When comedy act, Owen Osemwegie, started appearing in some television shows quite a number of people thought it was goodbye to comedy. However, the multi-talented entertainer takes time out to reveal his love for TV, decision to go international as well as his upcoming comedy shows in this interview with Senior Reporter, Ovwe Medeme. Excerpts:
What has 2011 been like for Owen Gee?
A lot has been happening. 2011 has been a wonderful year and there is still more to come. We are only half way through and a lot has happened. The first quarter of the year I went for a short programme abroad. We had a few movie premieres that we actually went to do there. I also went to discuss with my promoters about having a show over there. My wife gave birth to my second son, which was also a special moment for me. So far I have done a lot more of television aside stand up comedy this year. I did Super Story, I was in Saints and Silly, a comedy shoot which will be airing very soon. I am also working on a movie shoot. In August I will be shooting my own personal comedy programme called Owen Gee’s Krazy world. There is so much going on some of which I cannot even mention.
What is the concept of the show?
We are actually running it in three cities: London, Manchester and Birmingham. It is the second edition of my-stand-up comedy show, called Krazy Comedy. I did the first one in 2005 and I had to wait for sometime because there were so many shows running concurrently. I also wanted to establish myself in other fields of entertainment including production, television, radio, drama and others. I got approached by a management abroad that it was time to do another edition six years after. I hope to go with a few of my comedy friends for this wonderful tour. Tentatively, it will be taking place in July. It takes a lot to put a show together over there that is why we are not confident about the date yet, but tentatively we are looking at July 29, 30 and 31. This edition is put together by an events company, Jay Jay Barry Entertainment.
Do you find comedy competitive in Nigeria?
It is one of the most competitive genres of entertainment after music. I say this because Nigeria is a country where almost everybody is naturally funny and so for one to stand out as a comedian in this country, you have to be extra funny. Because the business is becoming lucrative, we have a lot of people who are coming into the industry, and in this country we lack room for checks and balances. We have some very good guys and some very bad guys. It is like that in an industry where there is no registered body yet. At the onset, everybody comes. Later on when we have a registered body, there will be a division between who is good and who lacks professionalism.
How do you hope to stand out among the crowd of comedians we have in the country?
I have always stood out over the years. A lot of people call me Nigeria’s craziest comedian. That title has stuck. I am not the type of comedian who only wants to use one aspect of comedy to continue to stay relevant. I have done sitcoms. I have done stage plays. I did Once Upon A Mad Man; I featured in The Council where I played a totally different character. I am somebody who believes in characterisation a lot. My brand of comedy is such that I can do anything to make you laugh but what stands me out among the others is that I tend to do my comedy in straight English. I can only switch into doing some level of Pidgin if I believe that I want to come to the grassroots and really blend depending on the audience. I regard myself as a multitalented comedian. It is not just about stand-up alone. I also read a lot. I do my research before cracking jokes. I analyse my audience, I study them before dishing out my materials and I have been able to stay relevant all through these years because I try to be versatile.
What do you find most challenging about comedy?
Different people have different things that are challenging to them, but for me the major challenge is the inability of having people who can actually give financial support to our productions. For example, as a creative person, it is my job to sit down, script out a comedy TV programme, put all the logistics together and get a sponsor for it. It is not like that in Nigeria. I am the one who will write, direct, fund the shooting of the programme and then pay the TV station to play the programme and I might be the one who will not make anything of it if I am not careful because I also have to market my own programme. That is what I find most challenging. It doesn’t work like that in other countries.
Is it right to say that you are branching out into the television?
Yes, it is. It is the wisest thing to do for anybody who wants to diversify. They say monotony kills the mind. If you continue to do the same thing every day, you will end up not being skilled after a while. This is one of the regions of the world where when they see you doing something else, the first thing people say is that maybe is not succeeding in his field that is why he wants to branch out to something else. I am still making a very good living from comedy.
What informed your decision to start doing TV shows?
I want to sell myself internationally right now. I had the opportunity of travelling to Kenya last year and they kept asking me for Jim Iyke, Ini Edo, Patience Ozorkwo, Aki and Pawpaw and Sam Loco. Nobody asked for any of the established comedy acts here and some of us make bigger living than the movie acts but because their faces are on the screen and it is translated to Africa on a daily basis, they are the ones that are known. I heard that patience Ozorkwo, Aki and Pawpaw and Sam Loco held a crowd of 8,000 people in one African country when they went there to premiere a film. Jamie Fox would never have won an Oscar if he had not done Ray. That is one artiste who has won a Grammy for singing and an Oscar for acting but he has never won a comedy award and he is one of the best 20 comedians in the world. Bill Cosby also has won two Grammy awards, one Emmy award and he is the father of stand-up-comedy in the world. Others like Eddie Griffin, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence are there as examples for people to see. These acts made name for themselves through their films before people found out that their roots actually were from stand up comedy.
Between the money and the fame which one captures your fancy most?
Both of them appeal to me. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have fame without being rich. If you are rich without being famous, nobody cares; you don’t enjoy spending your money. A combination of both would be perfect for me. That is why I want to do a lot of films. I want to show people that I am diversified, that I can do other things. If I die tomorrow, I want my biography to be interesting. I want a situation where they will chronicle my achievements as against just saying that ‘he was one of the best stand-up comedians we had.’ It doesn’t tell much.
How is being on television working for you?
It has been good. It is working brilliantly. They just finished showing the episode of Super Story I featured in and the response so far has been tremendous. I will soon be shooting another film. I, Kofi and Lepacious Bose just finished a comedy sitcom called Saint and the Silly. It will be showing in a few weeks from now. The shoot was wonderful. I like TV a lot. It gives opportunity to really know how deep one can be. Stand up comedy is surface jokes. It is one mic and one man but with television, it is different. The production technicality involved gives one a broader knowledge of the profession.
Between TV and comedy, which do you find more tasking?
I find television more tasking because of the scripting involved. When we shot Saints and Silly, we were always memorising about 35 pages of scripts daily. What I did then was, when shooting ended at about 8pm, I would get home at about 10pm. I would then sleep till about 1am, read and memorise my scripts till 4:30 am, sleep till 6:30, wake up, go to the shooting venue, run the lines that I had studied over the night and then we would shoot. I found that more tasking. It was quite unlike stand up comedy. When they tell you what the programme is all about, you cut out your jokes from what you see around and that is it.
Which of them pays you more?
Stand up comedy does pay more because what you will earn from one TV production that takes a number of weeks is about the same thing you will earn from one stand up job which takes about two or three hours. Stand up pays more but television places you more in the eyes of the audience.
Currently, what is Owen Gee worth?
Owen Gee is worth Owen Gee. In other words, the name is worth a lot to me. When I actually started doing comedy, my father didn’t want to hear me say that I was Owen Gee; he wanted me to say I was Owen Osemwegie but a few years back, he called me to say that his name is now Papa Gee, meaning that he is now adopting my own name. That is how big the name is worth. My name is everything to me. My son gets preferential treatment in school because he is David Owen Gee. That is just how good the name is. My name is my signature. It is how I am identified. I would not sell my name for anything on earth. That is how valuable it is to me.
How did comedy come to be?
It started in a very funny way. I started out as a musical act. I formed a rap group comprising three people including a DJ. We were called Your Uncles from the Psychiatric Hospital. We were one of the most unsuccessful rap groups in the whole world. It was during one of my performances, people were not feeling us, and they were teasing us on stage, calling us names. I asked the DJ to stop the music and I started throwing words at them. I ended up thrilling the crowd for close to thirty minutes. So the organisers of the show advised me to go into comedy and I turned down the idea. However, they said that they would be having the finals of the show the next day and they paid me to be the MC. That was how it started. Since then, it has been good. God has really been marvelous. I can pay my bills and that is what is most important to me.
What would you be willing to exchange your career for?
My career is my life. If you want to take life out of me then you can take my career but how do you take a career out of somebody who is the career. I am comedy. You can’t take it out from me. You can tell me to do a million other things but I will still remain a comedian. There is the humorous side of me at every point in time. You can’t separate that.
How did you pass through childhood?
I grew up like every other Nigerian kid. I grew up spending money to rent bicycles, I grew up, taking public buses to school, I grew up with torn uniforms, I grew up in an era where there was adequate power supply, I grew up in an era where there was no air condition in the car, I grew up in an era where I wanted to be Michael Jackson, I grew up in an era where about seven of us had to eat from one plate. I grew up as a normal average kid in Nigeria. I wasn’t poor and we were never rich. We were just there. Growing up was fun and if I could go back to being a kid that is one thing I would want to choose. We were taught to be proud while growing up. My parents were well educated, well spoken and outgoing so I always had my shoulders up. I wasn’t shy in public so that is why it was easy for me to blend because I started entertainment young. I started at two and my father had to tell me that. For me to believe it, he had to show me pictures, which I still had till today. The earliest time I remembered doing entertainment was when I was 12 and I won a dancing competition. At 12 I had a group called the Dynamic Five where we used to mimic the dance steps of Michael Jackson.
What is presently happening to the music aspect of your career?
I just finished recording my album. It is called Paripopo meaning ‘good feeling’. I did it with a lot of help from my brother who was the producer. The album features a lot of wonderful and talented Nigerian artistes. I am thinking of bringing it out at the end of the year though I finished putting it together last year. I did a lot of recording of audio music last year so I want to do a little more comedy this year. I have DaGrin, MI, Koffi, Isolate, Waje, YQ, EJ and a host of others. I am just waiting for the right time to release it to the market.
What genre of music are you into?
I do hip-hop kind of music. I love hip-hop a lot. I call it hip-hop not because of the content but because it is an album for the young people. There is a little bit of highlife, gospel and ragga in it but it is targeted at young people.
Who is Owen Gee?
Owen Gee is one of the most down to earth humans you can meet anywhere and I challenge anybody to say that I am not. I am a say-it-as-it-is kind of person. I don’t know how to powder things. I would rather not talk than say it is good when it is bad. I am a very prayerful person. I don’t joke with prayers. I am a responsible family man. I don’t jump from one girl to another. It is not in my orientation to do such a thing. Owen Gee is a man who does not think wealth is measured via monetary calculations. I feel your wealth and your success should be measured by the number of lives you can impact every day.
With your busy schedule, how do make time out to be with your family?
It is a little bit difficult but I have an understanding with my wife and kids. My wife is not bothered about my absence. She is more concerned about me going and coming back home safely. Before we got married, I told her that there would be a time when I will be very busy but she took the decision to live with that. My job is life to me now. I am one person who believes in hard work but I find time for my family. We go on holidays once in a while and we enjoy the best of our company.