By Michael Tidi
THE comedy industry in Ni-geria is now reputed to be the biggest in Africa. Interestingly, most successful Nigerian comedians in this country of some 180 million men, women and children mostly have roots in Warri and environs in Delta State.
Remarkably, it does appear that there is indeed something about the city’s culture that fuels humor. Stand-up comedians have existed in Nigeria from time immemorial, in the form of village spokesmen, especially at ceremonial occasions. The absence of such comedian as MCs for ceremonies meant very dull programs bereft of rib-cracking jokes and memorable punch lines.
“Warri no dey carry last!” it is often said. This refers not necessarily just to academic brilliance or mineral oil riches but more importantly to the wits and streetwise sense that have come to characterize the town called Warri, a cosmopolitan city of about 800,000 persons whose inhabitants and their way of life provide the raw materials for the greater portion of the jokes propelling Nigeria’s comic industry. An emerging comedy capital in the sub region, it is known as the cherishing mother of most of the successful comedians, similar to Trinity College Dublin and the Irish intelligentsia. The list includes: Ali Baba, I Go Dye, I Go Save, Gordons, Basorge Tariah, Gandoki, Alam Bloo, So Plenty, and MC Shakara.
Today, it is generally agreed that it is Ali Baba that gave comedy “the beautiful face” it currently wears in Nigeria. He became the first comedian to be well paid in the country, driving a Monster Truck, with a personalized plate number, “Ali Baba 1,” and a Dodge Ram, acquired as showbiz apparatus, registered as, “Ali Baba 2”’ (Nwanne 2). However, due credit needs to be given to Opa Williams, the man whose ‘A Night of a Thousand Laughs’, revolutionized the standup comedy industry two decades ago, providing the launching pads for a host of other acts like Julius Agwu, Tee A, Klint D Drunk, Sheddi Baba etc.
The questions that keeps begging for an answer is: What is it about this oil-rich, commercial hub of Delta State that makes it a breeding ground of Nigeria’s top comedians? Perhaps comedy thrives in Warri out of the dire belief by everyone that it is a birth right. When D Don was asked about this he said: “The thing is that, just like Reggae is synonymous with people from Jamaica, comedy is our way of life in Delta State. Funny enough, we are really not funny to each other over there. But when we come to Lagos, Abuja and some other places, people usually find us funny, so we decided to do business out of it”.
Comedian Plenty Mouth seemed more emotional when he spoke of it, he saying: “In those days they used Warri to depict the crime side of the society in comedy.
Comedian Alam Bloo takes a very different approach to things, he believes comedy can stop Boko Haram. According to him: “If entertainment can stop apartheid in South Africa, so why can’t comedy stop Boko Haram in Nigeria? With serious entertainment, we can stop Boko Haram, robbery and every other evil thing that is happening in Nigeria. For instance, in Lagos, when you kick out all the Okada/Tricycle riders out of the streets, what are they going to do next? Have you provided them with any other jobs? By so doing, you are making them go into evil deeds, because an idle man is the devil’s workshop.” Abiola Odutola observes rightly that stand-up comedy, once regarded as a pastime of the unserious and the uneducated, has transformed into a big business, turning its practitioners into millionaires and throwing up a huge industry with several direct employment opportunities and support services.
Francis Agoda, fondly called I Go Dye, sees it in the same light. “Everybody that lives in Warri is blessed with his or her mouth. And we have different ways of relating our experiences. As a Wafferian, sometimes the way we speak is comical to everyone who listens to us. Because comedy itself originated from Warri and when a Warri man or woman talks, you will know that this person comes from Warri. Also our pidgin English is quite different from any other in Nigeria. Our day-to-day life is also comedy, for instance, if you go to any Warri market and you price things, you will get the reply in comedy and you will be wondering why she is not polite.
In all these, the beauty of it seems to be the fact that a great many untapped talents still dominate the Warri landscape, waiting to be explored. It is in this vein that the Warri South Local Government is opening her arms to businesses in and around Warri to partner with the Warri Economic Summit Group to initiate the first ever Warri Economic Summit billed to hold in the City of Warri on the 17th and 18th, May, 2018. As to the towering status of the Oil City as the humour capital of Africa, all credit must go to all those talented Wafi boys and girls who dared to dream.
*Tidi, Executive Chairman, Warri South LGA, wrote from Warri