Stand-up comedy: The past, present and future
The word comedy comes from the Greek word komos, which means “celebration,” ” revel,” or “merrymaking.” As the word suggest, comedy began as a ritual celebration, a time for merry making in which social restrictions were released, appetites were indulged, bizarre behavior was encouraged, and the world was turned upside down. The indicator sign of comedy is laughter, it is believed that laughter is as old as man himself, while comedy can be traced to the beginning of drama. On of the early philosophers named Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’ said that “Comedy has had no history because it was not at first treated seriously”. Vera Mowry Roberts quoting from Aristotle’s “Poetics” said, “there are no early records of comedy because it was not highly valued”. This means that comedy has no definite history.
Though the origin of comedy is not certain, this fact has not diminished its practice of comedy in Africa especially Nigeria. The major kind of comedy practiced in Nigeria is called “Stand up comedy ” which is a form of comic style, in which a comedian performs in front of a live audience, speaking directly to them. The performer, known as a comic, stand-up comic, stand-up comedian or, simply, a stand-up, usually recites a fast-paced succession of humorous stories, short jokes, called, “bits,” and one-liners, which constitute what is typically called, a monologue, routine or act. Unlike comedies in dramatic form, stand-up comedies are mostly non-theatrical, without dramatic performances on stage reflecting characters in societies with a blend of elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of sudden reversals. The intent of the comedian here is not the audiences’ critical perception of the message, but the eliciting of laughter or smiles over the jokes or vulgar jibes.
A Nigerian sociologist Stephen Inegbe in his piece ‘Towards a General Typology of Humour in Yoruba Indigenous Art Forms’ (2002:20) traced the origin of Stand up comedy to the old Yoruba dynasty: He wrote “the phenomenon of humour exists in all societies since the pre-historic time, man, in diverse societies, has been earning a living through professional acts of jesting and clowning either to please his lord and master or to please benefactors within his society and beyond. According to his source, it was said that Stand-up comedians were becoming more recognized as civilization started grew. They became the chronicler of the people’s culture and a professional man, if he is not engaged to any individual as his benefactor. They thus exploited there abundant creative resources to humour people and make some quick money. The ‘Alarinjo’, the ‘Eyiteri’, and the ‘yungba-yungba’ guilds of performers in the courts of nobles and kings in ancient Yoruba societies are paradigmatic of this. The author goes on to inform us that the dramatic form of the Ibibio known as ‘Ekong’ is realized through the use of humour.
In Nigeria presently, Stand-up Comedians as an art has been given a new flavour. Comedy is now no longer restricted to festivals, wedding receptions and birthday ceremonies. Stand-up Comedians are featured in almost every event: Corporate Annual General Meetings, Seminars, Workshops, Symposia, Launchings, Award Ceremonies, Political campaigns etc. It is a testimony to the success they enjoy that comedians are now a permanent feature at most corporate events. Today, even Nigerian Presidents utilise comedians at their functions. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in particular tried to use humour to convince Nigerians to accept some of his hard-to-swallow policies. In his time, Stand-up Comedy soared to its highest level and the best performers where in serious demand.
I believe that in no distance time stand-up comedians will become more popular and relevant to modern day Nigeria; and their stories will keep the entire nation healthy and laughing. These will be are an integral part of why we’ve been called the happiest people on Earth.
Awaritoma Agoma “Laughing All The Way To The Bank: A History of Stand-up Comedy in Nigeria” at http://nigeriathegoodnews.com/2015/01/laughing-way-bank-history-stand-comedy-nigeria/
Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, “The Rise of Stand-up Comedy Genre in Nigeria” at www.nico.gov.ng
Stephen inegbe, Towards a General Typology of Humour in Yoruba Indigenous Art Forms’ (2002:20).