BusinessDay

Alibaba: being funny is serious business

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Several years ago while residing at Abuja in the 90s, Alibaba’s show was a program we all couldn’t afford to miss. Comedy wasn’t so popular then so watching and listening to one who knows his onions was indeed fascinating. It is amazing how comedy has metamorphosed into a great commerce and several of them are doing well and have been able to cut their teeth in this terrain. Little wonder most comedians today remain grateful to Alibaba for setting the pace.

Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere popularly called Alibab began his professional career with corporate events, appearing on television shows with the likes of Patrick Doyle, Charly Boy and Danladi Bako. He also made cameo appearances on radio shows with Bisi Olatilo, Sani Irabor, Mani Onumonmu and worked briefly with Dapo Adelegan of DP Lekki Limited as executive assistant in 1991.

He had made up his mind he was going to do everything to enhance himself, improve his skill and the service he offered in other words be professional. However at the time there was hardly any precedent to follow because the funny men then were not into Stand-up comedy. Patrick Doyle, John Chukwu, Bisi Olatilo, Femi Segun, Femi Jarret, Leo Onwudi, Smart Otemu, Tony St. Iyke and many more were funny, very funny but did not do full-time comedy.

Through guts, sacrifice and creative dynamism, Ali Baba carved a niche for himself as a comedian for both corporate and non-corporate events. In less than 4 years, he had also become the preferred Master of Ceremony at some events. Ali Baba made the rules, broke them and sometimes even discarded them depending on how effective they were. These days no event is considered complete without a Comedian to MC that event.

“Growing up was a very adventurous time. I had an educated father who instilled me in that with education, especially from books and learning, I could be anything. These have come in handy in my interpersonal, academic, business and social engagements” Says Alibaba.
Sometime in 1988, Alibaba came to the realisation that he could make people laugh just by throwing one liners and making very funny remarks during spare times in the common room and in daily conversations. From the 80s till date, he hasn’t relented in mastering his craft and he has consistently been on top of his game little wonder he describes his sustaining factor through the years as “my ability to be dynamic. I am always hitting the refresher button. I am a strong believer that the comedian is as funny as his last good joke… So to continuously be creative is the best way to stay alive in the industry. That is where spontaneity comes in.”
Comedy as it was practised in the 80s, 90s and even now, keeps changing however, it doesn’t come without its challenges, some of which Alibaba shares when he says “The challenges in the beginning were about letting people know comedy is an ART form that deserves a place on the table of entertainment. After that battle of acceptability was won, then came the challenge of content that will not offend sensibilities and personalities. The hardest challenge was convincing people that you should be paid for this talent that has no overhead. Once that too was achieved, the issue of how to satisfy the customer and justify the pay became the next challenge. These days, a lot has changed. Acceptability is a done deal. Remuneration is a given. People’s sense of humour has grown, so has the line between being offensive and funny faded. Major challenge is how to get comedians to be creative and original with their content.” Alibaba admits.
Truth is, many people don’t take comedians seriously even though most of the time, their jokes are as a result of true life experiences but somehow, Alibaba has been taken very seriously in his industry and he tells why “The rules of engagement in business are universal. If you have a talent, until you make it a service no one will pay you for it even if you are the best thing after sliced bread. So all the dynamics of businesses were activated. Like quality service delivery, advertising, loyalty discount, full page thank you messages in two national dailies in my year end (February), purposeful and well thought through business stationery and business letters, projecting value propositions of the comedy business to draw in the client to patronize my services, were all part of the business development”.

From Alibaba’s explanation, it is obvious there is business in comedy. He elucidates further “The business is in the performances at events, the infusion of same into the role of an Mc, as a brand ambassador that a client can leverage on to reach a certain target market, the live comedy concert that draws out all the guests to our shows across the country, radio shows, comedy shows, script writing, CDs and DVDs, Youtube hits, movies like 30 Days in Atlanta… plus enabling businesses for allied service providers.” He quips.
Today, the business of comedy now has a pride of place in the entertainment sector “Comedians earn a lot more than other entertainers except, well, for the big guns in the music industry. At least an entry level comedian can be sure to earn 50,000 per event and the fees peak at 5million depending on clients, event duration, location and expected services.” The determinant factor of how comedians are paid according to Alibaba depends on “his visibility, his content, his delivery, availability, popularity, the negotiation skills, financial position of the comedian at the time, if the client is desperate to use the comedian, what the client can afford, exiting relationship, event planner,… some events may not pay as well but it might leverage your career into higher paths” Alibaba reveals.
For Alibaba, mentorship is very key. “One on one mentoring is the one of the most common, where a protégée learns at your feet. The other equally most common mentorship is from a distance. Young comedians see how you do your stuff and learn fast. They also can call to ask for directions. It’s working well so far.” Alibaba tells me.
Alibaba keeps upgrading his craft and is always coming up with brilliant ideas, one of which is his annual January 1st Concert. Hear him share on the vision behind his decision to embark on this mission. “I mentioned to my friend Barrister Efere Ozako, (Zakilo) sometime in 2008 that I think the most boring festive period has got to be New Year. We go for crossover service, come home rest for a bit and go to morning New Year church service (If you have an ‘over sabi’ pastor that is). Then come back after the service and just generally lazy about the house. You may be lucky to have friends and family visit.”

“After that, the day is over. Till next year. So I thought of having a January 1st Concert. To provide a show where as many people as are in Lagos at the time can come and celebrate with others. Flowing with the theme of the January 1st, we started giving awards to the people who did something for the first time ever. I also thought that most people who made first class always need to do masters but have no funding. So we give out 1 million to a first class winner… It’s a whole new way to celebrate the New Year” Says Alibaba.
I am a diehard Arsenal fan, I know they often break my heart but somehow I still find myself staying loyal…hmn, talk about the influence of allegiance…Glad though I am not in this alone as Alibaba is also an Arsenal fan little wonder his choice of football as his favourite sport “I played football from primary till university on a competitive level. It’s something inborn I think. And besides the skills I am one of the rare kinds of footballers that can use both legs. Football is a team sport. It burns fat, makes you meet people and teaches that your selfishness can affect everyone badly. It is also a true working example of delegating duty. The keeper is delegated to keep. The defender knows why he is there…”

Though not a politician, I asked Alibaba what he would love to change in this dispensation of governance if he had the opportunity to and his response said it all “It will be to punish looters and make sure they know they can’t get away with it. Confiscate their properties and jail them for a very long time.”

Despite being an entire package of poetry, photography, writing, motivational speaking, real estate, events management, ideas development, advertising and copy writing, television, radio, movies and sports yet, Alibaba ends this discourse on a ‘ saying “being funny is serious business!”

 

Kemi Ajumobi

 

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