This University of Lagos graduate of Creative Arts does not have a stage name as it is common among humour merchants in Nigeria. Rather, he sticks to his name, Ajibade Oyemade. He is not only a comedian, but also a master of ceremony, presenter and seems to be carving a niche for himself in the corporate circle. In this interview with CHIOMA AGALI, he speaks about his love life, dreams and the challenges of his line of duty. Excerpts.
Could you give us an insight into your educational background?
My name is Ajibade Oyemade. I am the first born of my father and the only boy. I have three wonderful, beautiful younger sisters. I am from Ijebu Ife in Ogun State. I attended Ireti primary school at Ikoyi, Lagos. I went to St. Gregory college, Obalende and from there to Lagos State Polytechnic where I studied Business Administration. From there, I proceeded to the University of Lagos to study Creative Arts.
What was growing up like ?
When we were growing up, I had a very strict mother who would never allow me to go out to play football, but we had a very quiet and gentle father. My mother was peaceful too but very strict. You dare not make any mistake when she is around, she will just give you a slap. Anytime she was sleeping in the bedroom or she had gone to the office, I would tell my sisters that I was downstairs playing football. One day, she caught me playing football. When I got home and she asked me where I was coming from, I lied and she looked at my legs; very dirty. She gave me a dirty slap.
On my mum’s instruction, we were always upstairs looking at other children playing downstairs even if we went to her to take excuse that we wanted to go and play, she would say, “No! Sit down there.” Anyway, it’s good to have a strict mother. So, whenever she was around, we were always indoor. And at that time, I used to watch so many soap operas and cartoons because we were always indoor. I was always the happiest person whenever the school was on session because I knew I would have enough time to play very well. I used to be the last person to leave the school premises because I liked to play after school.
How did you journey into the industry?
When I was in the Polytechnic, I used to make people laugh. I loved acting but I didn’t know I was going to be a comedian. When I was in 200 level at the University of Lagos, I started going into comedy gradually. I met a young man by name Adeshola Gbenga, his stage name is OJ and we still call him OJ to date but he is not in the country. He was one of the comedians we had at the University of Lagos then. He saw me and asked if I was a comedian but then I never knew if I was a comedian or not. But I just answered and said yes. He told me he had a job for me, that was in year 2,000. He took me to an agency that was handling Guinness and when I got there, I thought it was only going to be two people’s business.
On getting there, I saw over a hundred people. I didn’t know they had promoters and comedians. What they wanted were comedians. When we entered they said everybody should come on stage one by one and crack your joke. Then I wasn’t used to the microphone because I was merely a stand up comedian in the University of Lagos. We started as a club called Theatre 15. we have pre-show. But when they called me at the Guinness pre-auditioning, and I grabbed the microphone, I started shaking, I could not crack any joke and the one I manged to crack, people didn’t laugh. It was because it was auditioning, at the end of the day, they told me to go and sit down but fortunately for me, I was among the people they picked for the final auditioning where I say the like of Teju babyface, and lots of people and thank God, this time around, it wasn’t with microphone when I was called out, I was so bold enough to come out immediately, I just cracked one or two jokes, everybody started laughing and that was how I was picked.
Can you share your first experience on stage?
I can’t remember my first experience because I know I started this right from school and I learnt something from Laz Ekwueme, my lecturer in school, then he was the head of my department. He said always be bold, look at everybody’s face, it gives you the boldness to talk which I did. Most time when I go on stage, his statement gives me the confident. It happens to every comedian once the microphone is with you. You are a different person entirely. My first time on stage, I remember it was in University of Lagos, it was an all night show and I was paid the sum of four hundred naira. It was in a female hostel, when I got there they were intimidating me. Thank God, OJ my friend came around and said you are in charge, I should try and control the microphone and also control the crowd. Initially, it was difficult while in University of Lagos, I joined a club called Theater 15 where we have the likes of Tee A, Gbenga Adeyinka the first, Wale gate, so many of them. Everybody would come out and crack jokes; I was the lightening director then. Thank God for that group.
Why did you decide to go into comedy?
I decided to go into comedy because I realise it is interesting, lucrative and creative too. As a comedian, you must learn to be active, learn to read and you must attend events to know what is happening around you. You have to create a niche for yourself.
How do you get your jokes?
Jokes come anyhow, the environment, and the situation you meet yourself determines the kind of joke you crack. When you look at the environment, there is what we call the creative and spontaneous jokes because it makes people laugh. A joke is not something you can easily crack to make people laugh. You have to take your time.
For instance, you use things that are happening around you to crack the jokes. When the month is about ending, you see wives calling their husbands sweet name like darling, honey but in the middle of the month, they might decide to call the man his name just because the salary is finished. That is a simple joke that is around the family. You look at your environment to create your jokes, different scenes, birthday, wedding and even burial or just ordinary gathering. Most of the time I plan towards events.
Who were your mentors?
Concerning role model, recently, I was in at an end of the year party and a lady walked up to me and asked me if I work in a bank and I said no. She said I wish you go into comedy and I told her it was what I do and she said I sounded like Ali Baba. Now why I mentioned Ali Baba is because that woman is not the first person that has told me I sounded like Ali Baba. Even some of my colleagues that are comedians have actually told me I do things like Ali Baba. He is a young man that I really respect so much, he gives audience to upcoming comedians. He is like a father, brother and a friend. He will tell you how to handle events. He is not a selfish human being though I’m expecting a car from him. (laugh).
Who inspires you most in the industry?
In the industry, you see the upcoming ones calling me bros but they are making more money than I am but I thank God for them. When I started, I was looking up to somebody like Julius Agwu. He has a way of doing his things. But now, I must tell you that I had to be myself and I’ve started doing my own thing my own way since 2002.
What motivates you?
Money. That is the only thing that motivates me.
What is your take on comedians that do copy cat business?
That is why most comedians don’t go to show anymore. They prefer to organise a show and say the old jokes than for them to say their new jokes at event. There are some comedians that their work is just to come to events and steal your jokes and use it to make money than you the original owner. Some will buy all the comedy CD’s, sit down and watch it, then come and claim they are comedians. I know say many comedians all they do is to steal people’s jokes to make money and you that is working hard to get your own joke they will say what is this one saying. So, comedian do steal jokes to climb above the original owner of the joke. I have made up my mind that any event I use my normal jokes I am not scared of copy cats. If they like, let them use it but they must not use it at the event that I am.
In the league of top Nigerian comedians, how would you rate yourself?
Na God hand I dey oh. I won’t rate myself but I know I am getting better every day. In comedy, wisdom and knowledge is matters most, I don’t go for shows all the time. I do more of wedding MC and each one I go, I can get extra four jobs from the job. Even if I don’t get it at that day, I know somebody will refer a client to me. It is how you handle the event that matters.
What informs your style as a comedian and why did you decide to use your own personal name, no stage name?
The situation I find myself determines my style. I don’t have a stage name because I believe in being myself. A lot of comedian that have stage name are looking for a way to change to their real name. I feel that using my name, I’m being myself. My friends one day came up with a stage name that I rejected and said my clients might not like that name and we laughed over it. At the end of the day, I remembered that I have a lecturer that bears Tunji Sotimirin and even Julius Agwu so why troubling myself for a stage name. It doesn’t stop the money from coming in.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married.
What got you attracted to her and what do you think has kept the marriage?
I met her when she came to interview me. Then she was working with a particular media house and she came to interview me through her brother. After the interview, we started communicating and I don’t know what the Lord was saying to me and I had to listen to my Lord and I proposed to my wife but she wasn’t taking me serious because people feel when we comedian talk, we are not serious about it but we are serious.
So, I did all I could to show her that I am serious. I believe that comedians when it comes to relationship that we are serious. It took her even sometimes to tell me yes. The only thing that I believe has kept the marriage is understanding, trust and love. I will stop here make I no tell you everything.
How many children has the marriage produced?
I have one handsome boy.
What is your philosophy of life?
Just be yourself and whatsoever a man sows, he will reap.
How do you handle your female admirers?
Right now, even if a lady offers me ten million naira to sleep with her or to give me a job, I can’t because I am married and I had a covenant with God and my wife. You can get the money and spend it but what about the covenant you had with God. If they come, fine, I play with them. We talk and it ends there. I don’t joke with my family. Anyway, it does not stop me from having female friends. I have a lot of female friends, we talk, play naturally, that is my own way of life.
As a comedian, what are the challenges you face?
If you are not known you will never get a good job. If you write a proposal to a particular company. If they call you for interview, before you know what is happening the company will say we are sorry we have given the job to a popular comedian.
What is your relationship with other comedians?
We work hand in hand when required. Sometimes when I have my own show I invite them. Like this year, I only did one show laugh and praise which for God. Next year I will do one show on laugh and praise, then scoop 411. I am really planning for next year. One of the challenges I face when organising a show is that the audience want to know if you’re inviting the popular comedians. They will want to know before living their house. They are not interested in the upcoming ones. But what they don’t know is that those upcoming ones are also talented and good.
How far do you intend to go in comedy?
As long as I can. And also, to help the upcoming comedians in the industry.
Apart from comedy, what else do you do?
Well, I am a radio presenter with Unilag FM. I have a radio programme there called comedy crux where I invite upcoming comedians to come in and exhibit their talent or if they have shows that they want to announce on air to create awareness. Thank God for Unilag FM. Their staff are very wonderful.