Chairman, Alibaba Hicuppuray 3rd
Which Nigerian comedian bears the name, Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere? If the question were to be posed to 100 ardent fans of comedy in Nigeria, it would be a surprise if 10 got the answer right. But if the question were directed at the same number of people with no more than a passing interest in comedy using the name, Ali Baba, the probability is high that all would get it right.
But the truth is that both names belong to the same person. The one is the name of an unknown indigene of Agbarha Otor, in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, while the other is the name of the Lagos-based comedian extraordinaire, who has revolutionized the art of making people laugh, turning it into a money-making venture. Ali Baba is the name of the 52 year-old graduate of Religion and Philosophy who singlehandedly changed public perception of comedy as a pastime of lay abouts. Those that could be regarded as his predecessors in comedy – John Chukwu, Femi Segun, Femi Jarret, Tony St. Iyke, etc – were known more for their expertise in compering events and, in the course of the job, adding jokes to enliven the occasion. But Ali Baba came with a different mission, to raise the art of making people laugh to a new height, to make it a profession. And like pioneers in other fields of human endeavor, he didn’t find the task an easy one.
He started off as master of ceremony at corporate events, and began to appear on television shows alongside those whose faces had already been familiar – people like Patrick Doyle, Charles Oputa, a.k.a Charlie Boy and Danladi Bako, with some cameo appearances with Bisi Olatilo, Soni Irabor and Mani Onumonu. He also had stint with Dapo Adelegan of DP Lekki as executive assistant in 1991.
Ali Baba enjoyed making people laugh at events at which he emceed. He also had a craving to take it a notch higher, but faced the challenge of not having any precedent to fall back on, or learn from. He was undaunted. He stepped up his game as a master of ceremonies, and in less than four years, had become the toast of corporate organisations, and also featured regularly in non-corporate events.
In 1993, Ali Baba registered his company, Alibaba Hicuppuray 3rd, and set out to change public perception of comedy and those that engage in it. Five years later, he took his crusade to the streets, hiring billboards on Ozumba Mbadiwe, Victoria Island; Osborne Road, Ikoyi and Marina, Lagos, to pass the massage across that comedy is not a vocation for never-do-wells, and like other areas of endeavour, it could attract the educated.
It’s an understatement to say that Ali Baba has carved a niche for himself as a comedian par excellence. His name has become synonymous with comedy, such that others in the trade suffer the burden of being compared with him whenever they mount the stage to show what they have to offer.
The appellation of grand master is a befitting tribute to a man who singlehandedly raised the status of comedy as a profession, forcing the public to accord it the respect and recognition it enjoys today. It is to his credit that comedians now earn fees that were hitherto considered to belong to the legal, information technology and accounting professions, ranging between six and seven figures for an event. What this means is that a good comedian, especially those in the top bracket, can walk out of a three-hour event with more money than what the average Nigerian worker earns in one year.
Ali Baba believes that there is enough space in the sky for all the birds to fly. He has not tried to be the only cock that crows. If anything, he has encouraged many comedians to grow, bringing some out of oblivion to limelight. But he has also tried, working in collaboration with others in the profession, to ensure that standard is not sacrificed on the altar of quick wealth, though this seems a herculean task, since he has no control over entry into the field. In any case, the task of separating the wheat from the chaff is that of the public; corporate organisations that pay hefty sums to hire comedians for their events and individuals who now pay high gate fees to watch comedy shows.
With nearly three decades behind him, Ali Baba, an entertainer, comedian, master of ceremonies, radio show host, motivational speaker, writer and photographer, has several awards and recognitions to show. In 2009, he was inducted into the Johnny Walker Striding Man Society, which recognizes those that have achieved giant strides in their chosen professions and also encourage others. In 2012, he had the privilege of ringing the Year End Closing bell of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. He was featured in CNN African Voices in 2015.
His other awards include 1st Nigerian Entertainment Awards Icon of Comedy, 2004; Lagos State University Award of Excellence, 2006; City People Invaluable Contribution to the Entertainment Industry, 2006; The News, For Turning Stand-up Comedy Into a Viable Business, 2008; Diamond Award for Comedy, For Helping the Growth and Development of the Comedy Industry in Nigeria, 2008, and Comedy for Change, In Commemoration of His 20 years on the State, 2010.
Ali Baba has reached a height many would consider to be his zenith. But he does not feel he is there yet. It’s the reason he reads voraciously, constantly seeking new information that could enhance his performance and keep him at the top, which has arguably become his personal property.