Gbenga Adeyinka is a top act in the Nigerian comedy industry. He runs a television show and publishes a comedy magazine, called Laffmattaz.The multi-talented comedian, man who has bagged over 40 awards and recognitions, spoke with ESTHER IJALANA on his life, marriage and the industry, among others .
How has your background influenced your current career?
I was born in Lagos. I am from a family of four and since about nine months old, I started living with my grandparents. I grew up in Surulere, so I got to mix with a lot of non-Yorubas like, Ibos, Hausas, Calabar people and all that. This has helped me in picking up many languages. I went to a couple of primary schools, because my uncle thought that my grandmother was spoiling me and he wanted to do Van Damme and change me, but I showed them pepper. So, they returned me to her. But, eventually, I went to Government College, Eric Moore; then proceeded to International School, Ibadan. I later went to Unilag to study English and I served in Benue State. I came back to Lagos and started working for my uncle in his construction firm. After sometime, I set up my own outfit, Children Party Entertainment, then I went into stand-up comedy and the rest is history.
How many languages do you speak?
I understand and speak Ibo, I understand Hausa. If you talk to me in Calabar, I may not be able to speak but I understand it. I have an ear for languages.
Where exactly are you from?
I am from Abeokuta in Ogun State
What was your passion as a young student?
I was very lucky to have studied English. What I wanted to study initially was Theatre Arts and that was my passion as a student but my uncles then was like, ‘Olorun maje (God forbids). We sent you to the best schools, you now say you want to do Theatre Arts!’ When I graduated and I started comedy, they were all complaining. They said, ‘we sent you to school, you now say it is Baba Sala you want to do!’. But for me, it was always acting, I think I started acting when I was in Form Three. We had a stage production called ‘The gods are not to blame’ by Ola Rotimi and it struck me like something I wanted to do. So going to study English, I was further introduced to the rudiments of drama. I joined a Theatre Troupe on campus, Theater15. I was always acting. I would say if I had had the kind of concentration I had for Theater15 for my studies, I would have come out with a First Class. But the truth of it is that Theater15 boosted my life. It taught me all I need to know about being in the Arts. I thank God
What was it like being in Theater15 and what were the things it taught you?
It was fantastic. I learnt spontaneity, I learnt projection. For instance, a lot of people tell me, ‘where do you get the energy to shout? I say ‘well, I learnt it from the stage’. Then, my director would tell you, ‘at the end of the hall, there is a deaf man who is also blind, he has paid N50 to come and watch this play. You have to make him hear you and with your gesticulation you have to make him see you and enjoy his money’. Those were some of the things I learnt. I learnt passion too because In those days, there was no Theatre Arts department in Unilag and students from different departments wanted to act, so they came together. There were 15 of them initially, that was why they called it Theatre15. Tokunbo Afikuyomi was one of them, Julius Agu was one of them as well as the Vice Chairman of Oshodi Local Government, and they produced a lot of great people like Yaw, Koffi, Teju Baby Face. It built a ground for a lot of people who are now into entertainment. The experience was fantastic.
How did you get into comedy, what motivated you?
I have always wanted to make people laugh. When I was in school, I did a lot of comical roles. I was Lakunle in ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’. There was a play co-written by Julius Agwu and Oscar called ‘Jambitoes.’ There was one very comical character in it, and I did that. People always called me to do MC for their events. But professional comedy started for me after I graduated. People would come and tell me, ‘I am getting married, come and do MC for me now.’ I would go though they wouldn’t pay. It was just a “thank you” and that was very good, for me; it was fun. Then, I met one Funmi Faradoye. She was Funmi Davies then, I used to do Children Party Entertainment and go to MITV where I met Akin Akindele who would ask me to tell him a joke and he would tell me another one. One day, Funmi Faradoye saw us fooling ourselves and she invited me to be part of her programme that night. I did not know it was comedy she wanted me to do, so we started telling joke. After sometime, people started calling me and ask ing how much I charged. I said, ‘Hen! money dey inside this thing?” From there, I started billing and I met Ali Baba, a friend of mine Seun Oloketuyi started doing a lot of publicity for me. We staged my first show and God just decided to keep lifting me up and up.
How did you come by the title, Comedian of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (CFR)?
I have worked in all the 36 states in Nigeria. There is no state I have not worked in. I am passionate about Nigeria, I love Nigeria to the core. I believe Nigeria is the best country in the world, we may not have got to the Promised Land, but we will get there. I believe change is imminent in Nigeria and I can use my art and popularity to engineer change. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu gave me the CFR, it was one day when we were having an event and I was saying something about, ‘Since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of God suffereth violence and the violent taketh it by force and if the president does not give us a national honour, I will take the CFR, my comedian of the federal republic’. And he said , ‘Yes, you are the true comedian of the federal republic’. And since then, it has been that. Even after that, I got a couple of shows outside Nigeria and I needed to stand on authority for my country telling them that apart from oil and Nollywood, one thing that can also stand Nigeria out is comedy. It’s been wonderful.
You have several things you are doing for Nigerian Breweries maker of Star Larger. What are these things and how long have you been doing them?
I have been working for Star for seven years. I must say Star gave me national prominence. It’s not easy to start up as a young comedian and they put you on national TV in the 36 states of Nigeria, every week people see you. I think that gave me national prominence and for good reasons, Star gave me the CFR. I started doing the Star TV game show for them. I graduated to doing Star Trek, then I graduated to doing Star Mega Jamz. I have been fortunate to have been on stage to anchor events where you have 50 Cent, Ja rule, Kelvin Little, Akon and many national and international artistes, I think Star deserves all the commendation for that. Now, I am doing Star Fortune Promo for them, where every week we make 46 Nigerians extremely lucky and happy. Three people win N3 million, three people win brand new 2010 Toyota Corolla car, and 40 Nigerians win N100,000 weekly. So for me, it’s been a huge pleasure working with Star. They have been extremely loyal to me and I remain loyal to them.
How have you been able to sustain your relationship with Star, such as you have the kind of consistency you with them so far?
I think for me it’s a case of being professional. It’s a case of knowing this is what I have to do, and I do it with a passion, all my body and soul. That’s it for me. If you invite me for a show, and you pay me N10 and I make up my mind to do it, I will do it with all my soul, and if you are paying me N10 million, and I make up my mind to do it, I will do it with all my soul. Anything I want to do, I do it to the end. Also, I believe that my versatility has helped me. I believe you have to be versatile and be on top of your game. You have to be on the street, know what the street wants and keep changing for the current generation. I think I am the ideal shine shine bobo, I am that guy who walks into a place and wants to bring brightness, excitement and create fun, and those are the core values of Star. So for me its a partnership made in heaven.
You are the first comedian to start a TV comedy show and magazine called Laffmattazz. How did you conceive these ideas?
I started Lafta Explosion on MBI because I needed an avenue to express myself. Then we developed it into LaffMattaz, then we started doing a lot of stand up shows and other comedians are doing the same thing. For me, there is a need to always innovate, that is why I came up with the idea of the comedy magazine, let’s show Nigerians that there is much more to comedy than just stand up. We have not scratched the surface of comedy, there are so many things we can do. It is just a way of showing my colleagues that we can diversify and do new things.
Do you see comedy as a profession people sould start studying in schools, like music and Theatre Arts?
I think the way comedy is going now, it is possible. Some people have stopped me and told me, ‘my son is in the university, when he graduates I want him to be a comedian, can you train him?’ I see comedy doing well. A colleague of mine, Barsorge, runs a comedy school where he trains young comedians. I run an informal comedy school where I bring young people together and teach them the rudiments of comedy, presentation and professionalism. In fact, I am being tempted to start a monthly comedy workshop for people aspiring to be comedians, because sometimes you go to some events and you find some comedians saying things they should not say. It’s not that they want to say those things, but it’s because they don’t know. I want to teach appropriateness and all that. For me, I think comedy has a huge future and I will like to have an organization I can hand over to my son, even if he doesn’t want to be a stand-up comedian but at least to manage the organisation. That, for me, is a dream for the future.
You are said to belong to the first generation of Nigerian comedians. What can you say about this generation and the ones that have come after it?
I actually have a different history of Nigerian comedy. The story of the Nigerian comedy can not be written without making mention of the forefathers of comedy, people like Baba Sala, John Chukwu, Samanja and others. These were the people who paved the way for comedy. I also won’t say I belong to the first generation of professional Nigerian comedians because Ali Baba, Danjuma Mohamed, Julius Agwu, Okey Bakassi and Basorge were doing this thing before I came. I think they deserve a lot of mention. For me, I will say I just chanced them and established myself among them. Kudos should be given to a lot of them, because if not for them we won’t be enjoying what we are enjoying today. Talking about this current generation, I also think they deserve a lot of kudos. These are young people struggling to make a name for themselves, it’s not easy being a comedian in Nigeria because an average Nigerian is a very funny person. It takes a lot for you to make him laugh.
Compare the comedy industry of today with the ones in the past, like 10 years ago?
Ten years ago? Then, if you woke up in the morning and told your parents you wanted to be a comedian, your father would first ask your mother where she brought you from. In those days, receiving pay for a job done was difficult. I remember, there was a time I did a show for a wedding, and after the wedding I wanted to collect my money and the man was like, ‘I can’t pay you, o kan n sweat ni men! (you are just sweating man)’. It was the bride who collected my money for me. In those days, people didn’t trust comedians and it was hard to find a comedian anchoring events, but now there is no event in Nigeria today that will not have a comedian. In fact brands are beginning to associate with comedians. Basket-mouth is a Glo ambassador, Okey Bakassi is a special adviser to a governor, Basorge is into politics now. There are so many comedians taking it into the next level. Very soon a comedian will become a governor. Those days, a comedian was supposed to be a never-do-well but very soon people will see comedians for what they are: intelligent people who run commentary of the nation. Basket mouth is having a lot of commendations and has been moving out of Nigeria. AY is starting a TV show. Ali Baba has paved the way. TeeA has a comedy bar, I have a comedy magazine and have a couple of TV programmes. So far so good.
How do you relax?
I love football and watch football like mad. My biggest passion is to read. I read a lot, in fact if I don’t read I can’t play. I love and watch movies. I go to the cinema when I have the opportunity but I never let my football pass me by. People who know me know I am an Arsenal supporter for life, even if we are losing, I am still loyal. Apart from these, I brainstorm a lot to come up with new things. I cope because I enjoy what I do.
Generally, what can you say about the Nigerian Entertainment industry?
The entertainment industry is growing. A lot of people say government, government. I don’t belong to the school of thought that believes that government should come into comedy. Government has been into football, government should not come into entertainment. Instead, they should put an enabling structure on ground, government should help musicians by fighting piracy. Government should help Nigerian entertainers by making sure the country is safe. Although government has helped comedy a lot. If the Nigerian government had been good, many people would not have been looking for a reason to laugh but since our government has been bad in the past Nigerians needed to laugh and they helped comedy grow. But really, if security is taken care of, if electricity is taken care of, if piracy is tackled, entertainment will grow.
How long have you been married?
I have been married for 15 years. I have a son, I know that is the next question, his name his Gbenga Adeyinka Junior. He is 14. I have a daughter, her name is Adeola, she is 12 going to 13. The last Tobiloba is 11, there is two years in between all of them. My wife is a lawyer, working with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice. She has been practising Law since about 18 years, she is Ijebu. My children are half-caste. I am from Abeokuta, she is from Ijebu zone, so they are not full Abeokuta.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her when I was still working with my uncle’s construction firm. She was the company lawyer for a Finance House. I saw her on the staircase and was attracted to her nice figure and nice shape. I invited her for lunch, we spoke extensively and I liked her mind. I told her, ‘do you know I am going to marry you? She said, ‘for where?’ I insisted that I was going to marry her and after a couple of months she decided to marry me. The rest, as they say, is history.
After all these years of marital experience, are you one of those men who believe that marriage is an obstruction to absolute freedom?
Well, marriage is a personal thing. Some people know what they are looking for in marriage. I don’t know what freedom you need that you can not get, marriage is not a cell. There are sometimes I just tell them at home that, ‘look, I need to clear my head and I am going to Ghana to spend a week’. It depends on the understanding you have in your family, it depends on the kind of marriage you have. A lot of people are not open to their spouses, which might cause problems. You see, what works for me in my marriage may not necessarily work for another person in his or her marriage. We have a marriage that is made in heaven, with time we have grown to understand each other. Though sometimes like every other couple, we have arguments, we fight, but the truth of it is that, once you understand yourselves you don’t have a problem. I belong to the school of thought which says, if you have a settled home, you will be settled outside and that you should not bring your family into the spotlight, you are the one who decided to be in the spotlight, let them live their normal lives. That way, you won’t have problems, that way nobody would go and meet your wife and tell her, ‘we saw your husband’. That way nobody will treat your children specially. I always tell my children, you are not the children of an entertainer, you are the children of this strict family man, so don’t expect any special attention from anybody because you don’t deserve it yet. When you make your name and money, then you will get the attention you need.
How have you been managing being a comedian, presenter, publisher, master of ceremony, father and a husband?
Like I always tell people, if I was in America I would be doing more than one job to keep body and soul together. I would be washing dead bodies, I would sweeping streets, I would be doing security man, if I can do all that abroad, why can’t I do it in Nigeria? There is dignity in labour. In fact, after working for 24 hours, I found out that there is so much to be done . I thank God He has given me the opportunity and strength. A lot of people tell me to rest, and I tell them rest for what? It is when you die that you rest, now that you are still active, you want to rest, so when you retire what will you be doing? For me, it’s something that has to be done. I see myself as pathfinder for the profession.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
My most embarrassing moment was not even on stage. It was way back in school. I was still on campus then, I didn’t know my trouser was torn and I was lying down on the bed. My room mate’s girlfriend came in and I didn’t know my Mandela was free, so I opened my legs wide, because she didn’t tell me anything. When my roommate came in and said, ‘Man yi, sokoto e ti faya (this man, your pair of trousers is torn)’. I was like, ‘ahhhhhhh’. It was so embarrassing.
What about the day you will never forget?
A day I will never forget was the day I was called that I my mum had died. I was on my way to Uyo for Intercontinental Bank’s 20th anniversary, that was May last year. From Uyo, I was supposed to stay for Star Trek. They called me at the airport and said that I had lost my mother. At that point, I didn’t know what to do at that point, so I called Ali Baba and he gave me a lot of advice. When people ask me for my role models, I just leave it out because a lot of my role models are dead: Martin Luther King Junior is dead, MKO Abiola is dead. The only ones that are alive are Barrack Obama and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I don’t see them all the time but most times I talk to Baba and we discuss. That particular day, I called and asked him what should I do. He asked me, ‘Gbenga, what do you want to do? I said I don’t know. He said what would your mother have wanted you to do? I said she would have wanted me to carry on because she was a strong woman. He said, ‘my brother, leave money for them and go to a place you can clear your mind’. At that point, I realised that was the truth. I didn’t cry at the airport, I was strong, but when I got back to the hotel room, I cried like a baby. I went to the bar, I drank everything I could but I could not sleep, I took a shower, still I could not sleep. Believe me, that was a day I could never forget. When I remember that day, I say ‘God, why?’, but God knows best.
You were very close to your mother?
Yes. I didn’t have a choice. My mother could go naked because of me. She always had this special prayers for me. Then, I loved to cook for her, and she would say, ‘thank you my child, you will never go hungry’. Before I had my house, she would say, ‘thank you my child, you will soon build your own house’. You know, she made things happen for me but she is in a better place now, where there is no NEPA wahala and all that.
I learnt comedians are coming up with an association?
Whatever my boss says, I will follow him.
Who is your boss?
But you are aware of the association?
Yes, I am. Whatever they say I will follow
And what have they said about it?
They said they are working on it. Anything they come up with that will move the industry forward is okay by me.