Why I haven’t touched my hair since I left UI 12 years ago —LaffUp
Segun Ogundipe, better known as LaffUp, is a Nigerian comedian. The Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Ibadan started his career in Ibadan and has taken his trade out of Nigeria, even outside of Africa where he has a lot of fans. Speaking with TUNDE AYANDA, the comedian who has gone back to his first love, acting, bares his mind on the entertainment business, his early challenges and more. Excerpts:
FROM comedy to acting, what is the motivation?
Yes, from comedy to acting. Comedy is broad. Comedy is big, but if you bring it down to stand-up comedy, this is what I do, then acting. I think comedy is, still, acting, especially stand-up comedy. Acting is just that you keep exploring every other possibility of the human nature when it comes to performing live on stage. Don’t forget that it is actually from acting to comedy for me because I did Theatre Arts. I have done a lot of acting.
I have featured in many of Professor Wole Soyinka’s plays and several other productions. I was at the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to represent Nigeria. I performed in Accra, Ghana, to represent the University of Ibadan. I have headlined a lot of plays. I was part of the team that started theatre every Sunday at Tiamiyu Savage. So, for me, it is from acting to comedy and then acting again. Maybe the difference is that it is more of TV now because I have done a few projects as an actor but now I am going on screen as a producer and actor.
What are you working on at the moment?
Presently, we are working on a sitcom. It is a series called Omo Baba Landlord. I created and promoted it and I was its co-writer. There were about four other guys who worked with me. It is just a simple story that I created in Ibadan. We produced everything in Ibadan. Audition opened in Ibadan just to encourage and give other actors opportunity. Hopefully, it is going to hit the TV. We are still in talks with our distributors to see how we can get the highest bidder for it. A lot of big names in the comedy industry, people I adored, people I love to work with, people that aspired to work with me, the likes of Afiz Oyetoro, Ebun Olaiya, Taiwo Ibikunle, Adeniyi Johnson, Woli Agba, Dele and a couple of other wonderful, talented actors, including Mode, a very talented and fresh actor, took part in it. In the next season, we are going to be introducing a few other people.
At the initial stage, why didn’t you pursue a career in acting? Why the choice of stand-up comedy?
As a matter of fact, I pursued a career in acting. When I left school, my first place of work was Wole Ogunjimi, that is, the house of theatre business in Nigeria and Africa. They performed at the Shakespeare theatre and the great Oluku Festival. At that point in time, I did rehearsals. They invited me to do a performance somewhere, in different parts of the country and it is not easy. They can’t keep the space for you for too long, you have to be available to rehearse. But in stand-up comedy, you create your script. It is something you like to do naturally. You know the kind of audience you want to see. You just need to be creative with your script, perform, get paid and come back for another performance. Stand-up comedy became easier for me.
So, that was why I didn’t pursue acting in the beginning. I went for a lot of auditions in my early days because I left the University of Ibadan as one of the best actors in my time.
The other best actors in my class were my pals, the likes of Gabriel Afolayan, Sunkanmi Omobolanle. We were friends. We were roommates. We did everything together. Gabriel got a big hit with Madam Dearest when we were in 200 Level. It was a big one for him and he went on to do Super Story. I was enjoying stand-up comedy at that point. Theatre was what kept a lot of us together because we were not allowed to do anything outside the department as students. So, we were looking for a way around this. If Gabriel left, I couldn’t leave because the three of us were actors. Sunkanmi was actually more of a director, so, if he left, I needed to be around to play the lead role. I was always at the NUJ House at Iyaganku to perform. DJ Semite was always there and that was where I met Chief Lekan Alabi who actually gave me the contract to create a drama on his retirement day after he saw what I did with Suliyat Adedeji’s documentary which I produced at that time.
So, you go to auditions, they don’t pick you. They like you but they would not pick you. I went for an audition, I almost got to the screen audition but they didn’t call me. I went to another audition at Mabinuori Street in Gbagada, Lagos, for TINSEL, they later called me but when they did, I was already in camp for my national youth service. I couldn’t leave the camp. I wasn’t called as part of the main crew but as a sub.
Later on, they called me for an extra role. When I got there, the producer would give me a role just to keep me around. He kept saying they needed me. Honestly, I pursued acting but it wasn’t as forthcoming as it should be. With comedy, before I engaged in youth service, I was already working for KPMG, for MTN, for Costain West Africa, going to big events. It was at one of the shows that I met Ali Baba in 2008 when Costain West Africa turned 60.
I was already doing the big jobs when acting came and it almost caused me not to be available for people. And in this business, if you are not available, you know the damage. So, I had to shelve my acting. I just told myself that instead of going for the auditions and getting frustrated, the best thing for me was to work, build my career, build myself, my family and when I had enough money to produce, I was going to come and produce. Now, I am on production, taking the lead in my production.
Your show in Ibadan, LaffUp Live, is more than 10 years old, in spite of the fact that the city is not considered to be too entertainment-friendly. What is the drive and how have you been coping?
I owe Ibadan a lot. I wouldn’t say Ibadan owes me because the city has done so much for me. Ibadan has really blessed and touched me and given me the insight to create things. When I started, a lot of my friends were, like, ‘you are going to Ibadan?!’ I started producing my comedy in 2003 at the University of Ibadan. At first, there was a show called Laffupmania with the likes of Solomon Uduoaye and Saka. That was how I met Afeez Oyetoro and his partner, Lepacious Bose. They used to do jokes together on Night of a Thousand Laughs. These are the people that started Laffupmania.
As regards how important Ibadan is to me, I met people and supported people. There were times that I would not do my assignments and I would attempt to lie to my lecturer. I remember Dr Kunmi Olasope. On one occasion, I was going to say I was sick and the woman said, ‘That was a very nice show last night. I laughed and enjoyed myself. You are very funny. Oh, your assignment? Don’t worry, just bring it.’ She just collected it and marked it for me.
She could have punished me for that but she was a really nice woman. She was always supportive. She ran an NGO and I got a lot of favours. I also met my wife in the city. So, what I owe Ibadan is to make sure that good people also grow through me. Fifteen years in the profession, you are one of the top rated Nigeria comedians, an MC headlining top events and shows. Looking back, are you fulfilled?
First and foremost, all glory to God. Looking back 15 years, in Nigeria’s comedy industry, in the top five, I may not be there, but if you zone it, maybe, to 10, I am arguably there. We all cannot be in Lagos. We need to create something unique. Am I happy? Yes, I am very happy. Am I fulfilled? Based on the dream I had back then, yes, I am fulfilled. I feel extremely fulfilled. I have fresh dream now that I need to fulfill.
I am happy primarily because when I came to Ibadan, when we did shows, they said people don’t pay to see shows. A lot of people advised us to do the shows free so that people could come. I said that I went to school to have a degree like a lawyer and a lawyer is supposed to use his certificate to make a living.
In the beginning, you can do free, which is what I did for the whole of 2003 up to around 2007/2008. At that point, I said that I could do the show for free and people would come and enjoy, but I wanted to create a market. I wanted to create an industry. I wanted to put Ibadan on the map. I wanted Ibadan to be discussed when it comes to comedy. When they say Warri boys and Lagos boys, I wanted Ibadan to be next. And by the special grace of God, I started the show. The first show, a few people came. The second show, a few people still came. But right now, the show is always sold out.
I paid the price. A lot of people supported me. Right now, a lot of comedians want to come to Ibadan to do shows and that is because comedy now sells. Somebody has tried it. Somebody has paved the way, by God’s grace with the support of a few friends and a few media people that wrote about what we are doing, the likes of Yinka Agboola and DJ Semite, who is a major player. He was the first person that paid me in Ibadan.
At the beginning of your career, who were the people you looked up to?
My greatest influence was my mum. She laughed at anything I said even something I knew was not funny. She was a good audience for me. She just wanted me to feel good. A joke I heard on radio, E file, ina lo nlo, I told my mum every day and she laughed every time. She was a great influence for me. Some of the early inspirations I had as MC were Ali Baba and Alarm Blow on Charley Boy Show, Danjuma and, of course, Gbenga Adeboye was fantastic.
Adeboye’s songs make plenty of my Yoruba materials; Laisi Abesupinle, Segun Dressing, Lagata, Oloun, etc. I listen to Ali Baba, very intelligent guy who happened to be my mentor. I just like the way they do things. You learn from their jokes. You see people who have gone so far to build quality, and not your regular kind of comedy, that informs how I work, my inspiration. I went to read about people from Czech Republic. I want to read about Russia. I want to talk about Russians. I want to talk about India. I want to be able to give a stroke for all the folks and that informs why most of my clients are corporate people from Indian and American companies. They are people that informed me. Growing up and seeing them, I just wanted to make people laugh.
Why do you keep dreadlocks?
Since 2007 when I left UI, I haven’t touched my hair. My final project was an Indian project. It was a play written by a Nobel laureate, Girish Karnad, Hayavadana. It was an Indian play. We practised a lot. I played a major role with one of my friends. He is a banker in America. He is into ICT now. I had to curl my hair to make it look a little bit Indian. I had a stubborn hair, so after a few days, it didn’t look curly again.
I just said, let me leave this hair. I was also so minded in advertising and PR that I did plenty of government PR. I wanted to be a creative writer and that was why I was hoping to get a proper job and make more money because there were a few people in the profession that made money at that time.
I had to keep my hair for the project and I said, you know what, let me just lock this hair. People were saying that they won’t give me job, that I won’t be getting corporate jobs and I said let’s try it. I will not cut my hair because I believe it is about performance. It is about delivery. The first job, KPMG, came when my hair was too short. There was one Moji Ogunsuyi. She was very supportive. She always made sure that the management used me for their events. They took me to cute places. I just knew the fact that if they were looking for my identity, it was the mic, my dreadlocks and my frame. This hair is my tool. One time, I said I was going to cut it but my wife asked me to leave it. She said she liked it.