Uche Ogbuagu is a household name in the comedy section of the Nigerian entertainment industry. He is one of the few that started comedy when it was seen as a trade for dropouts. EMMA-ENYINNAYA APPOLOS met in him in his little heaven-on-earth-home in Akabo near Owerri and he spoke about his life as a comedian. Excerpts:
Lets have an insight to your family background?
I was born in the early 70s into the family of the late Alexander Ogbuagu. I came from a Christian and very humble family, and I am married to Nkiru Uche Ogbuagu. I am a father of four kids, expecting the fifth one. I am one of the illustrious sons of Ikeduru.
How did you get into the clowning world?
There was never any special event that marked my adventure into comedy, rather, comedy in a way, has been part of me since my childhood days. I discovered then that what I did or said even despite the fact that I stammer, still entertained people even when I had nothing on my mind. Sometimes, when I erred, my way of explaining my way out usually bailed me out because my accusers would laugh so much that they would be left with no other choice than to set me free. That was basically how it all started. When I was in Primary Four, we had a gathering of students where the general supervisor in the Ministry of Education was present, I made an input from where I was seated, and the supervisor invited me up to repeat what I said. I did that and that made my first time of standing before a crowd to make a speech. Since then, I became used to facing a public no matter how large.
This extended to my secondary school days where I headed the dramatic society of the school and begun organising shows from one school to another. I was also part of some TV drama programmes. I also started a one-man-talk-show which I discovered that had people’s interest so much. I built on this with time and that today, brought me into limelight and made Uche Ogbuagu a household name. I am now an icon in what I am doing with several international and national merit awards and honours. Through the one-man talk-show, I visited about 18 countries.
The Bad Condition series was what really gave you publicity. What inspired you and what exactly did you plan to achieve with that series?
Personally, I usually try as much as possible to give life to what people have considered dead. The inspiration of the Bad Condition series is the reason why my annual talk-show is called Aba Made. In those days, nobody believed that something good will come from Aba, if you understand what I am saying. You know that things produced in Aba and even the producers are treated with some kind of disdain by people from other parts of the country. Aba was likened to Nazareth in the Bible where it was asked if anything good will come out of it. Even when Aba people make the best of anything you can think of, they will look at it and say it is Aba Made, in other words, an inferior product. People almost classified those of us who are from Aba, the way they do to Aba products. But the irony was that everybody keep coming for one thing or the other from this same place. It was this that prompted Aba Made as my annual talk-show with the aim of changing the mindsets of people about Aba. It was in the same line that I also chose Bad Condition as my first talk-show series to influence the belief of people about what they will ordinarily consider as a right-off. I must tell you that the quality of the Bad Condition series have challenged me beyond what I think of it.
What are the challenges of this one-man talk-show business?
One of my major challenges has been lack of sure recognition. I have not been recognised as I should. As a matter of fact, when I started doing comedy talk-show about 18 years ago, I was about the only person handling it in the manner with which I was doing it, which included education, information and entertainment of the people as my priority. It took me time to bring about what everybody is trying to do today. I was here and there, looking for sponsors, talking to people to see reasons why they should invest in it, but no one was interested, and you know there is really no need to blame anyone because comedy then, was a right-off. No parents would want to see their children going into it, hence it was difficult for me when I started it. And it became more difficult because I was the only one. But I am happy that today, what I fought for and introduced is what many Nigerians have taken as a profession now. Our society has also come to agree with me that entertainment in the area of comedy is not for drop-outs, and never-do-wells, but a business for learned, hardworking and creative minds. So, when I look at where comedy was 18 years ago and where it is now, I feel so good that I cleared the way which others are treading proudly now. The only pain I have is that I have not been recognised the way I should in Nigeria. Not just only Uche Ogbuagu, there are others who sacrificed a lot to make the comedy and other areas of the entertainment sector to stand, they also should be recognised. When icons or legends are not recognised, it discourages the upcoming ones. So lack of recognition and funds have been the major challenges I have. Such issues drag my ideas back, sometimes slowing some beautiful ideas down.
Is that just the only challenge you have?
No, another challenge is the infiltration and proliferation by the never-do-wells, who have refused to learn and to improve, in the comedy business. Because comedy business has boomed, and Uche Ogbuagu and others who started the business are household names, they travel around the world and they are also doing well, everybody wants to be a comedian. I am not against it, but I think that everything should have a procedure. While none is objecting their coming into the fold, they are enjoined to subject themselves to thorough training of what the business is all about, to save them from any form of public disgrace which their own greed could have subjected them to. Some of them come in and copy everything about Uche Ogbuagu - my jokes, laughter, my voice, my style, and just everything . That is bad. And I think that the Ministry of Information and Communication should look into plagiarism, to save the comedy business. The tragedy here is that the never-do-well copy cats, will never ask themselves what they hope to achieve by being in this business. Some of them do not know that they are supposed to be educative, informative as well as entertaining. I like to provoke the action woman who is the Minister for Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili, to look into this problem and get it solved. I want to suggest that every comic work, including mine, must be censored before it goes into the market. This means that a censorship board should be set up so as to ensure the quality as well as other important things before such types are released into the market. Comedians should be thinking of how to assist in the fight against moral decadences in our society and not just cracking baseless jokes.
Talking about lack of recognition, is this what has been preventing you from the national scene and if so, why?
Nobody can push himself to the national level and nobody gets to anywhere without invitation. You must be invited. We all need each other to climb to the top. Somehow, you need the support and assistance of people in what you do, to do it better. I will not want to say that it is unfortunate that I am from an Igbo clan, because my contemporaries and colleagues from the Yoruba clan are doing wonderfully well even when most of them are not as good as some of us here. I don’t know if my problem is that I am an Igbo man, because I know other people from Igbo clan, who have made reasonable attempt to get into the national limelight, but they were shut out along the line, but these guys are doing well. May be, our people down here have not realised that what we are doing in the comedy section of the entertainment industry is capable of turning our economy here around for the better. If Igbo based multinational companies and our people in various offices of power, should realise this and invest properly in it, there will be more jobs, and the rate of crime here will reduce because, I tell you, there are bundle of untapped talents in Igbo. Remember the Nigerian home video era started from around here, so also comedy and today, people who learnt from us are shining with it by creating jobs for their people. It is also very sad that some of our people like governors, senators, House of Representatives members and those in positions of power, when they have something to do at the national level, they will never remember that we are here doing it even better, but they prefer paying others to do it for them. That is how unpatriotic our people can be. That is not encouraging at all. Having said that, I believe that if God has been so kind, and He has taken me to where I am now, He will definitely take me to where next He wants me to be, it does not matter whether I am prominent at the national level or not. God can do it without letting any other person take the glory. But I am looking forward to the day somebody will say Uche, I want to sponsor your comedy show on international television like the AIT, or somebody will say, Uche, I want to sponsor your show in Abuja or Lagos; Enugu; Port Harcourt; Warri; Calabar or elsewhere.
How would you rate your popularity in the comedy section?
I am the governor of comedy in the South-East and if I have been able to achieve this far here, I believe God, will take me to the President or Senate President level in comedy in Nigeria (laughs). In the core Igbo states, I am in charge here and I thank God for that.
Is anyone seriously eyeing your position among comedians in the South-East region?
I will not mention names, but they know themselves and people around here know that they are many miles away behind Uche Ogbuagu in the comedy show. Nonetheless, I will not reign for ever; I have also seen many others good enough to take over from me when the time for me to take the back seat comes. One thing I have noticed is that some of them who think they can just come in and compete with me do not have the intellectual ability that would be able to carry them. Comedy is not a business of all comers, you must be educated if you want to get it right in the business. It is the intellectually competent ones that will determine how far one can go in the business. Some of these ignorant ones do not study their environment to know the kind of joke that should be cracked. My advice to those who come around me is that they should get education first. No matter how good a natural gift may be, there is the need for education to harness it for better use. The situation now is that the illiterate ones among them don’t bother about this, they just run to the studio every now and then, delve into fettishness which will not get them anywhere.
What is Uche Ogbuagu’s rate for events?
I will not say that here, but I want to tell you that I am very much on the low side compared to my contemporaries. Uche is moderately affordable. Whosoever that wishes to have me in any event, will know that my priority is to make sure that my clients are happy and satisfied. Money is, no doubt, important but to me, very secondary.
You are always criticising governments in your jokes, don’t you think this could be the reason why you don’t get patronage from them?
I told you that I am a social critic and not only a comedian. I don’t just criticise governments, and I don’t criticise good governments, I criticise governments that are not doing well. If I don’t criticise governments that are not doing well, who will? I don’t care whether it affects my patronage or not, all I know is that I have a duty to perform for my people and that goes beyond patronage. It is a pity that some of us are only interested in what comes to their pocket and not what they contribute to the society. So, Uche Ogbuagu is a personality with different faces. He is a comedian, a social critic and he is also in the area of mass media service. So, if a government comes to me and say do this jingle for me, I will do that as Uche Ogbuagu the media practitioner, if the same government comes and say Uche I have an event I want you to anchor as an entertainer, I will oblige it as a comedian, then if I sit back and assess the government and discover this same government is not performing as expected, I will get very annoyed because I will feel being used by the governor to climb to the top. My reason for criticising them is not to run them down, but I encourage them, through my criticisms to do well and that is one of the reasons we have been clamouring for democracy, to have freedom of speech.
Was there anytime you ran out of the country due to the fear of being arrested by the governments you criticised?
Yes that was about four years ago when I released Ochichi Gbakwa Oku, (Governance should catch fire) I had to leave Nigeria for Holland. I spent some time there because the powers-that-be from my state and outside the state then was not happy with that edition and most of his people were very close to me and I got hints that the governor might be up to something. I even got calls and SMS threatening me, asking that I should withdraw the CDs and tapes of Ochichi Gbakwa Oku from the market, or pay with my life. That was when the third term saga was on. So I decided that the best thing to do then was to leave the country, because it was not possible to withdraw CDs and tapes that were already in the market/ And even if it was possible, the content of the CDs and tapes was not libelous. Rather, it was exposing what was going on in the society and at that time, I was doing my work as a critic. So, I made some little money with the support of my friends. I was able to leave the country for Holland. While I was in Holland, I had some shows because I couldn’t have gone into the hotel room to sleep; I had to put my creativity in action. It was there that I did the Three Idiot in Holland. I had to invite my friends, Mr. Ibu and Uncle Sam Loco over to Holland to feature in the video.
How do you cope with your fans, especially the female ones? How do you handle them?
I handle them well, I handle the female fans the way I do to the male. If I notice that some of them want to be too close, I device a means of handling the situation to ensure that nobody is offended. One thing I let my female fans know is that I am a married man with children. It has been very challenging trying to please my fans and at the same time pleasing my wife. But I thank God that I am married to a woman like my wife; she understands my kind of job, and as a matter of fact we courted for a good number of years and she was able to align herself with the kind of business I do. Today, we are happily married. When our babies hadn’t come, she used to go to events with me, when our babies started arriving, she had to stay at home, and wherever I am, she knows I am still the husband she trusts and I trust her too. As a matter of fact, I need my fans both male and female because I don’t know who will bring business.
How would you describe the comedy business and its market in Nigeria?
It’s bad I must tell you and that is one of the reasons I have decided not to come out as frequently as people expect. The industry is not flourishing as expected and the reason is because of the proliferation and the plagiarisms from the never-do-wells I talked about. The marketers too are not helping matters, once they don’t see you and anybody who comes with a thing in the name of comedy, they take the person to be an alternative to you.
What are we expecting next from you?
First of all a film is coming up soon, that I will take for a tour in Europe to get some shots of the film. I will visit Canada, United States of America and then United Kingdom for the shots that will make up the film. Then by the middle of the year, an audio I am working on which I called Another Chat Buster, will be in the market. It is an enhanced version of Ochichi Gbakwa Oku. As a matter of fact so many things have gone wrong since after the Ochichi Gbakwa Oku. The one coming is undiluted and I know that a good number of people will not be happy to hear it.
What is your regret in the business?
When people who were under my care turn around to look at me as their arch enemies, I feel a lot of regrets and it discourages me from helping people and from bringing them close to me.
What is your message to your fans?
Let me thank them immensely for believing in me and for their support and patronage. Let me also assure them that the best is yet to come, the challenges have thrown up new tactics in the business but there is more to enjoy. I also want to tell my fans that they should be expecting me once in a year, and the one will be one indeed. I want to take my time in cooking a meal that is best for the public.
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