I used to get paid with prayers — Buchi
A comedian and actor, Onyebuchi Ojieh, aka Buchi, tells BLESSING ENENAITE about the comedy industry
You have been in the industry for a while. What are the factors that brought you this far?
When I got into the industry, there was no one doing what I was doing; and that was a big boost for me. Back then, I used to do a lot of ‘freestyling’. The first big events where I showcased myself were those of two other comedians— Tee A and Julius Agwu. At those shows, I was just ‘freestyling’ from one seat to another, and making jokes out of anything that came to my head. It was spontaneous. Those performances got me noticed by some people in the industry, including Opa Williams of Night of a Thousand Laughs. For the next edition of the Night of a Thousand Laughs, I did not audition before I was selected to perform.
The right people took note of my works, because I was doing something different from what they had heard before. The fact that I came out with something new and spontaneous brought me this far.
Also, in my early years in the industry, my friend and colleague, Basketmouth, met me at one of the shows of Night of a Thousand Laughs, and he was wowed. He walked up to me and commended me. He said he had not seen anything like that before and wanted us to work together.
What were the challenges you faced in the early days of your career?
When people like us started comedy, there was no ‘industry’. We were basically filling in the gaps for events, and there wasn’t much in it, although it was fun. It was challenging too. Also, there was no social media then. I started comedy in the 90s. I usually travelled by night bus, because I was performing in different states. The first time I travelled by air to do comedy was in the early 2000s.
You are close to Basketmouth and Bovi. Have the relationships always been smooth, and how do you settle differences among yourselves?
In whatever relationship one is involved in, there will always be issues and disputes. My friendship with Basketmouth started around 1998/1999, and we started working together in the early 2000s. Thereafter, Bovi came along. He was still an actor when we met during the Night of a Thousand Laughs tour. He (Bovi) came into the industry with his own materials, and it was good.
To answer your question, we always resolve our differences over drinks.
You are one of the actors in the TV series, My Flatmates. Which do you find more challenging between acting and comedy?
I play the role of Barrister Obus in My Flatmates, and it has been quite easy for me because I studied Law at the Ambrose Alli University, Edo State. Before acting, I was doing comedy stage plays. Flatmates was not my first attempt at acting. Before then, I had featured in some series.
Nevertheless, I did not know that acting on My Flatmates would be very demanding. It requires time, because we shoot practically every day, unlike comedy, which does not take much of my time. As an actor in the series, I work for a whole month to get paid; but in comedy, I get paid for performances of five or 10 minutes.
Some persons have complained about comedians crossing certain lines when cracking jokes. Do you believe there should be a rule as to the kind of jokes comedians tell?
Comedians should be able to read the crowd they find themselves in. Putting a rule as to the kind of jokes a comedian can tell would be restrictive. Comedy with restrictions will not work.
My kind of comedy is open-minded, but my upbringing is different. I am not one to dwell on offensive or vulgar jokes, because I grew up in the church, and I am still a church boy. When I pick on people (while cracking jokes), I draw a line at some point. Telling jokes is a human right, protected by the freedom of speech. Restricting comedians will amount to stifling their creativity.
Do comedians have an association?
Comedians do not have an association, because we are free thinkers. We tried some time ago (to create an association) but it did not work. It is just like skit making now. Some skit makers are in different parts of the country, and have never come to Lagos. It is hard reaching out to such people to form an association. There is no body that governs the affairs of comedians. All the bodies that govern arts and creative people have only few people that are really committed to them. I believe things will always be that way, because we are from different backgrounds.
It has been said that some comedians are not on good terms. Have you ever been involved in any ‘beef’?
Friends and colleagues in different industries have issues with themselves. It is everywhere. I have never had to ‘beef’ anyone. I have had issues with some people, but that is normal. I have also had reasons to sit with up-and-coming comedians who look up to me as a mentor, because I heard they had issues.
I used to host a comedy event in Yaba, Lagos, several years ago. Anytime the up-and-coming acts had issues, I always reached out to them. But, it is not the kind of ‘beef’ that would make them go all out against one another.
You stated that it was difficult for you to find your feet in the industry when you relocated to Lagos, having established yourself in the east and Abuja. How do you think entertainment can be vibrant in all parts of the country?
It was difficult for me, because I started as a comedian wearing a costume. When I came to Lagos, I had to start all over again from scratch. Some people even asked me to audition like an up-and-coming act, but I said I had spent too much time in the industry to be attending auditions.
Entertainment has been taken to places as far as Maiduguri, Borno State, where we do comedy concerts. I think we have been able to cross the language barrier. That is why I am known in different parts of the country. Some people call me ‘Buchi’, while some refer to me as ‘Obus’. I am grateful for where I am today. Lagos is the hub of entertainment but it is not the only place where entertainment pays. There are some comedians who have never been to Lagos, and are doing well.
What are your biggest achievements as a comedian and actor?
How does one rate achievements? Is it in terms of money in the bank, cars, houses, awards or degrees? I have all those things that I just mentioned. Where I am now and what I have are due to me being a comedian and actor. However, not everything in my life can be tied to comedy.
What are the factors one needs to succeed as a comedian?
To succeed as a comedian, one has to be very funny. When I first got into the industry, it was not just about being funny; one also had to be fresh and original. But, the industry is saturated now. I see a lot of comedians performing old jokes, some of which are as old as 10 years.
I always advise comedians to be fresh if they want to succeed. They must create their own materials. People must identify comedians with their unique jokes.
Have you ever told jokes that did not resonate with your audience?
I have had ‘dry’ days. The funny thing is that the times when I struggled on stage were not comedy shows. They were during corporate events, where I had to entertain corporate titans. Before a comedian can make such people laugh, it is usually a struggle. Then, after several attempts, they start to accept the comedian. I have had my ups and downs. The corporate gigs pay more, but they don’t always laugh more.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt as a comedian?
I have learnt to be humble and true to myself. I do not allow being funny to change who I am on the inside.
Are you grooming any comedians who desire to be like you?
I have been grooming comedians for over 12 years with my comedy club. I still host a comedy club alongside Basketmouth. We always give comedians the chance to showcase their talents and grow. Comedy is not just making people laugh. It is a profession which rakes in a lot of money. While grooming the younger ones, I always tell them it is not going to be easy.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Never! I am always excited whenever I am on stage, making people laugh. It has always been that way; right from when I was using my money to travel by night bus to perform in churches, and then they would pray for me. That was when it was free, and I have never stopped since then.
What are your most memorable moments as a comedian?
I have a lot of them. One of them was the first time I travelled to the United States of America. Many things brought me to where I am now, because I love to travel a lot. Comedy has helped me to travel far and wide. Those moments have been great, because I have met with governors and presidents.
What are your other areas of interest?
I studied Law and I still have the certificate. I will see how that helps me.