I AM NOW AN AMBASSADOR – JULIUS AGWU
In the early hours of Saturday August 25, 2007 comedian and entrepreneur Julius Chinwe Agwu was robbed and rough-handled by bandits who didn’t give a care about his status. Far away from home, the star entertainer was preparing to leave Club Ntyce (on Wellington Street, Woolwich, South-.East London) where he had attended rapper Ruggedman’s UK album launch. And it was while downstairs, waiting for a cab, that he was dispossessed of his mobile phones, his wallet and other valuables.
It was twenty-four hours to the second edition of the UK version of his hit comedy concert ‘Crack Ya Ribs’.
The incident itself, and the trauma that followed, were enough to distract from final preparations as well as drag the comedian into an emotional low, but for Agwu, an ambitious entertainer, keen on stretching the elastic limits of comedy, it was a fire to his adrenaline, and a fuel to his desire to rework the magic of ‘crack ya ribs’ among Nigerians in London and nearby cities.
So, left with no phones, no credit and debit cards, or a decade-old address book, what were the chances of the diminutive performer cracking any ribs the next day? Great; for, on Sunday August 26, the day the famous Notting hill carnival was kicking off, Nigerians trooped out to The Coronet, an expansive events venue around Elephant & Castle, to lounge in an overdose of music and comedy from some of the very best of Nigerian entertainers. For many residents, it was a pleasurable getaway from London’s monotonous daily routine, and a perfect way to end the summer of 2007.
At between £20 to £30 per head, thousands marched out from the Nigerian community, with their non-Nigerian friends in tow, to bask in an evening of fun and pure pleasure. And it wasn’t just Julius that dished out the goodies. Comedians Gbenga Adeyinka, Wale Gates, Jeddi, Basorge Tariah, Funbi, and Okey Bakassi unleashed an interesting repertoire of jokes; while Sammie Okposo, Ruggedman and Komo spiced the mix with music the audience couldnt help but bounce to. And the audience was peopled by the likes of Victoria Iyama, Howie T, Efe Sodje, Keke and D-one, Ayo Animashaun, Kween Onokala, Kingsley James, Seun Soyinka and Noble Igwe (of Virgin Nigeria), DJ Tee and dozens of other showbiz industry heavyweights most of whom flew in from Nigeria.
Unfortunately, just like Tee A’s Live & Naked, where we are yet to see anyone go in the nude, Julius’ Crack Ya Ribs ended without any rib cages broken. Okay, some fans laughed so much they fell off their seats; some even had tears in their eyes. But, truth be told, no ribs were broken at the London edition of Crack Ya ribs. And if you check properly, it doesn’t appear the comedian is after getting hospitals filled with casualties from his show. The idea, he tells, Glitterati, is just to make people laugh uncontrollably. You know, like times when you laugh so much you have to hold your stomach, and fight back tears.
What is more important to Julius, as he is beginning to say more frequently, is to play an ambassadorial role, as he takes his art around the world. A day before leaving for London aboard Virgin Nigeria, he told me ‘this is beyond Julius Agwu and crack ya ribs. I want people to know that we have talents in Nigeria. I’m using the show to play an ambassadorial role, to make people focus on the talents and opportunities in Nigeria. We’re tired of all these talk about corruption and poverty. Let’s play up the good things in this country my brother’. Considering that the concept has now been executed on three continents (Africa, Europe and America), the 33 year-old bachelor may be on the right path towards achieving his goal. And, if looked at, in tandem with the efforts of other comedians who are taking their arts to the farthest ends of the world, then it may be easy to see that, just like present day music of Nigerian origin, contemporary stand-up comedians appear to be doing far more effective image laundering for Nigeria, than a million slots on CNN will ever do.
The only issues at stake, according to experts who are following the industry keenly, is the amplification of ethnic rancour all in a bid to make people laugh. And the burden of repetition and recycling jokes. Many are already of the opinion that, apart from a few, if you’ve heard an average Nigerian stand up once, you may as well keep away from him for a while, if you’re averse to repetition. And then, doesn’t it make you cringe in your seat, when you listen to comedian A trying too hard to tell a joke comedian B told at an event you attended sometime last month?