This week CNN’s ‘African Voices’ meets one of Nigeria’s leading stand-up comedians, Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere – also known as Alibaba.Born in 1965 in the delta state of Nigeria, during his formative years, Alibaba was a bright student. He tells ‘African Voices’: “My dad thought because you are this good you either become a lawyer or a broadcaster. But he was more concerned with me being a lawyer…so I went to university and read religious studies and philosophy…in year two, I discovered stand-up comedy. I discovered that I could make people laugh.”
This was not a deliberate path, however. “It happened by accident. I started as a heckler. So I’d sit in the show, as the event is going on, I just kept heckling whoever was on stage. I could even heckle people in the audience. That’s how I found myself becoming a comedian. And gradually it became clear that I needed to do better than just telling jokes”, Alibaba tells the programme.
The budding comedian continued studying at the Bendel State University, where he started performing stand-up at his campus. His fame soon grew beyond the school environment, at the University of Benin, University of Lagos, University of Port Harcourt, before which other shows were organized by corporate bodies all around Nigeria.
After graduating with a bachelors’ degree, Alibaba was able to use his education as a foundation for his comedy, with one source of inspiration coming from an unexpected place.
He tells ‘African Voices’: “…my first encounter was Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. And that just scratched the surface. Because when I finally got wind, when I held onto a book, and it was Twelfth Night, I was sold out. Romeo and Juliet followed, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream…I knew that there was a better way of expressing yourself with the same language that we call English than the ones that were just spoken. So I had to learn how to use the words differently and better. That just made my performances different. It made people see that the way this guy is performing, he has something. So that when I am telling a joke I lay it out properly, I set up the punch line, in a way that will set you thinking.”
Alibaba’s introduction to Shakespeare led him to use other books as inspiration for his comedy. In the show, he leads CNN to a bookstall in the middle of a bustling Lagos street. There, he explains how his choice of literature, poetry, Reader’s Digest and TIME magazine provides him with ideas for political jokes.
Later in the programme, Alibaba introduces viewers to his home library, which he calls ‘the jokes factory’. His collection of Reader’s Digest magazines has led him to understanding human psyche, with snippets of jokes in every edition.
Alibaba’s love of books has even seen him write his own. He tells ‘African Voices’: “After creating so many jokes… there was a need to put some of them in writing. And so I did some of my original jokes, and put them in a book form.”
After university, Alibaba’s popularity as a stand-up comic grew quickly, as he headlined more and more comedy shows.
“I had to use all my energy to get people to recognize and appreciate the fact that stand-up comedy was something that needed to be recognized and appreciated”
His house has a space he calls “the jokes factory” because it’s filled with materials such as Reader’s Digest magazines and Shakespeare – all to inspire his stand-up routines.
His status has given him many opportunities, and he is now considered one of the top comedians in Nigeria. When he’s not busy telling jokes, sport is his other passion.
Alibaba reveals to the programme: “I have two clubs that I play for, All Stars Football Club and the Galacticos, which is a new club that was just formed out of an old club. And it’s for upwardly mobile executives, business executives, who want to play with like minds.”
It’s been more than twenty years since Alibaba entered the Nigerian comedy business, but he’s still optimistic about its future: “A lot of people see stand-up comedy now and say we have achieved greatness, but we’re still working up to it. We have not. We are growing, and we will get there.”
African Voices’ featuring Alibaba airs Friday, 6 March at 0930, with repeat airing at the following times;
Saturday 7 March at 1630
Sunday 8 March at 0430, 1230 and 1930
Monday 9 March at 0330, 1130 and 1830
Tuesday 10 March at 0630
Wednesday 11 March at 1030