AYO MAKUN; THE SHOW BUSINESS OF AY

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He’s got the swag. He’s got the skills. He’s got the story. He’s a stunner. Yet, from a humble beginning, Ayo Makun, aka AY, grew to become one of the leading figures in showbiz. Vanessa Obioha writes

about the different togas that define who he is today

Ayo Makun likes smiling to the bank and he is unapologetic about it. Every decision made, naira invested is driven by that sole desire to repeat that happy trip to the bank.
After all, the essence of people getting involved in a business is to have a sort of fulfilment and that includes financial fulfilment, he thinks, sporting a red jersey and black shorts against the backdrop of his tastefully decorated living room.

The winning formula for AY as he is fondly called is to keep moving.
“The new normal is not the normal we want to accustom ourselves with. It’s been pretty difficult but we thank God for grace. We have to keep moving. We can’t be stagnant,” he acknowledges.
He adds, “If I have something to show, let the business part reflect it by me smiling to the bank.” AY’s knack for showbiz can be traced to his university days where he gained prominence by organising shows on campus. His growing personality at Delta State University where he studied Theatre Arts led to a chance encounter with Atunyota Akpobome popularly known as Ali Baba. He was lucky to hone his skills under the tutelage of the veteran comedian. To date, he attributes his business acumen to Ali Baba.

By 2006, fame knocked on his door when he was featured in Opa Williams’ ‘Nite of a Thousand Laughs’. The subsequent years saw him organising and hosting his live show AY Live — a platform that parades both upcoming and established humour merchants. He also took his craft to the sound and sight medium with his comedy show ‘AY Show’, as well as ‘AY’s Crib’, a comedy sitcom that he stars alongside Alexx Ekubo, Buchi Franklin among other acts.

His enduring relevance in the entertainment industry is a testament to his hard work and a keen eye for business. He’s carefully scripted his career in such a way that his brand equity keeps opening doors of opportunities for him.
Today, he wears different togas: comedian, showbiz entrepreneur, filmmaker, and actor.
In comedy, AY belongs to the realm of comedians who have built an empire from comedy. Think of Yibo Koko, Ali Baba, Okey Bakassi, and Gbenga Adeyinka. These humour merchants are notable icons in the industry who have excelled in their profession and delved into other sectors where they equally displayed dexterity.

Ayo Makun likes smiling to the bank and he is unapologetic about it. Every decision made, naira invested is driven by that sole desire to repeat that happy trip to the bank.
After all, the essence of people getting involved in a business is to have a sort of fulfilment and that includes financial fulfilment, he thinks, sporting a red jersey and black shorts against the backdrop of his tastefully decorated living room.

The winning formula for AY as he is fondly called is to keep moving.
“The new normal is not the normal we want to accustom ourselves with. It’s been pretty difficult but we thank God for grace. We have to keep moving. We can’t be stagnant,” he acknowledges.
He adds, “If I have something to show, let the business part reflect it by me smiling to the bank.”
AY’s knack for showbiz can be traced to his university days where he gained prominence by organising shows on campus. His growing personality at Delta State University where he studied Theatre Arts led to a chance encounter with Atunyota Akpobome popularly known as Ali Baba. He was lucky to hone his skills under the tutelage of the veteran comedian. To date, he attributes his business acumen to Ali Baba.

By 2006, fame knocked on his door when he was featured in Opa Williams’ ‘Nite of a Thousand Laughs’. The subsequent years saw him organising and hosting his live show AY Live — a platform that parades both upcoming and established humour merchants. He also took his craft to the sound and sight medium with his comedy show ‘AY Show’, as well as ‘AY’s Crib’, a comedy sitcom that he stars alongside Alexx Ekubo, Buchi Franklin among other acts.

His enduring relevance in the entertainment industry is a testament to his hard work and a keen eye for business. He’s carefully scripted his career in such a way that his brand equity keeps opening doors of opportunities for him.
Today, he wears different togas: comedian, showbiz entrepreneur, filmmaker, and actor.
In comedy, AY belongs to the realm of comedians who have built an empire from comedy. Think of Yibo Koko, Ali Baba, Okey Bakassi, and Gbenga Adeyinka. These humour merchants are notable icons in the industry who have excelled in their profession and delved into other sectors where they equally displayed dexterity.

“A lot of people believe that stand-up comedy is a business designed for dropouts, vagabonds, or people who don’t have anything else to do than to tell jokes. But it’s beyond that. Proper research on the comedy industry today shows that people who are made and are still making it big in the industry are those with a seasoned level of awareness, education, knowing what to do and what not to do. When you look at comedians who handle corporate events, you will notice that they have to understand the audience they are dealing with because that’s what they are paid for.
“Not all kinds of jokes will work in such a setting. It goes beyond telling jokes. Comedy is a serious business. The fact that comedians tell jokes doesn’t mean they look like the jokes they tell. They have a serious mindset,” he explains.

AY hopes to impart this knowledge on the contestants who will participate in his new comedy reality show, Next Naija Comedy Star. Ten contestants would be selected from a pool of online applicants. They will be kept in a mansion where they will be given tasks. Each week will see a contestant voted out of the game.
In the movie world, he is an accomplished filmmaker. His first film ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ was a roaring success, earning the status as the highest-grossing film in Nigeria cinema in 2015 despite the mixed reviews it got. Since that breakout film, his subsequent films are boxed into the comedy genre.
It is a business strategy for him.

“The concept of cinema in Nigeria, for now, is a jolly place. A place where couples, lovers can visit and have exciting moments. The kind of passion that they can go home with and relish. Now if I take you to the cinema and make you sad or sober, then I haven’t fulfilled my part as an investor. The cinema in Nigeria is a place where people want to laugh and be happy.

“That’s why comedies sell in cinemas. But people don’t know this. They say we don’t tell our stories. Of course, we need to tell our stories but find a way to make it funny, balanced that will showcase our culture and lifestyle. But if we really, really, want to tell our stories, then a Mo Abudu will be waiting for AY to do it first and I will be waiting for Ramsey Nouah to do it first. If it works, then it will be the winning formula.
“We have to invest our money on trends that can yield returns. So if someone says all AY movies are blockbusters, yes they are because I researched them. I have to be sure that it will be a success.”

The Ondo State indigene is not immune to the criticisms that have greeted his films but he is agitated by comments that posit Nollywood and Hollywood are cut from the same cloth.
“It’s wrong to compare Nollywood to Hollywood. You cannot give what you don’t have. It beats my imagination when people compare Nollywood films to Hollywood flicks knowing fully well that a Hollywood film can take the entire budget of Lagos state, so comparing it to an individual effort is unfair,” he points out.

“I always fight against people who don’t have that sense of belonging,” he adds. “I still salute the courage of Nollywood to date. We will keep striving but sadly the people here don’t believe in us. You can imagine a bank supporting the premiere of a Hollywood film but won’t support local films. So how are we going to grow?
“The Americans supported their product and showcased it to the world to accept it and become what it is today. But we are raising them by supporting what they are doing. We relegate our films and elevate theirs.”
To be sure, AY clarifies that he loves criticisms when it comes from an intellectual mind. A major obstacle in the movie industry according to him is location. Getting the right structure to depict the fictional setting, he says, is very challenging. The infrastructural deficiency in Nollywood makes it difficult for filmmakers to meet the raised standards of Hollywood.

“Someone responded to a tweet I made regarding this issue that what is worth doing is worth doing well but when we are not in a position to achieving that, we will have to make do with the little we have until people are willing to invest in the industry and elevate our standards.”
Due to the pandemic, he’s putting some productions on hold while featuring in other movies. However, he hinted that he will make a movie around COVID-19. The movie he said will be an equipoise of soberness and joviality.
“It will give us hope,” he adds.

For now, he is concentrating on his online live shows which still attract an impressive number of viewers.
“The interesting thing is that 80% of our viewers are from Nigerians in the diaspora. This tells me that the brand is appreciated beyond the shores of Nigeria. I have been doing shows outside the country but the online audience confirms that the brand is international. Many of them are not Nigerians. We have audience members from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa. Some are Nigerians in China and the US. So it gives me fun. It brings added value to the AY brand.”

Whenever the 49-year-old looks back at his journey, all he sees is grace.
“It’s been very rewarding,” he acknowledges.
Notwithstanding, there was a time he wished people could understand him more, but his wife reminded him that not everyone would like him. Since that realisation dawned on him, he found a way to enjoy the little gifts of life, and that includes smiling to the bank as often as possible.