Abovi Ugboma, the gifted rib cracker whose friends and fans fondly call Bovi, has carved a distinct space for himself and also his kind of comedy – and there’s no debating that. Born on September 25, 1979, in Benin City, Edo State, his primary education was at the UNIBEN Staff School and his post-primary – Government College, Ughelli, Edokpolor Grammar School, Benin and finally, Boys Model Secondary School, in Onicha-Olona, the hometown of late Reggae legend, Ras Kimono.
Done with primary and post-primary education, the father of three, who is happily married to the love of his life, Christabel, proceeded to Delta State University where he grabbed a degree in Theatre Arts. In this interview with Azuh Arinze, he delved into various aspects of his life, and how he became a household name,
Tell us, what’s your definition of comedy?
The ability to create light-hearted drama, that will elicit laughter.
What makes a good comedian?
It depends! What type of comedy are you talking about? Because we have comedy actors, there are also stand-up comedians…
Let’s talk about your own area of specialization. What makes a good stand-up comedian?
The ability to take the microphone, stand before an audience and tell jokes or stories that are laced with jokes that will elicit laughter.
What do you like most about being a comedian?
The ability to be any character; it’s like being an actor. I usually tell people that stand-up comedy is a one-man stage play, so the ability to be a story teller, and while telling the story, assume any character you want.
What don’t you like about being a comedian?
The fact that people think the personality they see on stage is how the personality functions in real life. And for people like me, even in that your stage, I really don’t recognize him, because I see him as my alter ego. So, when I get off the stage, I’m a regular guy, I’m a quiet person, I’m a very serious-minded person. My passion, however, is to get in there because it gives me joy when I’m there.
What is the commonest mistake that most comedians make?
I think comedians make several mistakes, but the prominent ones are (i) thinking that comedy is easy; that you can just go on stage and draw laughter. So, they fail to realize that you have to prepare, because preparation is key. Anything good in life, especially in Nigeria; anything that is worth more than N1000 is a potential billion naira industry; anything that the price is more than a N1000, it can also be less, but basically anything that people love, especially for abstract stuff, once people can pay above a certain amount, you can’t take it for granted. So, I think that’s the mistake comedians are making by not working hard enough…
What got you interested in comedy?
I don’t know! My interest is not just in comedy, my interest has always been entertainment. I’ve always loved to be an actor, I’ve always been a writer. When I was a kid, my earliest recollection is when my mom was telling me of the late Benny Hill. She was like when this guy comes on stage, he doesn’t even need to say anything, she is already laughing. Then, I stumbled on the like of Eddie Murphy, Ali Baba… So, at the time, growing up, I always used to say, men, I wanna be an MC, I wanna go on stage and talk. I also wanna be an actor. It was in my teenage years I now discovered that okay, there’s what you call stand-up comedy.
There’s no arguing the fact that comedy has done a lot for you, what has comedy not done for you?
Ah! That’s very hard. But I think I will feel ungrateful if I think of what comedy hasn’t done for me (laughing). Comedy has pretty much done a whole lot for me. I mean, every job has its perks and its downsides. Comedy has stripped me of the ability to be needy. People see me and assume oh, he’s happy all the time, people see me and expect me to make them happy. But sometimes we get empty, sometimes we get lonely, because everybody assumes you are an ambassador for laughter. So, they would never really take you serious even if you need help. That’s it!
Your rise, from our own calculation, was meteoric. What would you attribute that to?
I wouldn’t say it was meteoric, but basically, I did a lot of underground work before I started. I didn’t start in a hurry. I always knew what I wanted; so from my days in school, both college and university, I always knew this was who I was gonna be and I started working really early and then when I joined the industry as PA to RMD, I was doing a lot of understudies. I usually tell people that I did my planting in those seasons. I decided to do professional stand-up in 2008. And the first two, three years were not really pleasant, they were not as rosy as people think, but my work stood out. And that’s because I think RMD told me something – he said guy, you are only as good as your last performance. So, every new performance, that’s what people will judge you by. So, I think I put in a lot of work and that’s why it seems as though I shot out of the sky.
Besides what you just told us, what are the other things that stand Bovi out, that separates Bovi from the other comedians out there?
To be honest, my biggest competition is me. And when I talk to other comedians, I like to share that which I do and how I prepare. So, I can’t really say this is what stands me out from that person because comedy has to do with different flavours. People have their different flavours. I watch every comedian – the good, the bad, the ugly – because from the ugly and the bad I learn that which I shouldn’t do. That’s it for me.
We know that Bovi has created a lot of jokes, and also that like most fathers, you love all your children. But which is your most unique joke, the one that you love so much?
The thing is I love all my jokes, especially the ones that really just make me laugh, which are many. But I think what I would go for is the one that resonates with people the most…
Can you tell us about it?
I think it’s the ‘Judgement Day’ joke. I have like three different ‘Judgement Day’ jokes. Till tomorrow, they are still in circulation, especially the one I did in 2012, where I was telling people how we will face judgement, how people will try to jump in, how people will be check-ing their names on the list… So, that one is a classic for many people. Yeah!
Which of your jokes doesn’t resonate with you, the one you feel could have been better couched?
I’ve had a few jokes on rape that I wish I told them a different way. You know it’s such a sensitive word. Notice I said word, not issue. Simply because I have told jokes that had to do with rape, where I addressed the issue and condemned it. But people still came at me, because I made a joke out of rape. So, I now realized it’s a very sensitive word and moving forward I’m like if I got to talk about this, I got to be extra careful and also issue a disclaimer.
What is the best way for a comedian to come up with a beautiful joke?
Read! People have different formulas, though. For some people, it comes to them naturally. But comedy has evolved over time and now it’s information-based because the world is one big village now or rather one small village. So, people know of issues, and if you are ignorant, there’s so much you can do; if you are ignorant, you might be just a slap-stick comedian and that in itself is limiting, that in itself has borders. Comedians need to read so that they can tell borderless jokes. You need to watch the news, you need to follow trends, you just have to be in the now and the future.
Which of your colleagues do you admire most and why?
That’s a very difficult question. Because, like I said, they have different flavours. They all have different flavours, so there’s one thing I pick from pretty much every other person – oh, this person has this style, this person does this, this person has this style, this person does that. That’s it. But if there’s any comedian I’ve really respected a lot over time, it’s Gandoki.
So, why Gandoki?
He’s effortless, he’s something else, he’s indefinable. He’s the one comedian who doesn’t need to talk and you are already laughing. He has the strongest gesture game in the business. His gestures are jokes on their own. So, yes, I pick things from different people – Okey Bakassi is a good story teller; I like that about him. Akpororo is fearless in his approach and he’s pacy. We are not so pacy. Akpororo needs 10 seconds to hit the roof. So, I respect him for that style and all that.
Already, some people know so much about you – even though some still don’t. Now, tell us, what other things do you think people should know about you?
I don’t know if people know that I like to be happy, I like clean air; by clean air; I don’t like negative energy around me, so I try to make the people around me comfortable, I hate unhealthy rivalry, unhealthy competition, I like to take life one day at a time, I like to just be a Gee.
For some people, when they want to relax, they invite Bovi, when Bovi wants to relax, what does he do?
I like to watch football, I like to play soccer, yeah! I still play soccer twice a week and I also play with my kids, spend time at home, do a lot of reading and just chill.
Now that you‘ve talked about your family, can you tell us more about them?
(Laughing) – I don’t like talking about my family. But yeah, I’m happily married and I’ve got three kids. That’s it basically.
There is no arguing the fact that the Almighty God has been so nice to you and in so short a time…
(Cuts in) – Why do you think the time is short?
Considering the time you joined the industry?
I started in 2008, and that’s 11 years ago.
Okay! So, what hasn’t God done for you in those 11 years, what more do you still want from God?
I’m thankful, I’m thankful for everything. I only have regrets…
And what could that be?
I lost my mom! I regret that she’s not around to reap the fruits of her labour ‘cos I’m her first child. She had five of us. So, if I regret that, you can then imagine how my younger ones feel. They are regretting too. I just wish we did certain things differently. I wish I was there for her more. When I lost my mom, I realized the moment she passed away; I was thinking of every time she called me and I said I might have to call you back, I’m busy now. I miss those moments. I wish I heard what she wanted to say. For every missed call, I’m like oh, that’s my mom, don’t worry, I will call her back. I wish I never did, I wish I could make use of those opportunities. So, other than that, I’ve had a very good life. I can’t complain. I don’t think I’ve suffered.
What’s your philosophy of life?
Not anything anybody does is really about you, so don’t take things personal, be wise as a serpent, try to be as harmless as a dove, and try to do for people because there is more blessing in giving than taking and when you give, automatically you will get. So, try to do for people, try and leave people better than you met them and just focus on, like I said, giving.
Can you single out one person whose impact in your life has been immense and humongous? Someone that for as long as you live you will continue to remember…
My mother! My mother! I don’t even have to think about it. I’m not sure I will be here if not for her. I’m not sure I would have amounted to this, because she trained me, by the dictionary definition of the word. She trained me. She taught me how to read. I had read so many books even before I was 16…
What’s your mother’s name?
Dr. (Mrs) Margaret Ugboma.
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