24 February 2013

Nigeria: Stand-Up Comedians Under Pressure

The rise of new media jokes is threatening the popularity of traditional stand-up comedians. Although new media jokes have some features that are similar to those of stand-up comedians, they are more accessible than the latter. New media jokes are in abundance on blogs, websites, Twitter handles, Facebook pages as well as BlackBerry messengers.

They usually have faceless authors who only make the jokes for the singular aim of entertainment. New media jokes in Nigeria often allude to current developments and help douse matters of serious national concerns. They can be reckless, vulgar and unprotected by copyright law. They have been copied at large by the traditional stand-up comedians who sometimes recycle the jokes before paid audience. Even non-professional comedians are feeding fat on new media jokes for followership and personal selling.

Realising the need to keep entertaining the fans, many stand-up comedians have found their way to Twitter to sustain the tempo of jokes. Unlike musicians and actors, who may simply post the link to their songs and videos on their pages, a stand-up comedian has to tweet a joke or retweet jokes from his colleagues in the comedy industry or tweet any funny, witty or interesting lines from known or unknown personalities. One challenge that the stand-up comedian has to deal with is keeping up with the volume of jokes that flood the social media.

For instance, the "Akpos jokes" have become a brand. It is a series that centres on the life of a clever boy, Akpos who is presumably a teenager. Although Akpos is a stock character and is often predictable, his responses hold the punch lines on which the peak of each joke rests. For instance, if a teacher tells Akpos: "A person who writes is a writer, what do you call a person who prays?" Akpos will likely say, "A person who prays is a prayer". Akpos is a one-way thinker who often seeks the easiest way to solve problems. Still, there are some "fake" Akpos jokes that have failed to elicit laughter as jokes typically do. That may be due to the fact that some people are trying to use the Akpos brand to sell their dry jokes at no cost just to get attention. Other jokes with unknown authors on Twitter come under a hashtag to accommodate witty lines from twit family. Hashtag jokes are also in series but have heterogeneous authors and are often short but very imaginative. An example is #thatawkwardmoment when that guy who lent you some money finds you at the ATM. Hashtag jokes give room for creativity and are turning more Nigerians into comedians.

Thus, it has become very difficult for some stand-up comedians to actually "crack ribs" or "generate thousands of laughter". Some stand-up comedians try to justify their inability to make people laugh by saying that if some people do not laugh at their jokes, it is not because their jokes are not funny but because the listeners have personal problems that outweigh the strength of their jokes.

But the truth is that some comedians fail to identify the climax of a joke and peg the joke there. The only selling point left for a stand-up comedian, now that almost every Nigerian is a comedian is his or her persona on stage. For instance, Helen Paul's jokes are ordinary but she does the extra-ordinary with her voice and "silly laughter". Gordon's jokes are slices of life but become jokes through his modulation. I Go Die's joke is on him. All he needs to make people laugh is his appearance on stage.

It, therefore, rests on the stand-up comedians to sharpen their skills by avoiding repetition of jokes and giving credit to the authors of rehashed jokes however difficult it is to impose copyright law on defaulters, if applicable.

Still, comedians who are on Twitter should know that there are certain expectations their followers have. Asides parading the tickets for shows and their managers' contacts for bookings, followers on Twitter expect some witty lines once in a while from stand-up comedians the same way they expect news updates from media houses on Twitter. Comedians do not have to be the creators of the jokes on their profile but they can lead or initiate witty lines from their followers.

There is no room at all for laziness in the art of comedy. The business of comedy is serious, fluid, dynamic and fast-paced. It takes only the talented comedians to keep up. Imagine where an unknown author tweets under the handle of Ibadan facts every minute with lines such as, "Ibadan people request for remote control at the cinemas", "Only in Ibadan will you see an Albino with tribal marks", "Breaking News: KFC closes all branches in Ibadan. Report says people just come in, take pictures and leave"', "A typical Ibadan man sprays all his money at a party and treks home" and more. These jokes are clear indications that professional stand-up comedians have to raise the bar.

Comedians are springing up on the social media virtually every day. This may have been one of the reasons why many of the stand-up comedians like Teju Babyface and AY have diversified into television series. In order not to lose the art to faceless jesters, stand-up comedians have to rise up to the billing.

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