Ace Nigerian comedienne Helen Paul, who recently became a professor, speaks about her career and dishes out some advice to young ladies.
What has Helen Paul been up to recently?
I have been working outside Nigeria. I teach in a school but I do not teach every day. I teach according to my timetable. I also do a bit of Scrum Master outside the country. But my primary assignment which is entertainment, I still do that every weekend.
We know Helen Paul to be an entertainer but recently you became a professor. You are also a mother; how has it been juggling these roles?
When it comes to my lecturing career, the school I teach in is not a place where I have to face traffic every time I have to go to work. Most of my work is done from home. When I resume online, my children would have gone to school. Where I teach is a Christian school, it is an online school. So, it is not a place I have to go to every time. Most times that I go to school is because we have staff meetings or we have events that bring us all together at the campus either in Florida or Connecticut. But most of the work is done online, so, I am mostly home.
What makes me leave home at times is my entertainment gig and for that, I can take permission. I don’t do school work during the weekends and that is when most events take place. If you understand time management you would know how to organize your life.
Most people see comedians solely as jokers but in your case, you have two Master’s Degree, and you have become a professor, among other certificates under your belt. What is the point of all this since you have a lucrative career as a comedienne?
Aside from the fact that I learnt my mother did not go to school so I had the desire to go to school, I have mentors who at every point see different things in me. Imagine your mentor saying, ‘the fact that you have a first degree does not mean anything; it is still the same thing as WAEC. Go for a master’s degree.’ For me, it is more of mentorship that got me to this stage. My mentors are not people that I will say are ‘small’ and I listen at every point.
Growing up were you an assiduous student?
Growing up, I was not a first-class kind of student. At a time, I was part of the students that had the ‘I cannot fail’ mentality. I was not at the top position and I never was the last. All I just wanted was to move to the next class. In our days, when a parent sees so many red biro inscriptions on their child’s result sheet, the child is in trouble. As for me, I did not care about the red biro, I just wanted to see ‘promoted to’. I just hate to fail and that is the kind of student that I am. Whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your entertainment and educational career?
I have faced many challenges; especially having to face some people that believe that you can never make it. These are some people you look up to. I am talking about my educational career. They make statements like, ‘she is just deceiving herself. She thinks this place is for jokers’. At the end of the day when you scale through, these same people are so angry. Having to face those people is a challenge and if possible, I cut them off. Having to cut people off because they are messing with your mental health is not easy but you have to do that.
Second, having to change the challenge of ‘what next’ is a problem. Some people think that as a professor they cannot call me for shows, who says you can’t call me for jobs again? So, I have to look for possible ways to get an entertainment gig and play down my educational career. To make some people feel good about themselves they want you to stoop low and that is a big challenge I am facing at the moment.
Also, sometimes people that you love make comments like ‘with all these certificates, how much do you have?’ That happens a lot in Nigeria. But abroad, the only challenge I have there is the weather. There are a lot of challenges but I always pray to God to help me forget them.
Will you say your professorship is a blessing or a burden?
It is a big blessing for me abroad. I will not say it is a burden but the title makes me humbler. I will never say it is a burden. It is a blessing for me.
Do you think your title as a professor had bred envy among your peers in the Nigerian comedy industry as you are probably the first to become a professor in the sector?
You perceive envy when you know how to envy people, sincerely. Who are my peers? There are no peers. Everybody is doing their thing differently. We are all different. When we go on stage our jokes are not the same, we are all different. So, I do not think so.
So, people believe that comediennes have a short career life span in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Would you agree with them?
When they say short career lifespan, where is it written in the constitution that a certain person would reign for a certain number of years? It is not like politics where an elected official can be in office for four or eight years. Just keep working and learn new trends.
Normally, I would not want to take my craft to some platforms but my work needs it. So, I do it because all I need is an audience. That is where they are and it is what they want so I have to do it.
How does your family feel about your work schedule?
They are my support system and they know everything I do. My husband is my ‘padi’. He is not just my husband; he also plays the role of a mentor. He goes through my write-ups and edits them. He even knows my work more than me so I am blessed, I have a lesson teacher as a husband.
Do you see signs of any of your children becoming comedians like you?
For now, I am not seeing any traits like that in any of them. They are all still focusing on their academics and they are doing well. If any of them decides to become an entertainer, I will not stop them because my mother did not stop me; as long as they have money to buy me a jet.
What advice do you have for young ladies who want to become comediennes?
I will advise them to get mentors, not sponsors. Mentors know the way; they can tell you what to do and how to do things that would make you successful. They will advise you. They might not necessarily have the money to give you to accomplish what you have to do but they will show you the way.
Most ladies want sponsors. People that will give them money so they can tag them as mentors. To them, what is the essence of a mentor that cannot give them money? But they are two different things.
Get someone that can advise you, a person that you can listen to. As I said, my mentors helped me in a lot of ways. My mentors advised me to have other careers. It was a mentor that advised me to open a shop and before I knew it, I became a businesswoman. Now, I have several shops in the US. You can have more than one mentor. It was one of my mentors – a professor, that told me he would like me to be a great representative of town and gown. He simply meant that I am hip and I can balance it with an educational career. He made me know it was possible.
For comedy, the AY Live show helps me to keep pushing it. I know that the show is coming so I have to be prepared because the show always has a crowd. I have to crack my head and look for content. So, hold on to things that inspire you.