IT’S dinner time at No. 30 Bromley road, Catford.
The unbelievably vast property, situated in south-east London , is a luxurious apartment that’ll make some kings abandon their austere palaces. With a multitude of well-furnished rooms, an indoor swimming pool, dozens of other indoor games (including snooker and monopoly) , fish pond, lush garden, self-serve bar and dual exits, this is the type of structure reserved for holidaying royal kids, or, maybe, a corrupt African ruler, surrounded by an ego-massaging entourage.
But tonight, the ad hoc cooks are preparing tables for the most unlikely guests ever, from the most unlikely place too. The roll call for tonight’s dinner: Ali Baba, Tee A, Jeddi, Teju Babyface, Basorge Tariah Jr, AY – all star stand-up comedians from Nigeria, a large and populous west African country, whose image has been incredibly battered, and whose post-colonial rulers have continually raped and abused. Joined by compatriots 2face Idibia, Paul IK Dairo and Weird MC, all best-selling musicians, the party has travelled all the way from Africa, flying at almost 40, 000 feet above sea level, to bring present-day Nigerian-type entertainment – a potpourri of music and comedy- to Londoners. Amongst other things, the Bromley residents discuss the pending arrival of another comic BasketMouth, the unpredictability of UK weather, the possibilities of buying the tempting property (and shipping her to Nigeria) and another Nigerian show holding in another part of town.
Both shows are to hold on Sunday ay 6, 2007. Dinner is served.
Meanwhile, a long distance away, another set of Nigerians – led by comedian Julius Agwu and Musician Sammie Okposo – are crossing Ts and dotting Is to ensure success for a gospel concert that’ll also feature saxophonist Mike Aremu.
Aware of competition, both parties adopt aggressive publicity strategies, relying on bulk electronic mails, guest lists, TV adverts and word-of-mouth in a society where indiscriminate pasting of posters is not tolerated. Interestingly, at an average fee of £30 per ticket (N7,500) and hall capacity of approximate 5oo persons, both shows are completely sold out, with fans scrambling to get tickets, and some coughing out £50 (about N12, 500).
So, Nigerian comedians are finally getting the international attention they deserve, right?
So why, since Basketmouth ‘exported’ his highly successful show ‘Laffs and Jamz to London in April 2006, are Nigerian comedians forming long queues, heading for the UK ? Since Basket’s London debut, fellow comedian-entrepreneurs Julius Agwu, I Go Dye and Tee A have taken the bold move too. Julius’ London edition of Crack Ya Ribs, was planned to coincide with 2006 Nottingham festival and those present say it was a huge success. Little wonder the stylish entertainer returned to the city this year. Tee A’s own debut lived up to every expectations, causing other colleagues to erect machinery for their own London gig. Comedy godfather Ali Baba who performed briefly at Tee A’s show, is among those rumoured to be planning a show for London . And while everyone is trooping to the UK , comparing hall prices from Stratford rex to N-Tyce, Porchester Hall and even the coronet, Basketmouth, arguably Nigeria ‘s funniest comedian is moving to other parts of Europe . On Monday May 14, 2007, sources spotted him (along with Gordons) at the French embassy in Nigeria . Though it is uncertain if he made a visa application, a close source told us he’s considering having a show in other parts of Europe . ‘we were in Amsterdam recently and he was amazed at the acceptance. He told me he won’t mind doing a show there’, said the source. Gordons, a less known comedian is also said to have a tour of Europe in the works. It may not be too long before up comers AY and Jedi join the fray. Even star actor Richard Mofe-damijo is already planning to take his annual music-comedy show ‘Live In Warri’ to London and other European cities.
‘Present-day comedians have replaced Fuji ad Juju stars on the international route, said an industry source. ‘The difference is just that they are filling halls instead of parlour parties’.
Although the competition is fierce at home and abroad, the comedians are playing to the same set of audience: Nigerians. And apart from tee A’s Live n Naked, which held in London’s west end, most of the shows hold in typical Nigerian venues, in Nigerian communities, without managing to attract the attention of non-Nigerian fans or media. ‘That’s why I’m not crazy about doing a show abroad. I want to do a show abroad where all my audience will be Non-Nigerians and I’ll be able to crack jokes in pure English and make them laugh. That’s what you’ll call an international performance, not performing to people who have seen me in Nigeria before’, said actor-comedian Teju Babyface in a recent interview.
As the signature shows continue to spread further into the heart of Europe , pundits say it may not be long before the world takes note. ‘But at what costs?’ asks an industry watcher who has witnessed most of the shows. ‘they crack jokes about kidnapping white men in the Niger delta, they paint a gory picture of Lagos, portray Yorubas, Ibos and Hausas as the only tribe in Nigeria and worse still, they’re abandoning a vast market back home all in the name of coming to Europe at a time when everyone is desperately finding ways to do business in Nigeria’.
‘But it makes more sense to organise a show in a place like London ‘, argued a comedian who craved anonymity. ‘Let’s face it, if you’re popular within the Nigerian community, you’ll get a good crowd. And you don’t have to settle area boys, OPC or LASTMA. You don’t have to run diesel or fear NEPA will take light. Your cost is minimal. And you can charge as much as £20. That’s N5, 000. How many people will pay that to watch us in Nigeria ?’