When comedy started gaining recognition in Nigeria in the 1980s, those on the scene then would rather prefer to lean more on the business side of Mastering a Ceremony (MC) than mainly cracking jokes.
The likes of Mohammed Danjuma of blessed memory, Ali Baba, Ibokoko, Barsorge, Agoma, Alarm Blow, and a few others were those who saw it all.
However, at the time when everyone thought it scornful to be addressed as a comedian but would prefer the MC tag, Ali Baba came up courageously and creatively in the late 80s/early 90s, and subsequently changed history by pioneering stand-up comedy.
He saw the immense business opportunities in the industry and took advantage of the market.
Today, the amount of money comedians charge per show surpasses the annual income of a regular banker.
Many of them are even getting richer and splurging on everything from plush estates, to dream cars while some are donating to charity as well.
The story of comedy in Nigeria will not be complete without the name, Ali Baba. Born, Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere, Ali Baba is described today as the godfather of Nigerian comedy. He indeed, started a revolution that inspired some big names in the industry.
He started comedy business in Ekpoma in 1987. In 1990, he came to Lagos and after being rejected by his father who preferred him to become a lawyer, he made his first million.
When he landed Ojota, he had only N15 with him, and in 1998, he erected three billboards in strategic locations in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Marina with the message-Ali Baba-Being Funny Is Serious Business.
That strategy turned comedy into an appealing and lucrative business. Today, Ali Baba is not only the King of Comedy, he is rated as the richest comedian in the continent of Africa. He worths billions of naira.
Ali Baba who performs for government and the nouveau rich is also a lover of luxurious automobiles. He has over 10 customised exotic cars aside owning choice properties in Abuja, Lagos, Delta and Port-Harcourt. His interests also span across investment in the banking sector, event management, fashion, hospitality, import and export business.
The fact that Julius Agwu is one of the most sought after comedians in Nigeria today did not come on a platter of gold. From all indications, the Choba born artiste is so many things rolled into one. He is an actor, a musician, a compere and an entrepreneur.
From a humble beginning in Choba, Port-Harcourt where he began his career, Agwu is one of the very few comedians who are living large in Nigeria.
Right from his village when he began hawking, he would as a matter of habit stop by at the market square to mimic a popular drug vendor known as Uncle JB thereby attracting passers by who would laugh off their worries and still stop to watch him mimic different characters wherever they come across him.
As a result of his daily hawking, he became a perpetual late comer to school and for his punishment, his teacher would tell him to entertain the class before taking his seats. Even at that tender age, Agwu was also a chorister in his local church and ranked amongst the best male vocalist.
Later in life, he originated what is known today as musicomedy. In 2000, his first album, Okombo which was inspired by Awilo Logomba and enjoyed nationwide and beyond, received lots of nominations. He went ahead to release another successful album, 'My Style' in 2003 and 'D' Genius' in 2010.
Today, the success story of Agwu fondly called the D Genius continues as he handles many A-list events in Nigeria and beyond. Agwu has taken comedy shows to different parts of the world like Atlanta, Maryland, London, among others. Foremost amongst his annual comedy shows are; Comedy Train, Crack Ya Ribs and Laff for Christ Sake.
A graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Port Harcourt, Agwu is the MD/CEO of Reellaif Limited, a music sand movie production company. He is also an entertainment consultant and motivational speaker. He is also a philanthropist and cruises in state of the art cars. He is happily married with two children.
For many, Bright Okpocha popularly known as Basketmouth is rated to be the second richest comedian in the country today after Alibaba. This assertion may likely be borne out of his numerous national and international endorsement deals which includes Globacom and Virgin Atlantic.
Some even ranked him as Nigeria's biggest comedy brand as he has been breaking into international mainstream comedy shows, earning thousands of dollars. For instance, four years ago, he was voted second Best Comedian in Africa by MNET's Studio 53 Extra. He has recently performed series of comedy shows in major cities in the United States of America, London, South Africa.
For the last five years, Okpocha has earned higher than any comedian in the country.
Impressively successful in his profession, the spontaneous and talented comic act who started out as a rap artiste also had a rough road to stardom. Many people contributed to the success of Okpocha when he was coming up.
In 2000, after a standing ovation performance, he had to beg an artiste, Six Foot Plus for transport fare to go home to his Railway Compound where he was staying.
Earlier, in 1988, he was to be paid N10,000 to perform at a sent forth event until Tony Tetuila put in a word for him and his fee was raised to N30,000.
He was in high spirit when he got home and gave his mother N25, 000 and went to then Tejuosho Yaba market with the remaining N5,000 to buy a shirt, pants and shoes for his first big show.
All that as it is often said are history as the Abia State born multimillionaire comedian rakes over N80m from his 'African Kings of Comedy', 'Lord of the Ribs' and 'Basketmouth Uncensored' shows.
The 'AY' Brand
Ayo Richard Makun, better known as AY, is another successful show host who is skilled in his art. The Delta State born stand-up comedian had been into showbiz for several years before his path crossed with that of his mentor, Ali Baba in 2005.
The Theatre Arts graduate of the Delta State University gained fame through impersonating Rev. Chris Okotie in his hilarious jokes. By 2006, AY was named the Best Up-Coming Comedian in Nigeria.
Before taking comedy as a career, AY once tried his hands in dry cleaning, bar tending, scavenging, and barbing.
The comedian who has also featured in several home videos is well known for his live shows as well as his television programme, The AY Show. The TV show won the Best TV Comedy Show in 2008, while he was awarded a UN Peace Ambassador in 2009 after winning six different awards in 2008.
The multitalented comedian rakes in millions of naira from organising shows within and outside the country.
He also has endorsement deals from multinationals worth several millions of naira. From 2007 to 2012, AY was reported to have earned over N230 million from different shows and endorsements. In 2007, he held Lagos spellbound when the second edition of AY Live, Lagos Invasion drew a record crowd forcing him to do two shows instead of one, as planned.
He added a luxury Range Rover Sport, worth N18 million, to his fleets of cars some months ago. Like his mentor, Ali Baba, AY has huge investment in real estate, event management, Fashion outlets, and hospitality.
Recently, the multiple award-winning stand-up comedians in collaboration with Sun International, operators of the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino teamed up to put up the AY Comedy Club dubbed as, The AY's Open Mic Comedy Club. The show is a monthly comedy and variety show that entertains a distinct audience of high class.
Also, through his monthly AY's Open Mic Challenge that holds every third Sunday at The National Theatre, Lagos, AY has become the 'father' of many up-coming and established acts. The show has discovered the likes of Seyi Law, Elenu, Emeka Smith, MC Shakara and a host of others.
I GO DIE
When Comedian I go Die first came into the comedy scene,his long neck and hungry look made people laugh at him whilst he told his jokes. In fact, he looked like a joker trying to earn a living and was nicknamed 'tolotolo'neck.
Today, the joke is on those who laughed at him.He is rolling in big bucks. Few years ago, he splashed a whooping N21 million on two luxury automobiles to add to his posh wonders-on-wheels. He was on a two months Europe tour few years ago, performing in France, Holland, Germany, Spain and Belgium.
The Delta State-born humour merchant acquired N14 million worth White-Diamond Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 2012 Model (Platinum Edition) and a reported N7 million worth Range Rover Evogue. Sources close to the comedian said, he owns real estate investments, including a property in Delta and Lagos.
Last year, he acquired a N30 million white and ash with red interior Rolls Royce Phantom,a wonder on wheels fit kings!
Aside from this, I Go Die has investments totalling into millions of naira, something he never dreamed of as a child who grew up lacking the basic things in life.
The rib-cracker who has been enjoying the best of time with his comedy in and out of the country, no doubt, is one of the best acts in the industry.
Gbenga Adeyinka D 1st
Gbenga Adeyinka D 1st, is a top act in the Nigerian comedy industry. He runs a television show and publishes a comedy magazine, called Laffmattaz.
The multi-talented comedian, who has bagged over 40 awards and recognitions, earns million of naira from his partnership with the Nigerian Breweries, maker of Star Larger.
From the Star TV game show, to Star Trek, Star Mega Jamz, and now Star Fortune Promo, the 'Comedian of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR)' has earned about N200 million for the seven years business relation with the Nigerian Breweries. He owns several exotic cars and two houses each in Lagos and Ogun States