As a young boy growing up in
Then in the 80s there was the popular Masquerade soap staring Zebrudaya as the main character. He had two house boys, Gringory Akabogu of Ikot Epkeme, and Clarus Igbojikwe of the one eyed mama. Gringory was particularly stupid, as was Clarus, and because the acting of Gringory was very good, a stereotype was born; that was of a stupid Calabar man. Like all stereotypes, the premise was wrong, as the actor playing Gringory was highly educated and articulate.
I also remember the late stand up comedian and DJ John Chukwu doing a routine during which he did perfect impressions of the Calabar accent in the late 70s.
The above shows could be said to be the fore runners of today’s stand up comedy routines. A recent explosion in Nigerian comedy can be attributed to the VCD series, ‘A Nite of a Thousand Laughs’ by Opa Williams. For the first time various stand up comedians were introduced to Nigerian audiences through touring and VCD. Going through these VCDs is the easiest way to ascertain the level of tribal stereotypes as it exists today. I opted to study the Abuja-Benin 2004-2005 VCD, as I felt that this was the best of the whole series (A biased view, but I had to watch something I could tolerate to the end!).
Below is a brief review of Opa Williams Nite of a Thousand laughs. Abuja-Benin 2004-2005. Ahbu Ventures Ltd.
Note that the theme tune for this show is ‘Who let the dogs out’ by the Bahamen which is played between and during comedy performances.
I list the comedians in order of appearance and a brief description of their performance.
Okey Bakkassi. 5 comical stories covering marriage/infidelity/squints/robbery and a man and a monkey. The monkey handler offers a prize for getting his monkey to laugh, cry or go into the cage. A Calabar man performs this feat by first telling the monkey his work, his pay and lastly inviting the monkey to apply for a vacancy at the Nigerian Railway Corporation. This last joke was done in a Calabar accent, bringing down the house. There was no mention of any other tribal group in his routine.
I go Die – Dressed in a bright red suit gave, what I consider to be his best performance ever. Told about 13 jokes. He made no mention of any particular tribe, although he did mention a Warri boy acting aggressively. Routinely mainly about breasts and mobile phones
Mike Ogbolosinger – told 8 jokes. Mentioned Akwa Ibom thrice. Once during his routine when the theme tune – ‘who let the dogs out’ was played suddenly, he joked about eating dog meat. During a classroom story he inferred an Akwa Ibom pupil was stupid for answering ‘the ten commandments’ when asked to name something breakable especially as the two previous pupils asked the same question had answered Eggs and Glass.
Lastly he joked about a stupid and violent Akwa Ibom man who refused to give him directions when he was lost; (done with accent). He briefly mentioned a stupid Aso Rock Photographer who he lampooned in a mock Hausa accent.
Clint the Drunk. Three tribal jokes about singers – Hausa: singers useless; Yoruba singers: loud; and Igbo music unscripted and composed on the spot to praise rich people in attendance. No mention of Calabar!
I go die – 3 jokes. No tribal insults
Okey Bakkassi – 4 jokes. No tribal jokes
Unnamed comedian – described how different tribes prayed – Yorubas shout, Igbos give God their shop addresses, Benin people speak Good English (Note that the show was in Benin), Warri people yarn (discuss) with God like friends and Esan people shout excessively.
I go save – Mainly insulted the ex President of Nigeria by inferring he looked like a primate.
From the above it is obvious that a disproportionate amount of jokes are heaped on the ‘Calabar people’.
A particular comedian – Basket mouth (the singer, not Bright Opkocha of similar stage name) did not appear in the above show but his routine consists of singing in the style of old-skool reggae dance hall about Calabar,
I too dey like their style
Because they really know how to take care of man
Dem go cook for you
Dem go wash your cloth
Dem go make your belle
Make e extra sweet
Na inside bedroom dem dey get their power
Bleep, bleep, bleep. (Offensive to Christians)
Dem get degree for sexology
Dem be professors for knackiology
E reach bedmatics dem no dey taya
Because Calabar girls they are ever ready
Maybe na the dog meat wey dem dey chop
Maybe na dat one dey give dem extra power
Etc etc etc
The audience at this time was falling over themselves with laughter. I would however doubt he would have gotten a good response to that song had it been performed at Tinapa (Calabar)!
In summary, Calabar is an iconic town with a huge reputation. It inspires creative people and deserves to be made the subject of films, plays and musicals, as has been demonstrated by Jeta Amata’s Amazing Grace. Creative people should try to concentrate on getting creative works out that can inspire rather than constantly insult a tribe. Insults are cheap and will definitely get the performer an easy laugh but merely dispensing insults represents a lazy approach to comedy writing.
While I am not a great fan of political correctness or censorship, I think the Calabar jokes have been pushed too far.
Perhaps I should start the ball rolling by deleting the Calabar comedy audio track I have on my web site!