“My Mum Was My First Audience And My Greatest Influence’ –Lafup

Segun Ogundipe, popularly known as Lafup is one of the biggest names in the Nigerian Comedy/MC business. The Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Ibadan started his career in Ibadan and has taken his trade out of Nigeria, even outside Africa where he has a lot of fans. Speaking with Kunle Gazali, the comedian who has gone back to his first love, acting bares his mind on the entertainment business, his early challenges and how he remained in the business and beat the odds..

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 to 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 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.

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 produced it. I have about four other guys who worked with me. It is just a simple story that I created here in Ibadan, we produced everything in Ibadan, audition opened in Ibadan just to encourage and give every opportunity to other actors. Hopefully, it is going to hit the TV, we are still in talk with our distributors and see how we get the highest bidder for it. A lot of big names in the comedy industry, people I adored, people I love to work with and also people that aspired to work with me, the likes of Afeez Oyetoro , Taiwo Ibikunle, Adeniyi Johnson, Woli Agba, Dele and a couple of other wonderful, talented actors including Mode Ogundiwin, a very talented and fresh actor was also part of it. In the next season we are going to be introducing the few other  people.

Acting is totally a different profession,  stand-up comedy is also a different profession, how do you juggle the two? how do you intend to do that without one affecting the other?

They are two different professions but they both make use of primarily the same tools for performance. First is the human body, second is the social expression. When you are live on the screen, there is a line of script of non verbal clues and verbal clues. It is just a case almost natural in stand-up comedy that you are playing alone, you are  your own director and script writer, it’s just you and the audience. Acting in this case, is just like performance act rather than performing act, you can always call for a tape.  When you do the job here, you  are showing on DSTV or anywhere, I don’t have to be there and that is the difference between the two. In juggling both, we actually need to expand, we need to do other project. For over 15 years , I have been producing stand-up comedy, I currently have one of the biggest running comedy shows in Nigeria and one of the most consistent . I have been able to push a lot of brands that have become household names right now, and I think it is time for us again to expand and may be put my primary certificate to work. Because for me, having a Masters in Theatre Arts, it is what I love, it is a passion and it is what we have learnt over the years, we have served people and it is time to also take a part and bring  to the people, because not everybody can come to the theatre and we are in an age  where everybody owns their media, they own their phones, they own their cable TV on the go. So, it is better for us to reach them,  we are trying to also create content, content is key, we trying to create so that people can consume some of the things that we have and enjoy Lafup. A lot of people want to see more of Lafup,  a lot of them will say that I am a better  actor than a stand-up comedian, while a lot will say I am a better comedian than an actor.  So, it’s better for me to feel all those people because they are our fans, they love you they want to see you and you have to be able to be there for them. So, juggling both, I take a producer seat, most of my work I do before the shoot starts and when the shoot starts they still come back to me once in a while as expected, at that moment I am an actor, at times I find myself directing, but I have one of my guys, a very fantastic guy, Debola Ogunsina, who is a director, I always ask them to excuse me when I have to go and do my stand-up comedy.  stand-up comedy became easier for me than acting because  it is easier for me to get the job done, it is easier for me to travel more and I will still have plenty of time to get back to my first job which is actually acting.

 At the initial stage, why didn’t you pursue a career in acting, why the choice of stand-up?

As a matter of fact, I pursued a career in acting.  When I left school my first place  work was with Wole Ogunjimi, that is the household of theatre business in Nigeria and Africa , they performed at the Shakespeare theatre and the great Oluku Festival. At that point in time when I do rehearsals they called me to come and 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, and you  perform, get paid and come back again for another performance. Stand-up comedy became very easier for me. So, that was why I didn’t pursue acting at the beginning? I went for a lot of auditions in my early days because I left 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 Adebayo, and  we were friends, we were roommates, we did everything together. Gabriel got hit up with Madam Dearest 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 keeps 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 round. If Gabriel goes I can’t leave, because the three of us  are actors, but Sunkanmi was actually more of a director. So, If he leaves I needed to be around to play the lead role, it wasn’t easy for me but it was easier for me not to leave than for him because I have my event I was doing. I was always at NUJ’s House at Iyaganku to perform, DJ Semiite 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 by that time. So, you go to auditions they don’t pick you, they like you but they would not pick you, I went for a second 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 called  I was already in camp for my Youth Service,  I couldn’t leave the camp at that time, 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 then would just give a role to keep me around, he keeps saying they need me, they need me when I was outside the country most of the times.  Honestly, I pursued acting but it wasn’t as forthcoming as it should be. With comedy, before I served 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 was almost distracting me not to be available for people,  you know in this business if you are not available you know the damage. So, I had to shelf my acting. I just told myself that instead of going for the auditions and getting frustrated that the best thing for me is to work, build my career, build myself, my family and when I have enough money  to produce I am going to come and produce. Now, I am on production, taking the lead in my production.

Your show in Ibadan, Lafup Live is more than 10 years, despite Ibadan being considered not too entertainment- friendly, what’s the drive and how have you been coping? Again, why Ibadan because you are doing a lot of things outside Ibadan that are more rewarding, what do you owe Ibadan or what does Ibadan owe you?

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 gave me the insight to create things. When I started a lot of my friends were like you are going to Ibadan? because I told some of my friends that I am going to Ibadan, as at then when I started at the University of Ibadan, I started producing my comedy in  2003, at first there was a show  called Laffomania, the likes of Solomon Uduoaye, Saka, that is how I met Afeez Oyetoro and his partner, Lepacious Bose, they used to do some jokes together on the Night Of A Thousand Laugh, these are the people that started Laffomania. So, when I came I asked what is happening in the school, what are the comedy shows that people watch, they said Laffomania. Luckily that year Solomon Iguare brought it to school, the following year I called him and ask when we are we going to do the next show ,  he said he doesn’t have time because then he was working in British Council and I asked him to write the script, that I will produce it with my money. Funnily I didn’t have a dime but I was so passionate at that time. So, he said I should come and see him,  I met with him and he gave me the script and asked if I was sure I can do it and I said don’t worry, already then I was doing Lafup. So we produced the first show and it was sold out, when we did the second show one of my lecturers  came to me and said he thinks it is time for me to use my name and not another person’s name. Already we have started teasers, we tease people in the school with some pictures, we cut stencil in 5 by 7 sizes and write comments asking people what they think about the pictures, it was like our own Instagram then, we supposed to use poster but we didn’t have the money. We would put them at different major parts of the school and particular place where the shows happen. That was how we started enticing the people.  The reigning tune then was ‘Effrebo Effrebo you go wound o’, so we just changed the name to Effrebo Laffomania because we have already built Laffomanina, people now love Laffomania again as they used to love it. After some time we just dropped Laffomania and we kept Effrebo. So, after U.I I did Laff and Burst, I did Laff Live, I was still looking for that name, then I saw what AY was doing in Lagos I say let me put my name, that was what brought about Lafup Live, the title of the first show we did at Jogor Centre. The second year I brought Ali Baba to UI. After I left school I did about three shows in UI but it was just a campus thing with the people  and few elites in town who are very connected to me. So, it was time to for me to back out and do business, so I had to go to Jogor Centre, and Jogor was very magnanimous ,they liked the idea of the young boy  but when they told me the amount I just said ‘ah’, they then asked me what I was going to do and I said ‘I am leaving sir because I cannot afford it’, I said even If gathered all the comedy money I have made in my life its not up to that. But you know Engineer Femi Babalola, the man was very nice and he said just pay for the cleaners. That alone was  #50,000 just to clean the place, I could not even afford to fuel the generator that year. They gave us that place free which was why I just love to always be at Jogor because I hate to forget the people who were there for me from my day one. So, gradually we got to town, gradually people started  knowing the name, we always make sure that Lafup Live will be a thing that is relevant and like our selling campaign game for the year, so over the years,  we celebrated 15 years anniversary last two years and we had another show again last year. So, altogether we have been in the game professionally for 15 years , for every year we produce at least one play, it was also extended to Lagos. In 2016, we did the first Lagos show.

Talking about what Ibadan owes me, telling you the story of how important Ibadan is to me. I met people, supported people, there were times that I won’t do my assignments and I was going to lie to my lecturer. I remember Dr. Kunmi Olasope, I was going to say I was sick and the woman will say ‘oh oh, 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 and mark it for me. Normally, she could have  punished me for that but she is a naturally nice woman , she is always being supportive, she ran an NGO and I get a lot of favours that way. I met my wife also in the city, so, what I owe Ibadan is to make sure that good people also grow from me. There are a lot of people I have met who never did comedy in their life , who just wanted to and so many that I have met with and I told them that they can do it. There are a lot of singers, for instance, Babatunmise, he sings but I turned him  to an MC for events and right now he is making his ways, and the likes of Shete and few others here in Ibadan. A lot of people don’t remember what you do for them but the thing is I don’t do this for them I do it for myself, because if God has really blessed me I need to bless people. Only a few people really bless me I must say, but if 50 people bless you and all you can bless is 50 you have failed, even if it is 100 you bless you have still failed because the evidence that 50 people really bless you is that you multiply that, when you multiply it is not double and that is what the Bible says we should do with our talent, we should multiply, it should be 50 times 50 and I felt stand-up comedy is doing it, but in movie industry, the Sitcom will do more because right now we have the graduates of Theatre Arts being employed and I have about 35 crew members of the show and they have been in the camp for about a month and a half, and a lot of actors come and go that are aware of the show. It is a great project and it is going to showcase the new set of people as talents that the world should actually be expecting.

15 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?

I will say clearly first and foremost all glory to God, and  looking back 15 years, in Nigeria’s comedy, if in the top 5 I may not be there or arguably the nation’s top 10 I may not be there, but if you zone it, maybe top 10, I am in the top 5, because we all can not be in Lagos, we all 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 fulfil. I am happy primarily because when I came to Ibadan, the first time when we were doing shows they were saying that people don’t pay to see shows, a lot of people advised to do the show free so that people can come and I said that I went to school to have a degree like a lawyer, and lawyer is supposed to use his certificate to eat. It wasn’t easy when I was in school, the money was not cheap, it was cheap for some people that are collecting pocket money but for me, it wasn’t cheap. So, having struggled through school and also this is my talent and I believe whatever it is in all to do well, should not always do for free. At the beginning you can do for free which is what I did for the whole of 2003 till about 2007/2008. And at that point I said that I could do the show for free and people will be coming and enjoy and be going, but I want to create a market, I want to create an industry, I want to put Ibadan on the map, I want Ibadan to be discussed when they are talking about comedy, when they say Warri boys and Lagos Boys, I want Ibadan to be next. And by the special grace of God I started the show, first show few people came, second show few people still came but right now the show is always sold out. You know, I paid the price, a lot of people supported me, right now a lot of comedians want to come to Ibadan to do shows that is because comedy now sells, somebody has tried it, somebody has paved the way, by God’s grace if for nothing else the fact that I by the special grace of God with the support of the few of my friends and the few media people that wrote about what we are doing, the likes of Yinka Agboola, DJ Semiite who is a major player, he was the first person that paid me in Ibadan. God used me to paved the way for comedy in Ibadan because what we are having before was strictly comedy in Ibadan, the likes of Jazzy B radio not stand-up comedy, when I stepped forward I was also doing Premier FM Safari, Tolu Sanyaolu every Tuesday then at Premier FM, I was doing it for free, I will spent #150 everyday, just take okada every morning, it was for 30 minutes. So, if not for the fact that when they do awards on event of the year we will have at least four comedy shows in the category of the event of the year, I am not saying comedy of the year. If you look at PERA Awards they said event of the year, we have Laffup Live, Unleased, Laffmatazz, Ibadan Countdown and one other event. And see of all the comedy shows in the events, I was the host of the two of the comedy shows. You can imagine how comedy has been able to push, Ibadan has been the base for comedy industry, if you take comedy out of Ibadan I am sorry to say, I make bold to say that you will deflate the effect of Ibadan comedy scene, because the comedians are the ones driving every other show as hosts, as MCs and as presenters. You see how comedy is playing major role in our radio stations, when I started to do comedy show there was only one private radio station in Ibadan, it was Splash FM, but right now we have 20. This shows how far we also evolved and how well we have gone, my first jingle was played on Splash FM. Before we have Diamond FM in Ibadan, Pekun Oloyede was the one that played my jingle for free that year, we did not have money to do anything, we were just flowing with passion that time, today now the highest paid show as in comedy show, people pay as much as #200,000, #300,000 to be at  comedy shows and this was the show that people told me people won’t pay in Ibadan. I want to  respect Yinka Ayefele, he has been a very good support, there was time a comedy show was going to happen in Ibadan and my name was not on it, it was Uncle Yinka who said that the reason people pay for shows not comedy shows, but for shows in Ibadan is Lafup because he insisted . God sees us, He knows our plans, we just want to create a market where we can make bold and be competitive with every other comedians around, now Ibadan boys are making waves. I am a host of Spontaneity of Ali Baba; I co-designed the show with Bunmi Davies and I called some of the Ibadan boys to come there and for the first time at the finals because we have 12 finals we have about four Ibadan boys at the finals who were Asiri, Arole, Remote and Gifted Mouth. They got to the finals, more are still coming by God’s grace, I don’t like to do hanky-panky, I train you, I encourage you, get there and you win, there is no need to rig anything because if you root for any victory it is utter trash. So, for me, I am fulfilled, Ibadan is on the map I am happy, when they pick venues Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos for shows or for anything now Ibadan is a deal, you can see what happened with Kiss Daniel, Davido came, Mayorkun came, Reekado Banks, MI came recently,  Oritsafemi is always here, it wasn’t happening like that before, in no time Burna Boy is coming.

Growing up in the start of your career, who are the people you looked up to?

My greatest influence first  is my mum, she was a great influence, if I say anything she would be just be laughing, to even something I knew is not funny, she was just like a good audience for me, she  just wanted me to feel good. I remembered the first joke I heard on radio, “E file, ina lo nlo” I always tell my mum everyday and she will always be laughing every time, she was a great influence to me. And I will say one of the earlier inspirations that I have as MC  was 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, Lasisi Abesupinle, Segun Dressing, Lagata, Oloun, etc these are materials which I like, so, when I see Lasisi Elenu on Instagram I said I have seen Lasisi before this Lasisi and that Lasisi was a very funny one and I’ve seen some of the most recent comedians in Gbenga Adeboye, Adeboye will quote Shakespeare, quote from the Bible, quote from the Quran and he will quote from some of the tenets of the Ifa, he was just an encyclopaedia of comedy. 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 and the same time you have been in front, when you have seen the people who have gone so far to build the quality and not your regular kind of comedy, that informed how I work, my inspiration, I want to research, 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 informed why most of my clients are corporate clients from the Indian companies to America. They are people that informed me, growing up seeing them I just wanted to make people laugh. And then in school I always drum, I was just entertaining, some of my friends will say they were shocked I was a comedian they thought I would  be a musician because I always sing for them.

Why did you relocate to Ghana?  

I didn’t relocate to Ghana, I have a house in Ibadan, I have a house in Lagos and happened to have a house in Accra, Ghana. You know, my wife also has her own career, she works in Ghana. She has her life and she is very supportive  and I will not hold her back in any way. If today she says she wants to go and work and live in Colombia I am 100 percent in support of her. My family, my children live and school in Ghana and it is important for me to check with them once in a while but I am Ibadan, Ibadan is home for me, Lagos is also home and many other places I find peace of mind and many other places I find people who love me. I always tell people I am a tenant everywhere but I am a landlord in Ibadan.

You have a peculiar appearance, why do you keep dreadlocks?

Since 2007 that I left UI I haven’t touched my hair . My final year project in UI was an Indian project, it was a play written by a Nobel laureate, Girish Karnad, Hayavadana, it was an Indian play and because I studied Drama in school, Theatre Arts, myself and my friends and colleagues, we like to push ourselves and we have been doing Nigerian plays, African Plays, when a play is happening we watch because we wanted to do more, it is all about research for us it is better for us in the laboratory so, we practise a lot. It was an Indian play and I played a major role, I played with one of my friends, he is a banker in America, he is into IT now. So, I had to curl my hair to make it a little bit Indian, I have a stubborn hair so after few days it didn’t look like curled hair again, I just say let me leave this hair, while I was trained as a Theatre Arts student, I was so minded in advertising PR, I did plenty of government PR, I wanted to be a creative writer that was why I was hoping I wanted to go and get proper job and make more money because there were few people in the profession that make money  at that time. So, I don’t like a fact that If I have the project I have my hair at keep, I have to keep my hair for the project and I said you know what, let me just lock this hair. And 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 came, KPMG came when my hair was too short, there’s one Moji Ogunsilure, she was very supportive, she always make sure that the management use me for their event, they took me to  travel to cute places. I just know the fact that  if they are looking for my identity, it was the mic, my dreadlock and my frame, so much more that people have an idea, people can see your image and understand that I am trying to make my image. Sometimes I get  bullied and I will say am I going to keep this hair but it is my trade tool and there was a time I said I’m going to cut it and my wife asked me to leave it, that she likes it.

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