At 40, I’m redefining myself —Julius Agwu

At 40, many would agree that actor, comedian and singer Julius Agwu has made his mark in the Nigerian entertainment scene. Marking two scores today, the multitalented artiste spoke with VICTOR AKANDE, Entertainment Editor, on life at 40, his book titled Jokes Apart, How Did I Get Here? and sundry issues.

WHAT are the plans you have for your 40th birthday?

Well, the truth is I am turning 40, and it is the grace of God that has brought me this far. And it calls for celebration, because I do not want to be someone who is not grateful to God for everything. I am not celebrating because I am rich; I am celebrating because I am wealthy; wealthy in the sense that I have made an impact in my society. It is my belief that that as a human being, you have not achieved anything if you have not made an impact on people around you and the society in general. I also wrote a book that will be launched as part of the celebration. It is another way of saying thanks to God and to all those who have supported the brand.

What is the book about?

It is titled Jokes Apart, How Did I Get Here? It is actually my life journey as I get to the old age of my youth. It is basically about my family and growing up; the challenges, cries, joy, and all I had to pass through in this journey. This marks the bus-stop, 40 is a bus-stop, because the journey continues. It is just like a train station, it continues. You come down and hop on another. What I know is, for me, this is a new beginning. Forty is a new beginning, I am asking God to renew that grace by reinventing, restarting, and replenishing me.

Obviously, you don’t want to fall victim of the cliché of ‘a fool at 40…’

My brother, these days, a fool at 30 should go to prison. Because a lot of things have changed, people need to realise that you need to be more focused, disciplined, determined and work hard.

For a society that does not give room to look back, you need to always look forward.

The only way to do that is to work hard. Once in a while you look back, so that you know where you are coming from, so that you know what propels you and what drives you. Anyway, I am already shielding and stopping some of those things that people consider foolish. Because I do not want to be a fool at 40, that is what it means.

What is the volume of the book and when did it occur to you that you should write?

I have always wanted to write a book when I clock 40. I wanted to chronicle my life like an autobiography. By God’s grace I plan to get to 80. I just wanted to take a bold step because I procrastinate a lot. I have a TV show that should have started a long time ago and I have so many projects that I am supposed to be working on. So I just said at 40, I need to start redefining my life. And the book is under print now, with pictures taken with friends and colleagues it will just make an interesting read.

As a musician/comedian, are we going to see some of your works on display on the D-day?

It is just an evening for me to sit down with my family. Some people are telling me that there might be a host. I have some colleagues that might want to yap me. It is all an evening of celebration. The high point of the event will be the trailer of my new TV show coming up.

How prepared are you for the TV show?

We are finally ready to go, because it’s been four years now working on the template. The TV show is called Jokes Apart with Julius Agwu. That used to be my stage name when I was in school. Jokes Apart was my stage name until I thought to myself, My father no do me anything, let me try and project the family. We are ready for it and a lot of people have been waiting for it. Also, I have two singles that I just released as part of my 40th anniversary celebrations. The first is Rejuvenate, which is what I am asking God for and what I have come to do. So Nigerians, Africans, and the world should wait for the rejuvenated Julius. And the second is titled Mama Soup.

How has the journey been so far?

It has not been a bed of roses. There have been challenges, obstacles and impediments. It all started in Rivers State, Port-Harcourt, to be precise, where I grew up. It started from secondary school; I had already started showing signs of being an entertainer. People thought entertainers were tramps of the society, dropouts and unserious people. Saying this was what I wanted to do, my parents kicked against it. All those details are in the book. After my first movie, Rattle Snake, my mum started thinking that I could make some money out of it. They kicked against it because my father wanted me to be a lawyer for his selfish reasons. As an Ikwere man, he probably didn’t want to be paying for lawyers’ services for land disputes. My mum on the other hand wanted me to be a carpenter for her selfish reasons as well; for not being able to afford chairs in the kitchen. And here is Julius today.

But today…

The business has brought me this far, the business is taking care of my family. I am married to Ibiere Agwu and we have a beautiful daughter called Zahra. God has been nice and I have enjoyed uncommon favour.

How would you say your programme Crack Ya Ribs has fared?

If you remember vividly, I started Crack Ya Ribs in 2001, after my first album which was released in the year 2000. And it was like the first major show by a comedian, and entertainer and it has been sustained. When I started out, people knew Julius as an actor, someone who started from acting and tailed into comedy, from comedy to music-comedy. So, all my fans were yelling to see me in all these tentacles. That was what gave birth to Crack Ya Ribs. And several years down the line, it is celebrated all over the continent. We have also taken the show to America and different locations; we have been to the UK, which is a tradition for us, especially at the annual Notting Hill Carnival. We have also taken the show to different states in Nigeria. This year, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State has promised to host the show. That is my joy and it has created a platform for so many upcoming acts to showcase their talents. A number of them are big in different ways now. Apart from Crack Ya Ribs, we have another brand called Laugh for Christ’s Sake, an evening of gospel rhythm and jokes, which is the gospel comedy. It has also been a major platform for many big acts today.

How much support have you gotten from your colleagues and corporate bodies?

From our colleagues, we get a lot of support because they are always ready to support. But musicians are the ones giving us tough times. It is actually difficult to get musicians to support comedy shows, but they support their colleagues. They do not understand how far the relationship can go. As for corporate organisations, it is no longer as it used to be. It is sad that most of them do not realise the essence of Corporate Social Responsibility. Even when they do, they think it is about cutting grass. We deal with human beings; you have been to our shows and have seen the capacity of the audience. Why can’t the government realise that they can use these to launder the image of the country? Why can’t they realise that entertainment is veritable tool towards changing the bad image of Nigeria? The world has grown well; entertainment is part of what has grown the American economy.

To what extent should a comedian throw banters at people in term of jokes?

The truth about comedy is that whatever way you want to get the laugh out of people, do it. That is why it is comedy and that is the reason you should have it at the back of your head that it is a joke. It is just that in Nigeria, we have not learnt how to laugh at ourselves. When the joke is not on you, you laugh. When it is on you, you get serious.

Have you received any form of threat or aggression through any of your jokes that someone didn’t feel good about?

There had been such, but not really a serious one.

What is the rationale behind setting up the Julius Agwu Foundation for Youths?

Even me as an individual, I know the essence of giving back. That is the reason I started Julius Agwu Foundation for Youths (JAFY). It is under the foundation that I have what we call Festival of Love. It was a show I started based on the tradition I have kept for the past eight years of spending outstanding valentine with the less-privileged, every 7th April and valentine. It is also under JAFY that I started a football talent hunt show that I do in my local community in Rivers State called Akpor Football Talent Hunt competition. We have done two editions now. This year is another, just to give these young footballers hope and showcase them. Last year, I went to Kanu Nwakwo and Peter Rufai. That is what I tell my colleagues, that we should try to give back to the society.

Are you planning to go into politics?

I am not planning to go into politics. I am contented, but if I get a political appointment, I will go ahead. But with the way politics is going in Nigeria, very soon we fit dey carry gun or cutlass.

Some people after doing the same thing for several years get bored. Do you sometimes get tired of what you are doing?

I have not even thought of it, but there were times when I really got frustrated. There were times when I faced serious challenges and obstacles and I would say, ‘God, if this is my talent, let this pass over.’ Everybody passes through tough times and they have had their fair share.

What are some of those things you would have loved to achieve at 40?

This show I’m talking about, I would have started it before 40. But God has a purpose for everything. There are those who make it at 60. There are those who make their first N1m at 70. There are those who God bless at the age of 20, 30 and they might not have really appreciated that blessing then. At 40, as I said earlier, I’m going to restart my career. It’s a new beginning.

Is there such a thing like comedian’s block just like you have writer’s block?

Yes, but the thing that I know that God has given me is the power of spontaneity. I’m very spontaneous. But to answer your question, let me state it as it is. There are times when I’m building a joke, it comes to a point the punch line doesn’t quite come. You will be wondering how you should take it. Nigerians are very intelligent, especially with this era of social media; everybody is a comedian, an Akpos. Nigeria is not a place where one-liners work. You have to bring out the humour and show to people. One-liners can work in America and Europe. Here, you are on your own, government self dey suffer. So na God we dey look up to. You know in Europe, most of the young people don’t go to church. It’s only when they are old, they want to die, that’s when they want to seek succour. But here, na God!

You have won several awards as an artiste…

The best award I get is the one I get along the road by handshake or somebody that wants to take a picture with me. The fact that people watch me, get happy and laugh are what give me satisfaction.

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