughter).