Thursday, June 19, 2014 2:28 pm
Roland Igbadumhe, popularly known as Youngest Old Man, tells JETHRO IBILEKE about his career in comedy and assesses Nigeria’s entertainment industry
Why the stage name Youngest Old Man?
Every comedian wants to be be known by a name that is unique in its own way. I am a young man but whenever I am on stage, I become the old man, dishing out wise and hilarious jokes to ease tension.
When exactly did you go into full time comedy?That was in the year 1999. Then I participated in two auditions, at Night of a Thousand Laughs held in Lagos in 1999 and 2000 alongside other comedians like God Father, I Go Die, and I Go Save. Both auditions failed to yield positive result as I failed to impress the judges enough to earn me a contract.
I went to two other auditions in Lagos, where Segun Arinze and others screened us. I still did not make it. From there, I began struggling to get stage performances here and there to make ends meet. I performed at a show at Auchi, but it was poorly attended. My first major earning was at the first show I attended in Benin, which was held at Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, organised by Don General [of Independent Television/Radio]. He paid me N1,000 out of the N1,500 he promised to pay me.
Along the line, I met people like I Go Die, Gandoki, and I Go Save, who encouraged me never to relent but to forge ahead. By then, I Go Die used to live at Ekenwa Road in Benin. I would come from Ekpoma, stay overnight with him and also attend shows with him at Prest Motel.
At what point did you break into the big league?
The turning point was when I Go Die had two shows on the same night – one at Sheraton Hotel in Abuja and the other in Lagos. He generously asked me to represent him at the Abuja show. He gave me money for transport, gave me one old suit that looked like a native gown on me. That was the first time to travelled to a big city like Abuja, the first time I stepped into a five-star hotel. At the end of the day, I performed marvelously well. People were happy with me, snapping photographs with me. I was paid N100,000 for the show. That’s how I walked into stardom, the big league of comedians.
I made several contacts from there, after which Cool FM in Lagos invited me to perform at one of their events in Lagos. Thereafter, I decided to make Abuja my base. But life in Abuja was very difficult at the beginning. I lived more like an orphan. I used to live at Gwagwalada, from where I would travel to the main city every night to perform.
How did you finally make a breakthrough in Abuja?
It was at one of the shows that I met the General Manager of NTA Plus, Wale Coker. The man gave me a very big platform to perform every Saturday at NTA Plus. From then on, I started meeting big people. I was also privileged to meet the Chairman of DAAR Communication, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, who also gave me another big platform. He promised to be part of anything I was doing. He supported me both with airtime on AIT and cash. The Group Managing Diector, Tony Akiotu, was also very nice to me. I’ve met and performed for ministers, senators and big men of the society, just name them.
In all, I believe it’s not just me. It is God’s wish and doing that I meet these big and wonderful persons who have contributed in one way or the other to my success in the entertainment industry.
Which would you describe as your biggest show ever?
One of my biggest shows was at Abuja when I performed for former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That was when Prof. Julius Ihonvbere was serving in his government. But there are so many other events that could be described as very big shows at top hotels across Nigeria. I’ve also performed for many corporate organisations, like Nigerian Breweries, MTN and others. Then I began doing my regular shows at Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
When and how did you meet Governor Adams Oshiomhole?
The first time I met Governor Oshiomhole was in 2007, when he was still going to tribunal to reclaim his mandate. That morning, I jokingly told him: “Oga, no be only you dey go court oh. Even craze people self dey follow you go court because we know say na you win.”
Why did you decide to go into charity, as in NGO?
Right from when I was in Abuja, I began thinking on giving back to the society at large. Whenever I travel out of the country and make some money, I do give a sizeable part of it to charity. I finally set up The Youngest Old Man Foundation. I do go to orphanage homes and donate to them on a regular basis. I’ve also worked with Jim Iyke Foundation.
Which specific areas does your Foundation target for assistance?
We have given assistance to widows, the physically challenged, and also those economically challenged. But we have paid more attention to orphanage homes. You can imagine that if things are hard and difficult for children who still have their parents around to cater for them, how much more for those without parents. All the orphanage homes across Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North have been touched by Youngest Old Man Foundation.
We had a small party with them last year, but this year we are planning big for the orphanage homes. We will have what we call ‘A Day With The Orphans’. As part of activities to mark the day with the orphans, we will commission the orphanage home we helped to complete at Okpekpe. We are also planning to renovate and equip more orphanage homes to enhance the comfort of the inmates.
I’ve also worked with the Women Affairs ministry to remove children of the streets of Benin. We don’t have to abandon them because they don’t have mothers and fathers. If we do not care for them now, if we do not show them love now, it would boomerang in the nearest future. You can see that those are the kind of children involved in criminal activities, including the Boko Haram menace.
How do you raise fund for your Foundation to support the inmates of orphanage homes?
Apart from earnings from my shows, I also donate my salaries to them. Since January 2014 when I was appointed Special Assistant to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, my salary has been going into the project. Last year, the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Uyi Igbe, supported us, and he has also promised to support us again.
Aside from that, I am bringing in some Nollywood stars from Lagos. Prominent among them is Kanayo O. Kanayo, who has always been part of the project. This past February, I just called and asked him how he was celebrating Valentine. He asked if I had anything in mind and I told him I had an event for orphans in my area and he promised to come. He did not only come, he came with many things for them and some cash. He also promised to give them N10,000 monthly stipend, which he has not failed to send to them. So many of them, like Desmond Elliot, Aki and Paw Paw, I Go Die, I Go Save, Gandoki, Effex and others are coming this year.
We are also thinking of bringing in the Governor of Imo State and the Comrade Governor on 31 May when we will commission the orphanage home. Then on the 1st of June, when we will be celebrating the day with the orphans at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, we are inviting all Nigerians to come and give to the orphans.
How do you assess the entertainment industry today?
The entertainment industry still has a long way to go in Nigeria. Not many actually recognise that much could still be done to take it to the next level. I think the multi-national companies could still do more to support the industry. But we must commend people like the governors of Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom and Imo for their support for the industry. They have done so much for the industry.
In view of the security challenges we face in Nigeria today, do you foresee a brighter Nigeria in the future?
I believe the future of Nigeria is very bright. For me, Nigeria is the best country for me to live and work. Remember that there is one challenge or the other in every country, even America. They also have their own challenges here and there. They have gone through this stage before. United Kingdom has also gone through the stage before. So our own is no exception. I believe that God will fight for us to keep us united.
But I want those in government to keep politics aside and fight for the betterment of the common man on the street.
And I also think the youths of this country are getting things wrong in that they allow themselves to be used by the older generation as political thugs who will be dumped after being used.
Secondly, I don’t believe in those who think we must travel abroad to earn good living. I believe we have everything we need to make it big and good here in Nigeria.