– By Kwesi E. Baako
For a first time appearance for these 2 contemporary Nigerian comedians, it is really something to discuss; till the next performance, which promises to be an improvement after scaling the hurdle of putting together a stand up event in the Big Apple. And for me, I was fortunate to see a lot of the preparation that went into this night of ‘serious laughs’ as well as the actual show in its entirety. Therefore I have dared to confer on myself a quasi-expert title to speak about the ‘This America Sef Tour’.
The show, heralding the commencement of the tour was put together by Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo, known in his 200-episode-and-counting series the ‘Dr. Damages Show’ as … you guessed; Dr. Njakiri Damages and his colleague Adeola Fayehun, host of ‘Keeping It Real with Adeola’.
Rudolf and Adeola both host different political satire shows on SaharaTV and most likely got the confidence to take their trade out of the TV studios and before a live audience based on the reactions their fans fed them back.
On Friday December 11, after some spirited but shoestring-budget publicity the show came off at the Madiba Studios in Harlem, New York.
The night was opened by a series of acts including dancers and comedians who did quite a good job with keeping the audience entertained and waiting for the main course.
Dr. Damages came on set first. He seemed rather nervous, for a man who unflinchingly dishes out morsels and doses of accusations, real and fictional at Nigerian and other African leaders and public figures. It did not take too long however for him to overcome his initial stage fright and launch into his main act.
“The good doctor” as he is referred to by his fans delivered what I considered to be a very bittersweet ordeal. This is because the audience was locked up-from where I sit- in a purgatory of self-assessment while still trying to laugh. Well, that is comedy isn’t it? But what made this painful was that it was so real. It felt as if the “Good Doctor” had created a patchwork of stories including a line from every one of the audience’s lives
He indeed brought meaning to the title of the tour: ‘This America Sef’. In a nutshell, Africans go through thick and thin to go to America. Some go through winning the Visa lottery, some like ‘Jimmy’ in Dr. Damages’ narrative went through a complex maze that would befuddle the young Theseus. Some had to lock themselves in complex relationships that undoubtedly land them in a macabre ending; die miserably in America and have their bodies sent home to spend a single night in the house they have spent their entire life trying to put up to impress their families, or die in America and be buried in an ‘unmarked grave’.
To take such dark topics and make folks laugh is a skill I think they should teach in the universities. But as a keen observer of his art, I have realized that the skill is perhaps hinged on his ability to move quickly from the theme of the subject to the plot, which is loaded with the actual comedy. The finer details and the way he handles it is perhaps the magic behind how he succeeds in creating such an oxymoron of a performance.
What impresses me about Dr. Damages’ act is that he has an uncommon knack for taking a serious topic… even death, and making a laughing matter out of it. His comedy is as dark as the innermost parts of hell and yet sets the audience laughing, possibly remembering a familiar situation they’ve once been in being deftly re-enacted on stage.
Once he had found his feet, and probably convinced that he has actually crossed over from the screen to the stage, Dr. Damages unleashed a performance, which has earned him the title, Njakiri, the joker… the Village marketplace and court comic reborn.
Unlike his TV shows however, the focus was not on Nigerian politicians and other notable figures. The focus was on you… Me … everyone. The show was written for and about the audience and only barely mentions any politician. That surprised me a bit!
Perhaps as a sign that he was slightly tense, Dr. Damages did not make full use of the stage. He practically planted his feet in one spot… much to my (and I believe some other patrons’) annoyance. I wished he would move more and share more of his act with everyone in the audience.
After taking the audience through this purging journey, he handed the stage and the mic over to Adeola.
Adeola made a grand entrance. It was obvious the entry had been rehearsed meticulously… but without the DJ who totally made nonsense of what I believe would have been a smash of an entrance. The DJ played the wrong sound and thus Adeola had to quickly and tactfully adapt and ad lib. She mentioned a song she was going to sing, which I still am yearning to hear.
The false start affected the rest of the show but like the confident presenter that she is, she boldly took the show up and reworked it, even making the obvious glitch a punch line and drawing laughter from the audience.
I personally find Adeola funny… very funny. I have had to check myself sometimes watching her show not to look like a totally crazy person on the train. The way she handles her topics makes one think… wait, does she know everything? From every African country? From ruffling the feathers of government authorities to sticking a mic in Robert Mugabe’s face and asking when he is going to resign, Adeola does not fall short in creating controversy, but this was not a night of controversies. It was the ‘This America Sef’ Tour and she was going to be dishing out a different plate for her audience.
Her piece centered more on the identity issue, cross-racial relationships and the African church in the diaspora.
Her strength in performance stems from the actual delivery of whatever she is saying. She can take a verse of the bible and recite it in such a way that would send her audience cackling. She dubbed her session, a service; as in church service. And the inference was not lost on anyone.
She used a bit more of the stage that Rudolf did, but I also noted that she could have done a bit more in that area. She however made up for it by engaging the audience in her piece. Also a bit more fluidity in-between subtopics would take her piece to another level all together.
She ended the show with a song… a beautiful song that took everyone’s breath away. It climaxed a beautiful show and redeemed the performance from the initial glitch. When she said she was going to sing, I was expecting a funny rendition of whatever song she was going to sing but then she went into this awesome performance that deserved its own stage, and another $20 ticket.
The ‘This America Sef’ Tour has taken off. It marks the successful transition of 2 television acts to the live stage where tele-prompters, floor managers, editors and the litany of players that make the make-believe world of TV are all absent. From New York, the show is due to move to Boston, Washington DC and other major US cities. If you hear its showing again anywhere within a 50-mile radius, do not hesitate to get a ticket because you will be part of history in the making… and to prove you were there, get a copy of Dr. Damages’ book ‘This American Life Sef’ which will be on sale at knockdown tour prices at the gate or in the auditorium somewhere, and ask him for an autograph. Or come in a clean white shirt or dress and ask Adeola for her autograph. I am pretty sure they will oblige.