Gbenga Adeyinka is an actor, comedian, radio and TV host, writer, and MC who has won numerous awards. He normally addresses himself as CFR (Comedian of the Federal Republic) and now GCON (Grand Comedian of Nigeria). In this weekend magazine interview, Gbenga speaks on his career and new trends in the industry.
So far, how has this year been for you?
Compared to last year and the COVID-19 year, it has been a fantastic year. We have been held down due to the fact that we are in the election month but yet, other political events came up, so yes, it has been a good year. One cannot help but to be grateful to God.
What do you mean by being held down because of the election season?
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For my show, Laffmatazz, we have not been able to source for sponsors like we would have done. We have not had adequate time to work. Everybody has been reluctant to commit so much until they see how the elections pan out. We are still going ahead but I hope that by the time this election is done with, we would have more people coming on board. But for the first show we are doing, we practically have one sponsor that has been with us all this while.
Speaking about your show, Laffmatazz, people are of the opinion that you only focus on comic talents in the South-west. Do you agree?
The vision that I have is to build a platform in the South-west that would give people all over the South-west the opportunity to express themselves. At a point in the history of comedy in this generation, everybody shouted ‘Warri area, area’. If people had not built that sector, it would have been difficult for those people to have grown.
For me, it was a vision to build the South-west sector. I am not ashamed to say it, others can now come and build on what I have done. My vision has always been to build comedy in the South-west.
I have asked myself that question a lot of times, over and over again. Everything I have done in life has pointed me in the direction of comedy. I am of the belief and in agreement with a man that said that ‘God has put something in everybody that would help the person excel’. Thinking back, everything that I have always done led to this moment. Being in the University of Lagos; being in Theatre 15; getting a lot of comic roles, and anchoring a lot of events for halls of residence; all that built me towards this. Like a Yoruba proverb says, ‘where your destiny has put you is where you stay.’
Some people say that although you are a comedian, you are not funny. Have you heard such comments?
I have heard such comments. Also, I have heard some comedians who I consider to be very funny being told by people that they are not funny. There are some comedians that if I listen to – both in Nigeria and abroad, I laugh like a silly being. The truth of life is that you cannot satisfy everybody. No brand appeals to everybody.
Initially, it used to bother me. It bothered me so much that at some point I was thinking of giving up but it was my manager then, God bless her, that said, ‘why do you allow these things bother you when you are practically one of the comedians that work the most in Nigeria?’ It does not bother me anymore. There is freedom of speech and you can say whatever you want to say. What matters is what I feel and what people who patronise, and appreciate me feel. However, that does not mean that I should rest on my laurels and not keep trying to win people over. But I also understand that you cannot satisfy everybody.
At a point in your career, you were doing more of MC and hosting gigs, was it during that period that the critics’ comments got to you?
Yes. It was during that period that I decided to build on that side of the industry. In our sector, there are two categories of people; there are those people who can just do comedy and there are those who can anchor events and make you laugh at the same time. I decided to tilt towards the second part and build more on that so that if for instance a big brand is coming to Nigeria and they need a comedian who understands branding, they would look for me.
I was intentional about building that aspect of my career and I think it has helped.
You began your career at a time comedians were seen as people without future ambition. What were the hurdles you had to scale through?
Even now, it is still not easy. When I first started, it was difficult for me to get approval from my immediate family because they felt that they sent me to the best schools in this country and I decided I wanted to become ‘Baba Sala’. I am someone who could be very stubborn, I had made up my mind that comedy is what I wanted to do and I stuck to it. My belief in life is that nothing good comes easy.
Once you set your mind to something, do not look back. So many doors would be shut. Keep going and work on your craft. This is what I tell my younger colleagues. They are even lucky to have social media, whereby if they do one or two skits, they can become famous. In those days, we had to prove our talents on radio and television by touring the country, just to be known.
I will not say it is that easy for them as well but I would say technology has made it less stressful. For us the ‘established’ comedians, it is still not easy because we have to keep going as you are only as good as your last gig.
Some people are of the opinion that skit makers are taking the shine off stand-up comedians. What is your thought?
I do not think so. I believe that everything is a boost to the comedy industry as a whole. If you do not want to be selfish, you ought to pray that every arm of your industry booms.
When we started, all we had were TV comedians — actors who were comedians. Then stand-up comedy came and now skit making has come and has ‘blown’. Something else will come and will ‘blow’. It is all for the glory of the comedy industry. That is not to say that I feel threatened. Not every skit maker can do stand-up comedy, and not every skit maker can anchor shows. Moreso, not every comedian can do skits or act.
Skit-making is as old as comedy itself. When you look at the likes of Baba Sala and Baba Mero, what they did on TV in those days were short drama skits. I did that a lot in my programme, Laffmatazz, when we were on TV. The emergence of COVID made it known that there is another form of comedy that you can watch from your home on your devices. That is part of what helped skit makers.
But with everything in life, something else will come up and that is my prayer. We do not have a lot of people making a living from comedy. We do not have enough comedy scriptwriters, comedy clubs, there is a whole lot of aspects when it comes to comedy that we have not explored. I don’t feel threatened by skit makers and I don’t think anybody should feel threatened.
Some of your colleagues feel that most of the skit makers have stolen their jokes and turned them into skits. Do you agree?
I see a lot of skits that have been taken from, not just my jokes, but from that of a lot of other comedians. However, I think that is a phase that would pass. I am not ashamed to say this but when I started out in my career, I used to tell the jokes of Gbenga Adeboye and some other Nigerian greats. With time, you would mature to the level that you would tell yourself that you cannot be doing other people’s jokes anymore. With time all these would change.
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