Tunde Adewale, otherwise known as Tee A, is one of Nigeria’s standup comedians that has earned his place in the top and has continued to stay relevant for years. Today, at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos State, the light-skinned and soft spoken entertainer marks the 20th anniversary of his show, Tyme out with Tee-A. He speaks with SEGUN ADEBAYO about the success of his brand.
You will be celebrating 20 years of the Tee A brand today, what makes this day special to you?
For me, it’s basically a day of thanksgiving and general appreciation of the people, clients, friends, family members and fans who have stood by me over the past 20 years. It is also a great validation of the Nigerian comedy industry that the industry has been able to stand the test of time. It is a special day, not only to me but also to the industry that I have represented over the years and the practitioners who have worked very hard to put the industry on the map.
Staging a show during this time when the economy is said to be in recession, how has the situation of the country affected the planning and spending ahead of today?
Well the truth is that this is more of a giving back from me to fans, clients and family as I mentioned earlier. So, this is not just a show; it is a celebration of a landmark achievement, hence I will be spending my personal funds to host my guests despite the current economic situation. I can’t complain now because when the economy was good, I also benefited from it.
Some people believe you are one of the luckiest comedians in the industry and the reason for this is not far to seek. You hardly put up shows like some of your colleagues, but you have been around for more than two decades what have you been getting right?
I wouldn’t say I’m lucky, I would rather say I’m blessed and I know my strength. I have also come to understand the fact that there is always a time for everything. Back then, when I was putting up shows for eight straight years, many had not even joined the comedy industry. I went into television comedy also before many people even thought of it. From that point, I decided to shift my focus to hosting corporate and private events. So, for me, it’s about forward thinking all the time and continually reinventing yourself, rather than doing the same thing year after year.
So you are saying that you are not lucky?
Again, I reiterate that I am not lucky but blessed by God, because even my critics will tell you that Tee A works hard.
Looking back on how your career in comedy started and what you have achieved so far, what would you say has been the greatest achievement of the Tee A brand?
For me, I would gladly say the fact that a couple of comedians can publicly say that I inspired them is good enough for me. That is something that makes me feel proud each time I look back at where I was coming from and how far I have come. The journey continues, anyway.
Does that mean you have fulfilled the dreams you set for yourself when you started?
To the glory of God, I have fulfilled almost all the dreams and I hope to fervently work towards the remaining ones.
You could not have got this far without the low and high moments in your life. If you are to look back at those days, which would you say has been the toughest moment for you?
One thing that I have learnt in life is to take on challenges as they come. I also understand from a very tender age to take life one step at a time. At this point, nothing really throws me off or keeps me down.
In an industry that is fast growing and expanding on a daily basis with comedians emerging on all sides, how would you say you have fared in the last few years?
It is indeed a great achievement for the industry that we are constantly generating new talents. For people like me who have been in the game for a bit, it’s a thing of joy seeing these guys take the industry to another level. As regards how I have fared, I think I’m even busier these days than when I was an up-and-coming comedian.
You have been quite silent. It was even reported that you had stopped doing comedy because people were not hearing much about you. What really have you been up to?
What I did basically was to stop doing concert appearances. I began producing Tyme Out with Tee A for an international audience and I kept on anchoring events. I found out while doing these that I was also making more money than I normally would have made when doing concerts.
The truth is that concerts are really only great for brand building purposes as we usually hardly get sponsorships. Most of the shows you see around don’t bring money back to the pockets of the organisers. Most of them run the shows at a loss. In my own case, I did concerts for nine years and I felt it was time to move on.
Will it be wrong to say that your comedy business has experienced some lull in the last few years as you have not been seen anchoring the big gigs like some of your colleagues?
On the contrary, I actually hosted some of the biggest gigs around. I even pass on events to some of my colleagues when I’m fully booked.
You probably have not been very outgoing?
Let me also add this, I am not the type that likes blowing my trumpet. When I am busy with my work, I don’t like distractions because some of the things you have not seen me do in the last few years are distractions. It is just like people concluding that you have not been working because they have not been seeing you gathering stories or reading your bylines in the paper. I don’t have to make noise about my work. It is my work for God’s sake, why should I be telling people that I am working? That’s the way I see it.
People don’t really regard you as a ‘serious’ comedian. Some would even say you perform better as an MC than a comedian. Where does your strength lie in all of these and would you say comedy alone could have taken you to this level?
Like I said, there’s a time for everything. I have gone through the phase of doing the so called “serious comedy”. I have gone through the phase of doing comedy for TV, now I’m in the phase of doing Comedy and MC tomorrow, I might decide to change and do radio comedy or even stage. My belief is that we shouldn’t be stagnant in life, being dynamic is a very strong attribute of the wise.
Some time ago, some people believe that you need to belong to a particular group or caucus if you want to keep getting jobs from the big clients. Would you agree that there is a clique in the comedy industry?
No. There is nothing of such.
But you are known to be very close to Ali Baba and that closeness is expected to get you jobs regularly as it is believed that no other comedian gets as much big jobs as him. How true is this?
It is still not true. Many of us are close to Ali, but we are all very competent enough to get jobs on our own merit.
Ali has done his bit, which was to open the way for the corporate world to embrace us. It is now left for each comedian to prove their worth before the clients. The big clients know what they are looking for, and once you have it, they call you.
Why has it become almost impossible for you and some of your colleagues to displace him as the number one comedian and do you truly see him as the number one?
I really don’t want to dwell on this matter because even the Bible says give unto Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what belongs to God. The gentleman has earned every accolade he receives, so why contest it? I believe that a section of the media just continually seeks to cause disaffection among comedians and it is really a shame because we are all one very close big family.
For somebody who has been around for a while, how have you managed to stay out of scandals?
It has never been by my power or by might. The level of acceptance and appreciation has definitely increased but enormous corporate and government support is still required for us to be able to compete favourably.