Before Ali Baba and Okey Bakassi there was John Chukwu

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

I should have been a comedian.

Poetry is poverty. Comedy is cash.

I have been around long enough to know the gnashing of teeth that goes with bearing the toga of Poor Poet.

Along the line I have seen with my very old eyes some erstwhile hungry boys come to Lagos with tattered polythene bags only to, in the twinkle of an eye, break into the idle rich class via the well-trodden road of stand-up comedy.

Now lots of captains of industry swear by the name of a certain chap called Ali Baba. Let’s not bother about Ali Baba’s real name because it is too long to pronounce or call.

I don’t want to break my jaw trying to utter that long name that has “Alleluia” in it – just like a new age pastor’s long and boring sermon.

It suffices to stress that not so long ago Ali Baba was a starving applicant for a reportorial job in Mister (MR) magazine, then published by Richard Mofe-Damijo and edited by my younger brother, Isidore Emeka.

As an unknown, Ali Baba used to hang around the ultra-modern Dolphin Studios owned by my late buddy, Emeka Ogoh, on Itire Road, Surulere, Lagos.

I often came to the studios as a big brother to direct Emeka to give the hangers-on anything they wanted, and I was always hailed as some kind of godfather, the Obi of Ikate.

I guess it was another friend of mine, the showbiz impresario Edi Lawani, who brought Ali Baba to perform in a show at the University of Lagos, Akoka.

Ali Baba tore the house down with free-flowing jokes that generated acute and chronic laughter.

Edi Lawani also took Ali Baba to perform at Lekki Sunsplash or so. Ali Baba invented entirely new jokes that equally raised the temperature of laughter far above Fahrenheit and Centigrade.

Edi Lawani was remonstrating with Ali Baba that he ought to have told the original jokes of the Unilag show as the beach crowd was different, but there was no stopping the new boy on the block poised on jetting into the stratosphere.

The point really is that the Ali Baba of today can buy me and re-buy me more than the number of times Nigeria has taken the China loans!

Let’s make more progress to the other rich lord of comedy called Okey Bakassi.

It was in the course of preparing for my wedding that I met Okey Bakassi in the Ogunlana Drive, Surulere office of another late friend of mine, Azubuike Udensi, one of the wealthier earlier producers of Nollywood movies.

I looked at Okey Bakassi in the eyes and said: “I have just appointed you the MC for my wedding!”

“I will deliver him there!” Azubuike Udensi replied me, and we all had a good laugh.

So without paying a kobo I got Okey Bakassi to emcee my wedding.

Okey Bakassi told many side-splitting jokes that day but let me just recall one of the crackers here.

A Yoruba man and an Igbo man entered a restaurant. The Yoruba man ordered for N100 Amala and N1500 meat. The Igbo man ordered N500 Akpu and no meat.

After every swallow of a bolus, the Yoruba man would chew one meat much to the chagrin of the Igbo man who had no meat to chew.

It happened that the Yoruba man was not wearing a wristwatch and wanted to know what the time was.

“Please what is the time?” the Yoruba man asked the Igbo man.

“Ask your meat!” replied the Igbo man acidly.

Okey Bakassi has since grown into mega status, and like Ali Baba he can buy me in a bazaar with a wave of the hand – Going! Going! Gone! Just like that.

My meat here is that people have completely forgotten that before the coming of the riches of Ali Baba and Okey Bakassi and their vast array of young arrivistes of modern comedy in Nigeria, there was one pioneer of the art who bore the name John Chukwu.

John Chukwu or John God or JayCee or John Tsuku, or whatever came to Lagos with no kobo in his pocket – just like me.

It took no time at all for all of Lagos to take notice that John Chukwu was a one-man riot squad. He acted on television and radio, and in films such as Ola Balogun’s Amadi and Jab Adu’s Bisi, Daughter of the River.

He was at one time the publisher, reporter, advert manager, cartoonist, circulation manager, owner etc. of the newspaper called Mailbag.

Because he combined so many duties all by himself, after fighting with the vendors in Oshodi, he would be late to meet with the vendors in the Lawanson area who would eventually run away with his money!

As an original master of stand-up comedy, John Chukwu was nonpareil.

There was this night my friends and I took some classy ladies to a John Chukwu show.

After John Chukwu had thrilled all of us with his jokes, the ladies refused to follow us home. The ladies said they were all marching to John Chukwu’s hotel to listen to his jokes until the break of dawn.

We had no other option than to follow the ladies to keep company with John Chukwu and his jokes until morning broke!

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