Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, professionally known as Ali Baba, is the undisputed king of stand-up comedy in Nigeria. His exploits as a master of ceremonies for over two decades in events organised by corporate and private bodies within and outside Nigeria have earned him a pre-eminent position in the nation’s entertainment industry. Ali Baba, who was recently appointed the Vice-chairman of the Committee for Creative Industry Palliatives by the Federal Government of Nigeria in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, spoke with Festus Akanbi on his family, changing lifestyles of comedians, and the devastating impacts of the social distancing protocol on the global entertainment industry, Excerpts
A foremost comedian calling the shots in a family with a top banker as wife could be an interesting case study. How do you cope?
Just as expected. She is a leader in her field. I am a leader in mine. We both earn top dollar for our work. She is in a structured environment and I am in an informal sector. I have more time that is mine than she does. But we have over the years fine-tuned that, especially the fact that she works all weekdays and I work on weekends most times. But the upbringing, education, understanding and maturity help a lot.
How badly has the Covid-19 and the attendant social distancing protocols affected entertainment industry?
Entertainment is a contact industry. Over 90% of players in our industry survive off events. The closure of event centres and platforms for performances have consequently eliminated that source of livelihood for many. Those who do not require physical contact to earn a living had salaries slashed. Many more got fired, because the traffic that usually gets converted to cash, that then funds salaries was not as usual. Movie makers, dancers, actors, comedians, make-up artists, fitness instructors, cake makers, night club owners, restaurants and bars, cinemas, and fashion designers… all were hit alike.
Tell us more about your roles as the deputy chairman of the committee for Creative Industry Palliatives
Yes. I was appointed as the Vice Chairman by the Minister, to work with Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, to implement the recommendations of the Creative Industry’s fact finding COVID committee. We submitted the report of our findings. It’s that report that is now the bedrock of the implementation stage. The fact-finding opened our eyes to how the whole sector was affected from top to bottom. It was a mind-blowing revelation.
What are your expectations from the Implementation of the Committee report?
The chairman and all members of the implementation committee are cross checking every recommendation by the fact-finding committee to make sure the whole industry benefits from the plans of the government.
What will you consider as the greatest challenges in Nigeria’s entertainment industry?
Structure, policies and enabling laws
Will you say that comedians have learnt any lessons from the lockdown?
Yes. And that applies to not just comedians. It’s across the whole industry space. Where players in the industry need to be financially responsible and plan better with whatever resources they come into. The frivolous spending common in the sector leads to penury.
Comedians are applying themselves to more platforms to express their talents and leverage on their popularity on all new media spaces and embracing new opportunities.
Are comedians idle now?
Comedians are still working. Even more. Now you can be an Mcee at a virtual wedding taking place in Canada. Content is king and the comedians are proving that nothing could hold them back.
Few comedians including you have been diversifying into acting. Is that an indication that acting is more lucrative than stand-up comedy?
It’s creative fluidity. If your skills can be applied in any space, you have no reason not to take advantage of the opportunity. Acting in movies, as in deed on stage, is about interpretation of roles. It may not necessarily be a comic role. So, if any producer sees value addition in the inclusion of a comedian in a movie, then so be it.
Have you ever been bothered about weird lifestyles of some entertainers who are ordinarily supposed to be culture ambassadors?
Only a very tiny number are renegade in that area. True the entertainer is a gold fish in a glass bowl, nonetheless, he has artistic liberty to choose what to wear. Culture by the way, is dynamic. And usually, Culture is the crystallization of ideas and behaviours. The tying of wrappers in the south was borrowed from the Eastern countries of Asia. That said, over 90 per cent of the movies promote our culture.
Are you okay with the provisions of the Social Media Bill in its current form?
Yes, I have. Some aspects will need rethinking and then be retweaked. However, its original intent is ok with me. As long as, several clauses help to check the abuse of the enforcement process