Laughter makes the world go round. We need it, we use it to diffuse a tense situation and we love people who make us laugh. Growing up in Nigeria, I watched many Nollywood films with several actors that became prominent through their comedic acting. Babtunde “Baba Suwe” Omidina, for example was one of the best at this role. He would paint his face extra black and act goofy on the screen. I laughed out loud and looked forward to many of his scenes in upcoming films. As he matured in his career, he continued to be funny on screen, but ultimately started providing more in-depth characters that reflected his range of acting. I haven’t seen a film with him as a character in a long time and it was unfortunate to hear him wrongfully arrested for trafficking drugs a few years back.
Since those early days as a young boy the comedy scene has grown significantly not just through film but also stand-up comedy. I read a recent article that valued the industry at approximately $50 Billion USD at the top of the year. Honestly, I did not expect such a significant figure for a comedic industry that has yet to expand beyond the African borders. Clearly, the advent of the internet age has affected this industry, hence making their talent more ubiquitous. The article would go on to list a few names of some the comedians that have made their wealth from this form of entertainment and also how much these individuals are worth approximately.
I am familiar with Basketmouth, as such I have highlighted his comedic earnings, however the focus is not to reflect his wealth but to show his cultural influence through the value his fans have placed on him. He is said to be worth about 2 billion Naira ($7 million), with an annual income in excess of 192 million Naira ($672 thousand) and endorsement deal over 120 million Naira annually ($420 thousand). Through his international shows, he is bringing in an estimated 100 million Naira ($350 thousand). He is also associated with many companies including Amstel Malta and Globacom Ltd. Clearly, he is not lacking in wealth if these numbers are accurate. Basketmouth and his contemporaries who include the likes of Alibaba, Julius Agwu and AY have done well financially, however I believe they are the perfect individuals to use their platforms to address Nigerian issues.
In order to write this post, I had to watch some of the performances by the aforementioned comedians out of Nigeria. My last sentence in the previous paragraph was not to discredit their efforts to address some of these issues. Comedians have always spoken about everyday life; in America the most prominent speakers to me are Chris Rock and Louis CK. These two comedians are primarily stand-up comics but others such as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and recently Trevor Noah have made a living providing political commentary while infusing the show with comedy. Ultimately, they speak their own truth and it resonates with the masses.
The next phase for many of these comedians should be transitioning to television and using their lighthearted nature to diffuse important topics to the masses. Nigeria should have its own version of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. I have yet to see any programming that uses the talents of the industry to deliver a programming that provides the “medicine through the candy”. There are still some social issues that have yet to be addressed in Nigeria and with the prominence many of these men are gaining, they can attract fans from across the world but also deliver a message without being too self-righteous. This is the problem that many artists run into when they try to speak on the problems of society. It comes across as self-serving, not funny and ultimately leaves the listener disinterested.
While there is a need to address issues concerning Nigeria, the type of show these comedians can host need not just focus on Nigerian society alone. There are stories from across Africa and the diaspora that would be great to address from the perspective of these very talented comedians. I would not be surprised if these types of shows exist but have yet to reach the mainstream, however what I do know is that the more prominent of these comedians are not leveraging their audiences, yet to create a program that can catapult them further into the mainstream consciousness.