‘My mission now is to create local content for global consumption’
In the last 30 years, Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, popularly known as Ali Baba has built standup comedy from the scratch to become a big showbiz in the country patronized by the high and the mighty in the society. The frontline comedian who is setting up a media empire targeted at creating local content and live transmission for viewers across the globe, especially for young people, will also be hosting his first standup show come August in Indigo, London.
“Over the years, since I discovered the talent of comedy, I have worked to see that a lot more is done with it and my growth in the last 30 years has been in six phases. The first phase was the discovery of talent, and that was in Ekpoma in 1988, between that time and 1993 it was how to convince family of my belief that comedy was what I wanted and then adapting it to my environment. Then, gradually I discovered that since I had found a talent I was going to promote it and that was the second phase between 1993 to 1995, so all of this happened in five years.”
Alibaba said that the promotion of his talent spanned newspapers, television stations, nightclubs, universities and polytechnics performances, and then a few corporate bodies who at that time wanted his services. “After so much promotion, by 1998 I built some momentum and onward commercialisation took place. I made my first one million naira having promoted a certain brand and what that did for me was it gave me the strength to continue because I realised that there was a lot more to this profession.
“So between 1998 and 2003, I started commercialising comedy and that was the third phase, it went through cooperate, it also included my getting an office at Eleganza house at that time, registering the business – Alibaba Hicuppuray, building proper communication channels, branding and networking.”
In the fourth phase between 2003 and 2008, he diversified and had television programmes, columns in newspapers, became a motivational speaker, worked towards having an event place and built ‘Excuse Moi’ event center, organised two concerts within that time and worked in a movie too with Basorge Tariah Jnr. He did stage plays too at a time and since money wasn’t coming forth he devoted more time to comedy.
Between 2008 and 2013, it was time to consolidate the career, meaning he had to build others, institutions, invest in career, create structures and also work towards having a media empire. “Within that time, I started organising Alibaba January 1st concert in 2015, which became my sixth phase. Here, it was a matter of building legendary projects, including ‘Spontaneity’, which was to help revive and renovate comedians.
“There was need to reposition myself as a frontline comedian and within that time, we did the six-hour performance, which had to come because overtime a lot of people had not seen me perform, I was doing a lot more private events and special events for the Dangotes, Otedolas that were not published or promoted, this however doesn’t give people the impression that you are working since it is not reported, but then it pays much more.”
Alibaba further narrated that when he started standup comedy, there were no precedence, only people who were MCs and dabbled into comedy, like Sonnie Irabor, Patrick Doyle, Don Chukwu, Femi Jarretts and Tunji Shotimirin. These were people who were practising the trade but were not fully into comedy. “But when I came into the scene, between 1988 and 1993, I devoted my time fully to standup comedy and what happened is that those who were dabbling into it and were not sure of making it full time saw what I was doing like Mohammed Danjuma (of blessed memory), Alanblow, Saint Jack, Basorge Tariah Jnr. and Charles Novia also joined.”
The comedian stressed that when a lot of people saw that it didn’t look as lucrative, they melted into some other stuff, but then he continued with the struggle knowing he wanted to make it a commercial success. So, a lot of people borrowed from that, because he stood and stuck with it and continued to promote it, earned a good living and made it something that was enviable. “The footpaths that I created is now what a lot of people traced to create a career and that justifies why a lot of people call me the king of standup comedy.”
Having found favour in the sight of the high and the mighty in the society, he said that former president Olusegun Obasanjo appreciated humour, but he was not the person who founded me. “It was Bode George and Col. Tunde Shonuade who had used some of my services in the Navy. Gen. Tunde Ogbeha (rted) was the military administrator of Delta State at the time and he had seen me do some things in Ekpoma and so when he was recalled to Abuja, he would still call me to do things for them and gradually the military boys knew me.
“So when a new government came, a lot of the military boys who were empowered and knew me, recommended my services to Gen. Obasanjo who had come back from the prisons at the time in 1999 and was celebrating his birthday. From then, any event that anyone had, since they knew he liked me, they invited me; he also got used to me would insist I come along to states where he was invited.
“So, it wasn’t just that he promoted me but the fact that he liked standup comedians, helped to give it a boost and that promoted the art across the country. A lot of state governors who attended presidential dinners started using standup comedians and for Obasanjo to have a thick skin to take in the things I said about him showed others that he couldn’t be of any harm.”
The comedian who has also excelled as a motivational speaker said voracious reading is the pathway to success in the art. “Like my dad said, if you can read a book about a place, you don’t need to go to the place to be knowledgeable about it. A lot of us got to know about the London Bridge before we saw it and I realised it is how to learn. After learning, there was need to share, but the sharing didn’t come immediately, I had to first build and enrich myself to a point where there is enough to overflow. If you noticed, I didn’t do any motivational speaking till my fourth phase when I started diversifying and understanding where the riches in the entertainment sector lies and when I had a lot of knowledge to share, I started speaking.”
On his achieving his dream of building a media empire, he said that it is born out of the desire to create local contents, “there is hardly a television programme locally produced that caters for children like ‘Tales by Moonlight’, so what feeds the eyes of children are the Disney Junior, Nickelodeon, and so our children will grow up with those values. Even the storyline series by Jimi Solanke are all no more and one begins to ask where we got it all wrong, but then we are a people who like finished products, that is why we cannot harness our gas, so we flare ours; we have rubber but we rather import tyres, we have crude oil, but we can’t refine it.
“We have content; why should Lion King and Black Panter be told to us from oversees and so there is a gap between creativity, funding it and producing it as content and giving to the market. So, we want to create local contents that foreigners can franchise around the world.”
On what life lessons he had learnt over three decades of being a comedian, Alibaba said, “In 30 years, the comedy journey has taught me that whatever you do that brings you success is something that should encourage other people to be successful which is one line that I live by – if your success does not make others successful, you have failed. So in 30 years, after working and building a career path for myself, there was need to develop other people, so I should continuously open doors for people who need it.”
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