Some years back, I was lucky to be at a literary conference at the University of Lagos where the late Funsho Alabi performed. For those who know Funsho Alabi, you will understand how much he loved to do things his own way, regardless of whose horse is gored. He was regarded as an idiosyncratic being. Simply put, he was always in a world of his own. Yet, he spoke sense and his arguments were logical.
That day, in his usual style, Funso soliloquised about laughter; he told us about the laughter of the African man. “In those days, he’d began, a typical African man would laugh loudly with tears streaming down his face. He never laughs with a side of his mouth as civilisation has taught us to do. He was liberal with his laughter that he opened his mouth wide to express his feelings about a situation. He never pretends at all.”
That was the way Alabi made us think about what modernisation has done not only to our culture but also feelings and attitude towards things. Although, one would have thought Alabi did that with a genuine intention, at least, to let us truly see how badly, civilisation has affected the laughter of the African man. But his comment, afterall, was to get a weary audience appreciate his performance. What a stylish way for a true creative writer and performer to arrest the attention of his audience, you’d agree with me? This audience/performer relationship remains the very key between an actor and the audience.
This brings to mind an experience I had at a comedy show held at the Oceanview restaurant, Victoria Island some years ago. The show was staged with the sole aim of entertaining guests, but it turned out to be more of a competitive platform for the different ‘generation’ of comedians to showcase what they’ve got. Interestingly, each comedian that appeared on stage tried to outdo the other, such that Basketmouth who was the compere found it rather difficult to have a strong hold on the audience.
Teju Babyface was unequally not at his best that night as most of his jokes were drab. The audience could barely sustain a session of laughter. His problem started when he did not get the desired applause from the audience. He had to re-introduce himself before the audience finally applauded him. However, this did not help much at all. He could not help it but ask “what’s wrong with the audience to night? Usually by this time, the whole place would have gone mad with laughter.” The same reaction trailed AY’s performance. His was not in anyway better at all. If you ask me, Princess’ performance was worse. She has never thrilled me at any show. Don’t get me wrong, please. She was very good with her segment on Tee A’s show on TV, I will not dispute that, but her jokes on this night, were just not there. Honestly, she was damn too dry and just unable to strike the chord of laughter in her audience.
And would someone please excuse Seyi Law. He was simply different from the lot, maybe because he was a fresh blood then. Men, I’ll blow it into the winds or him. This chap was sizzling hot and most of the jokes he reeled out simply scored the points – they were quite original (not pirated)! He was able to make the audience laugh like the true African man. Although a mixed audience, the whites could not help but share in the deep throated laughter, such that allows tears stream down their faces. The climax of the night unarguably, was the joke of a Corper who was posted to a primary school in a little village for his primary assignment. As someone who stammers, the Corper had difficulty pronouncing some words. While in class one day, he wrote the word “crocodile” on the chalk board and asked the pupils to pronounce after him.
“Say after me, he said, Cro—cooooo—ooooo- coooo-ooo- di-le.”
The students intoned the same way, but the Corper was angry, thinking he was being laughed at. In annoyance, he wrote “Hippopotamus” on the chalk board and again asked the students to pronounce after him. “Hi—pp—oooooooo—po-oooo-ta— before he could finish, the whole class burst into laughter.
Shortly after his performance, Basketmouth who was aware of the magnitude of Seyi Law’s performance jokingly said: “if one is not careful, this new generation of comedians will drive one commot for market o.”
No doubt, the emergence of the likes of Seyi Law seems to be giving both the first and second generation of comedians the goose pimples and a run for their trade these days. And did someone whisper into my ears that the likes of … may have afterall reached the twilight of their career? Or what do you think? Especially now that it’s got to the stage where they now woefully fail to still make their audience laugh like the true African man.