Written by: Chuks Nwanne
When it comes to the business of comedy, at least in Nigeria, Atoyota Alleluya Akpobome otherwise known as Ali Baba is a ‘grandfather’. Aside his longevity in the industry, Ali remains a father figure to most comedians in the country, including established ones, who at one time or the other lived under his roof and ate from mummy Mary’s pot. If you are in doubt, then talk to someone like Ayo Makun (AY), and you will marvel at the number of comedians that have passed through Ali’s tutelage.
Time was in this land when nobody would dare introduce himself as a comedian publicly. Those who did anything close to it preferred to be called Masters-of-Ceremony (MC). In those days, it was more prestigious to go by the appellation of an MC than to be associated with a bunch of people, then, described as ‘never do well.’ But since the industry witnessed the arrival of Ali Baba, the rhythm changed. Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be a comedian; it has become such a lucrative venture, with top players smiling to the bank. Thanks to Ali Baba, who paved the way and nurtured fresh talents.
A 1990 graduate of Religious Studies/Philosophy from the then Bendel State University (now Ambrose Ali University) Ekpoma, Ali dared the odds of negative public perception to make it big in comedy. That way, he dusted the quite impressive record of his precursors such as the late John Chukwu (JC), Tony St. Iyke and much later, Jude Away Away. Those were good, great men but they did not take Comedy to the level –– (forking out big dough from the purse of big corporate spenders and the State houses) — Ali Baba did.
From the year 1993 when he officially hit the scene, he has stepped ever higher. In fact, right from the beginning, he was set out to play in the big league; a deliberate move that took him years to nurture and package.
By 1998, Ali registered his company, Ali Baba Hiccupurathird; that was the year he erected three billboards in strategic locations in Lagos — Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island; Osborne Road, Ikoyi; and the Marina. He actually paid N150, 000 for each billboard per year, for two years. The billboards carried a simple message, ‘Ali Baba — Being Funny is Serious Business.’ Somehow, that move signaled the transformation in the comedy business in the country.
Today, it is generally agreed that it’s Ali that gave comedy the beautiful face it wears in Nigeria. He became the first comedian to be well paid in the country. You now see him driving around town in Monster Truck with a personalized plate number ‘Ali Baba 1.’ The other car, Dodge Ram, acquired as showbiz apparatus, is registered as ‘Ali Baba 2.’
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