The Business of Show Business: How Ace Comedian Ali Baba Became a Millionaire through Comedy

Since the late 1980s when he embraced the comedy business with passion, Akporobome has literally changed the face of the industry in Nigeria. Indeed, he pioneered and took the comedy business to a new and unprecedented height. He not only made joke-making fashionable and profitable but set the pace for a new generation of humourists in the country that have come behind him.

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He is a stand-up comedian extraordinary. His admirers know him as Ali Baba, the humour merchant. But his real name is Alleluya Atunyota Akporobome.

Since the late 1980s when he embraced the comedy business with passion, Akporobome has literally changed the face of the industry in Nigeria. Indeed, he pioneered and took the comedy business to a new and unprecedented height. He not only made joke-making fashionable and profitable but set the pace for a new generation of humourists in the country that have come behind him.

However, as a child, Akporobome did not set out to become a comedian. As a student at the Command Secondary School, Ipaja, Lagos, he had great admiration for the naval uniform. His plan at that time was to proceed to the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, after his post primary education to facilitate his chances of joining the navy. But his father, Alfred Akpophiowhobo Akporobome, who was a military officer, felt that the navy would not be good enough for his son. He wanted him to pursue a professional career that would accord him respect, fame, happiness and wealth. He insisted that the young man should read law in the university.

Although Akporobome was willing to read law as his father wanted, he did not succeed in gaining admission for the course at the Bendel State University, Ekpoma, now Ambrose Alli University. This was because he scored 115 points in the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB, examination, while the cut-off point was 121. He ended up reading religious studies/philosophy in the same university.

It was while pursuing his first degree in the university that his talent as a comedian manifested. As a young man who was gifted in the art of cracking jokes and making people happy, he became very popular in school. He was invited to virtually all the major social events on campus to act as a compere and stand-up comedian. Akporobome told Newswatch that he was making money from it so much so that he started nursing the ambition of becoming a thoroughbred professional comedian. He said: “From the time I dabbled into comedy when I was in the university, it brought me fame, respect, happiness and provided for me in school. After several payments from corporate bodies who were coming to school to stage events, I knew I was going to make more money in this chosen field than if I had read law. It gave me an insight into the future.”

When he graduated from the university in 1989, he decided to become a professional comedian. To sharpen his skills for the challenges of the profession, he decided to stay in Lagos instead of going to Abuja for the National Youth Service Corps Scheme, NYSC. This, he said, was because he wanted to pursue a brand of comedy that was radically different and more prestigious than what obtained before he joined the business.

During this period, he did stand-up comedy with accomplished broadcasters like Steve Ikemefuna and Mustapha Amego. He also learnt a lot from Bisi Olatilo, Manny Onumonu, and Sunny Irabor who was then with Radio Nigeria and presented a programme called Night Train. He was equally attracted to television as he appeared on Youth Rendezvous programme of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA Channel 10.

He eventually went for the NYSC in 1990 and came back to Lagos to join Dapo Adelegan of the Lekki Sun Splash as Personal Assistant. After working with him for a few months, Akporobome realised that the money he was making from comedy was much bigger than what he was earning as monthly salary. He resigned and concentrated efforts on taking the comedy business to an enviable height. It was during this period that he appeared on Charly Boy Show, a television comedy programme.

He devised a unique style of cracking jokes and placed so much emphasis on originality. “I am not into long jokes. My own style of cracking jokes is to mention the names of key players in the event, do jokes around them so that the audience will see that the humour blends with the event,” he said. For instance, if he is performing at an event organised by engineers, he will crack jokes that relate to their profession.

He also uses his jokes to attack social ills and make those in authority to sit up. Akporobome believes that corporate entertainment requires corporate entertainers, and this is why he always packages himself well and creates new jokes that would arouse spontaneous reactions from his audience.

The young humour merchant told Newswatch that his upbringing in Warri, Delta State, his stay in the barracks with his father, and his ability to read voraciously helped him greatly to excel as a comedian. According to him, as a “Warri Boy,” he has the gift of the tongue and pidgin English which is the common language in Warri gives him the leverage to say something harsh in a funny way. In fact, he is reputed to have introduced the “Warri angle” into the comedy business by cracking jokes about the funny lifestyle of the people using pidgin English.

On the other hand, his growing up in the barracks enabled him to study the mannerism of the people from the various ethnic groups in the country. According to him, the barracks was a mini-Nigeria. This gave him the advantage of language power because he speaks Yoruba and Urhobo languages fluently and speaks a smattering of Hausa and Igbo.

Reading books and newspapers also helped him to crack jokes that appeal to the elites. “Whenever I am talking about any issue, whether it is a joke or I am trying to come across as somebody who is funny, you would be sure there is some sense in what I am saying because they are based on facts. They also have specified character patterns,” he said. He explained that one newspaper columnist whose articles have helped to elevate his creative instinct as a comedian is Reuben Abati, chairman, editorial board of The Guardian. Besides, he sometimes got his ideas from the cartoons by Jossy Ajiboye of Daily Times and Omoba of The Punch.

Akporobome has through the dint of hardwork and creativity become one of the most sought after stand-up comedians in Nigeria. He has been putting his mouth where the money is by serving as compere and comedian at major events in Nigeria and abroad. Some of the major events where he played a dual role include the National Merit Award, the inauguration of President Obasanjo’s government in 1999, the celebration of the anniversary of Lagos State and the birthday ceremony of Gabriel Igbinedion, Esama of Benin.

He has equally been invited outside the country on several occasions to entertain people with his rib-cracking jokes. Among the countries he had gone to perform are India, Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. He, however, does not travel outside the country often because he insists on being paid according to internationally accepted standards. Akporobome, said that his reason for insisting that comedians should be well paid is to make them more relevant in the society and ensure the profession is profitable.

His vision is to raise comedy in Nigeria to the standard comparable to what obtains in the United States. He noted that Bill Cosby, the well- known American comedian is so wealthy that he has a private aircraft with which he flies from one place to the other entertaining people. “I want to see this industry grow to a point where a Nigerian comedian can walk into somebody’s office and say for this wedding reception I want N1.5 million and he will be paid,” Akporobome told Newswatch.

He is, however, happy that comedy business in the country is growing by the day.

On how he came about Ali Baba, his stage name, he said it was carved from Alleluya which is his real name. According to him, his parents gave him the name Alleluya because he was born as their first son after several girls. Then, while in the university, his friends started calling him Alley and later changed it to Ali Baba. “I did not create the name. It is the creation of my fans,” he said.

Born 40 years ago, Akporobome is an indigene of Agbarha-Otor, Ughelli North local government area of Delta State. He is married with four children. He is very personable and sociable. His hobbies are playing football and scrabble, watching movies, reading and dancing.

His inspirational models are Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory, both top-rated American comedians. He loves Pryor for his spontaneous jokes and Gregory for being witty in the presentation of jokes on political issues.

Due to his immense contributions towards taking the comedy business in Nigeria to a greater height he is respected by the new generation of comedians who see him as their role model. In recognition of his clout in the industry, his colleagues recently honoured him with the distinguished title of Grand Comedian of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, G.C.F.R.

 

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