From fans to endorsements, Nigerian Instagram comedians take shine off ‘analogue’ colleagues

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As a young school leaver, Damilola Olatunde’s favourite past time was posting funny pictures and status updates on Facebook. All that ended in 2013 after Instagram released an update, allowing users upload videos.

Damilola switched to making Instagram comedy skits right away. With every video, he got better and soon learned to edit them all by himself.

Today, the Florida Memorial University MBA holder, who is popularly known as Aphricanape, is referred to as the new era king of comedy.

With over 436,000 followers, Aphricanape occupies a top position on the list of Nigeria’s biggest Instagram comedians.

“People enjoyed my skits right from the start. As expected, there were some haters and naysayers, but the love I received outweighed the hate, so I kept pushing,” he said recently.

“The ultimate goal is to grow beyond the skits and get into movies in both Nollywood and Hollywood.”

Not only is comedy a full-time job for him, it has earned him stand-up comedy gigs in the US, Canada, London, and Nigeria.

Welcome to bankable world of Nigerian Instagram comedians, many of whom have come from “nothing” to become online sensations.

Not only that, they are sort by brands and raking in lots of money in multimillion naira endorsements while giving analogue comedians a run for their money. But beware. Follow them at your own risk because they can leave you in stitches.

Lately, Instagram has proven to be the easiest and best platform for enterprising Nigerian youth to showcase their creative skills.

Little wonder that a crop of young Nigerian comedians are rapidly taking over the Nigerian comedy space with their teeming Instagram followers. So popular are some of them that multinational brands are taking advantage of their clout and fan base.

Armed with just an Internet enabled phone/tablet, camera, costume, make-up and amazing parody skills, these young men and women are smiling to the bank.

No longer a joking matter!

Next time you are tempted to say, “its just Instagram”, you might want to have a rethink. An average Aphricanape’s Instagram skit attracts 100,000 views, about 1,200 comments, an average of 3000 reposts, 10,000 mentions and an average of 300 followers in a day. In this world, it’s all about the numbers.

Another top performer is Henry Obiefule, who has 242,000 Instagram followers and is popularly called Chief Obi due to his comical portrayal of a stereotypical Nigerian dad. He started out making videos on the ‘Keek’ platform in 2012. He then moved to “Vine” before berthing on Instagram. He has featured in the videos of prominent artistes like 2Face, Olamide and Jidenna.

He bagged his first ever endorsement deal in March- a Vomoz Communications Brand Ambassadorial deal worth $1 million.

Equally talented Gloria Oloruntobi, aka Maraji,  (476000 Instagram followers) has also gained traction and has made bucks with her hilarious short videos.

The Covenant University graduate, who shot into limelight in 2016, after winning a  $5000 in a lip-sync battle, has switched to comedy. Today, her hilarious skits are a source of income.

WMaraji’s skits have also earned her corporate nods from brands like Indomie and Coca-Cola.

“I began posting my comedy skits on Instagram as a way to get out of boredom and I didn’t know it will grow into something this great and in turn make me one of the biggest Instagram comedians in Nigeria,” she said.

The undisputed Nigerian Instagram comedy king is Emmanuel Iwueke, popularly known as Crazeclown. With 1.6 million fans, he is the most followed Nigerian comedian on Instagram.

Crazeclown has signed endorsement deals with top brands like Nairabet and has hosted his own sold out shows. Together with his sidekicks, Tega and MushinBoi, the Ukraine-based medical student, has translated his passion into big bucks.

Digital versus analogue comedians

The threat Instagram comics pose to Nigerian stand up comedy is real. At the recently held Eko Comedy Festival, it was a topic of discuss.

But, foremost Nigerian comedian, Tee A, doused the fears saying it was untrue.

“There has been a lot of controversy about stand up comedians and Instagram comedians. I want to state once and for all that we are all one. They are all professionals and it’s a transitional thing; the people you are calling Instagram comedians haven’t you started seeing them on television and hosting events?

“I don’t know why they want to put people into an ‘Instagram box’? The Bible says though we are many, we are one body in Christ. That’s the way I see the Nigerian comedy industry. I want to disabuse the minds of everyone: there is no division in the industry as far as comedy is concerned. We may have our own personal differences but we are all one. All we desire is a better environment to practice our profession as comedians.”

Nigerian advertising doyen and CEO of X3M group, Steve Babaeko, begged to differ with Tee A’s thoughts. He painted the picture of an alarming threat and an ongoing digital disruption in the Nigerian comedy space.

“The days when Alibaba said I’m the king of comedy are over. Today, people have to decide who to follow and crown king,” he said. “There is a level playing field; that’s why Alibaba is on Instagram hustling with Maraji and Craze Clown. The followers now decide whom to follow whether or not Alibaba has more numbers compared to Maraji. You will be shocked to know that many agencies and advertisers are going directly to these Instagram comedians.

“It is high time the older comedians woke up to this new reality. Love it or hate it, this is the reality. Except the older comedians buckle up, people will miss the bus in the next coming years.

“The industry is fast being divided into what I call analog versus Instagram comics. If we don’t wake up to this reality some people will just wake up to find that they no longer have a job. People will no longer see the old comedians as comedians. Imagine a 10-year-old just waking up to the reality that Woli Aroye, Maraji, Craze Clown are comedians.”

Untapped gold mine

The Nigerian comedy industry appears to be the biggest in Africa. Mr. Babaeko estimated it could be worth about 50 billion dollars a year. He also noted that even though growth trajectory is yet to be understood, it is obvious that the Nigerian comedy industry is growing even without a proper structure.

Alibaba made the earliest attempt to structure the Nigerian comedy industry in the 90s. From being looked down upon as jesters and clowns, Alibaba transformed the comedy industry into what it is today. It paid off as some comedians including Alibaba began to charge six figures for a stand up comedy gig.

A Nite of a Thousand Laffs was the biggest incubator of Nigerian comedy for a long time and any established Nigerian comedian who now has a show of his or her own, had an opportunity to be on this show at some point.

Touring is another major moneymaking avenue for Nigerian comedians. This is why the likes of Gbenga Adeyinka commenced a tour of the South West region with his comedy and music brand called “Laffmattazz with Gbenga Adeyinka and Friends.”

Bovi’ Man on Fire, AY Live, Basket Mouth’s Crack Your Ribs are all great pointers to the lucrative nature of the Nigerian comedy sector.

But just like their counterparts in the music industry, Nigerian comedians are also losing income due to piracy of their comedy on DVD.

Mr. Babaeko notes, “We need to maximize the potentials of the comedy chain. Recycled jokes are also barring comedians from harnessing the potential of the industry. People always talk about how successful the Nigerian music industry is but fail to give credit to the Nigerian comedy industry for making the music industry what it is today.

“As at 10 years, ago the biggest leaps you would get as an upcoming musician was a spot at a comedian show, it was and still is crucial to the growth of a musician’s career.”

The cooperative spirit of the Nigerian comedy sector has helped the industry grow. Indeed, if Tee A was staging a show, his colleagues will show up en masse to support him. This is a model that Mr. Babaeko says other industries can adopt.

“As the ceo of X3music, I am more familiar with the music industry and I know that its more difficult to achieve this level of Camaraderie in the music industry,” he said.

The way forward

As the Nigerian comedy sector expands to accommodate new entrants on a daily basis, some lament the absence of a 24-hour wholly comedy TV Station in the country.

The Director, Buying & Control at mediaReach OMD Nigeria, Yinka Adebayo, said it was one of the reasons why Instagram comics appear to be having an upper hand at the moment.

“We have Africa Magic Igbo, Yoruba and English so, why can’t we have a comedy channel? Is Nigeria too young to have a comedy station? Basketmouth and Alibaba are some of our greatest comedy exports so why can’t we showcase their craft to a global audience?

“Stand Up Naija is enjoying viewership and ratings on TV. If you know your audience very well, you will be able to provide content that will keep them interested.”

Speaking further, Mr. Adebayo added that most Nigerian stand up comedians were yet to take advantage of the power of Instagram. According to him, a number of them were yet to post short catchy comic skits on their platform.

“They don’t livestream their events and also do not partner with offline comedians. This is why the younger guys are doing better so they need to up the game. For instance, Bovi did not live blog his recent Man on Fire on Instagram. Nigerian comedians need to follow, interact and engage with their Instagram audience. This is one of the edges that the Insta comics have.

“Comedians need to create relatable content. A comedian you need to create jokes that cut across al the classes at the event. They must also keep their jokes simple, scalable and more importantly more contemporary. For now, Nigerian comedians need to come together and take their future in their own hands because there are huge potentials in the Nigerian comedy space.” he concludes.

Numbers don’t lie: How they fare on Instagram

Gbenga Adeyinka  -127,000    Maraji- 476,000

Julius Agwu—282,000    Craze Clown—1.6m

Basorge Tariah-10,000    Woli Arole—362,000

Lepacious Bose-69,000 Chief Obi242,000

Alibaba —-  454,000         Aphricanape-  436000

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