Tell us about your background: where you grew up, siblings, friends?
Keeping it brief ! … I was born in Benin city and grew up there at some point we moved to Delta State but my formative years were in Benin. My primary school was UNIBEN STAFF SCHOOL … I like talking about my primary school because that is where I was shaped, pretty much everything I know today, as in the application of certain things in life came from there, it was a very good foundation.
For secondary school I “rummaged” through 3 schools GOVERNMENT COLLEGE UGELE(?) EDUKPOLO GRAMMAR SCHOOL in Benin, BOYS ??? SECONDARY SCHOOL, I was going to change from there again but I refused because it was the first all boarding school I attended, others schools had a mix of day and boarding students, so I was able to form a bond with my school mates then, standards were low, as in the standard of living as boarders, but we had good teachers. So that’s it ! … That is the story of my life. As soon as I finished I got immediately into university and studied Theatre and Arts and the rest I believe is history ! When I finished I got into business.
How about your siblings? Do you come from a big family?
Yes I have 3 brothers and … Ok let me start again I want to put this right so that people don’t get it wrong: my father was a “G” you will understand what I mean when I finish … so my father was a “G” so when he was younger he had 2 daughters with 2 different women … he and the two ladies in question later on in life got married to different people … So I have 2 elder half- sisters and when my parents got married they had me and four younger ones making 4 boys and a girl.
My family is kind of “wide” I grew up with so many relatives ..from my half sisters to my cousins, aunties … It was a full house.
You talked about your primary school days and how they were your formative years would you say that is when comedy and acting became a part of you?
Not exactly … But that was when everything was presented to me there were music classes, sports classes, drama classes … I didn’t have an ear for music I didn’t have the patience to learn instruments but I loved sports, I loved to play.. I didn’t know how to draw, I didn’t have an ear for languages but the French I learnt in primary school is the French I know until today. That’s why I said they made everything available for you.. You could say that is when I started travelling down the path of the arts.
So how would you describe yourself? I know you have done some acting and if I am not mistaken you also produced that program so how would YOU describe yourself?
I usually say I am an entertainer, saying I am a comedian limits me or rather limits what people think I am capable of doing so I normally say I am an entertainer … I love rap music a lot and I used to write a lot of rap music, I love poetry … I love love acting … I love love writing … I love love comedy as well … I started off as an actor before I became a professional stand up comedian … I had tried stand up comedy but on a playful note but really I started off as an actor don’t make me choose because I really can’t.
You described those three acting, Writing, Stand up comedy as your passions so what was your first acting job?
Extended Family … which was my sitcom. I wrote it, produced it and acted in it. I had been working prior to this by January 2007 I got a big break; I met someone who wanted to put money into it so I went into the field without any experience and one of the reasons I did that was because I was trying to land acting jobs but the field was faulty you either had to know someone and the few people I knew were telling me to be patient and I used to tell that ” I am giving you the opportunity to brag for the rest of your life that you discovered me. I know what I am capable of” but they had so many things on their mind and they were not listening to any of that … So as I was not getting anywhere I moved on the first 2 auditions I went for I was actually picked but those productions did not see the light of day so I went ahead and did my thing and that is how it happened … overnight. Extended family debuted on Sunday 1st of April 2007 at 8pm, I remember the date, and by the 2nd of April people were like “are you the guy we saw yesterday?” … As weeks went by the popularity grew in geometric bounds not just for me but the entire program … A part of me was not ready for it: fame and recognition hit me earlier than I expected but the good aspect was the realisation that people liked what I was doing.
How long did you do that for?
I did it for a year … Then we started doing repeats because it started on April 1st but some people did not discover it until December. So we had to do a rerun but I stopped producing it in December 2007, but it run through to 2008.
How did the switch happen going from acting in a soap to stand up comedy?
One of the reasons I did TV was because I had always wanted to do stage and be a stand up comedian. In 2004 and 2005 I had braved some stages but I had a day job I guess I was looking for someone to encourage me I was very timid and I was scared to let people know that I am capable of doing this. I worked somewhere where I was the person managing the comedians and whilst watching them I would feel sick saying to myself “This is who you ought to be, this is where you ought to be” one of the reasons I was pushed to do my first sitcom Extended family was also that if I gained recognition with it, by the time I decided to get on stage I would be accepted immediately and it worked like magic … I always knew.
What was your first stage appearance?
Night of a Thousand Laughs – Abuja. That was my first professional stage act.
How was that for you? Did you have stage fright?
Of course. It was really scary of course because it was my first time … the jokes were funny but I wasn’t funny because I was too careful not to make a mistake however, there was acceptance because of my TV appearance.
So the transition from acting in a series to the stage worked for you?
Yes it did work for me to a large extent but luckily I discovered what was wrong because I wanted to make an impression as a stand up comedian; when they saw me on stage they were seeing my character on TV whilst on stage I was in a suit and tie … It did not blend so I immediately knew what the problem was so after a while I got rid of the jacket and got rid of the tie … So I would still put on the shirt and trouser but fold the shirt so half of me looks decent whilst the other half acts crazy. I had to marry the two styles because my style as a stand up comedian was totally different from my character on TV.
How do you prepare for a stand up show ? I know you write your own material is there any process to your writing?
Basically I write down everything I’m going to say … well, almost everything because when you get on stage you try to be as natural as possible so there will be certain things you wouldn’t have put down. If you try to follow a script on stage word for word you might just mess up, but it’s good to follow a template. When I write it is effortless for me and that’s the genesis of everything, that’s what gives birth to my script both as an actor and as a stand up comedian.
So writing comes to you naturally (“with ease” adds Bovi with a smile) … And you have spoken about acting being another one of your passions so are we at some point going to see you in a production or maybe in a movie you’ve written?
Yes, full time … If I had to divide I think I would spend more years as an actor, it’s only a matter of time and when I tell people that I’m going to go into serious roles, they look at me and laugh saying “when I look at you I am already laughing how do you want to do a serious role?” but that is how people told me you can’t do stand up comedy that is how they told me you can’t be a comic actor but I defied those odds … Even if I fail let me do it at least, let me try so yes you will see me … I am just taking my time. I have been invited in the past, even of recent, to participate in some movies but I think a part of me is very selfish because I think that one of the things that is very wrong with our industry is the scripts meanwhile a script is everything, so I will need to be very impressed with a script before I decide to do it.
So what inspires you ? What informs your acting, writing or your stand up comedy ? where do you draw your strength from is it people or something
Firstly I draw strength from my training as a theatre actor, I draw strength from my foundational background in primary school where we were made to use the library 3 times a week so reading was fun. My mum is a librarian, my dad is a historian so I always used to read newspapers every day; I would flick through, find what interests me then stop and read it. So my base is very wide, so one can find a lot in my residual knowledge so when I am digging from there it’s enough for me to create stuff.
I still try to keep up with the reading culture, it is very difficult now. I think my biggest weapon is the things I have read when the time comes to apply them they just come. I grew up watching a lot of TV as well. I love TV to a fault. I was 15 when I asked my mum about what course those who star in movies do she replied “It’s theatre Arts … but it’s a useless course so forget it ! After you complete university you will get a job! ” … But that was the day I made up my mind that I would be studying Theatre! 3 years later I was in university studying theatre against their wish. As soon as I finished and went for youth Service she called me “I have gotten you 2 jobs as a lecturer at the university or at the Polytechnic which one do you want ? You need to earn a salary” because of that I did not go back home but rather went straight to Lagos … Now she understands and appreciates the fact that I insisted on doing what I wanted to do.
So YES, I draw inspiration from all these things. I listen to stories a lot, I am a voracious reader. I have decided that I will take a break this year to spend time reading.
When you say “take a break” do you mean from work ? And what will you be reading?
I will be reading a lot of motivational books because I read a lot of those during that “fallow” period between when you graduate from school and are waiting for your youth service. I read a lot of books that made me wish I had read more books earlier. I find out that a lot has evolved with time so if you do not refresh yourself you may be stuck in your generation. So when I say I will be taking a break what I mean for example is that summer is coming so what I will be doing is putting my phone on silent and reading … Read wide.
Talking about summer and the time you’ll have to read you are also married with two children … a boy and a girl so do you have plans for more kids or ?? “NO” replies Bovi with a smile, and does your wife agree?
Technically yes because we had to agree to have the second one. I wanted to stop after the first one and everyone thought I was crazy, including my mum who was saying “are you mad? What is wrong with you? and my dad would say ” If I choose to only have one or two children do you think I would have had you?” … My wife always wanted to have a girl and now that we have her I think we need to stop. I like the way we are.
Your comedy shows take you worldwide, how does she cope with you not being around ..or the kids (how old are they?)
My son is 4 and my daughter is going to be 8 months.
So your son will miss you a lot how do you balance keeping the family happy on the home front and the business side of things?
When I’m home am home. When am home they have all of me. She is pretty much used to it now, and when I’m out of town thank God for communication it’s easy I can see her via skype, talk to her via phone or BB chat she can search for me online and find me ..if I’m not on skype am not on BB she will check Instagram or Twitter and she will find me. She will always find me somehow. I think it’s perfect, I am happy with what I’m doing and I am getting the support I need from her. But like I said when I’m home I’m home I don’t have a 9 to 5 job so it works out fine.
You said earlier that when you did your first soap you were instantly recognized within days, how has fame affected you as a person or your family life? Do you go out in disguises sometimes?
Sometimes when the pressure is so much I would just put on my baseball cap and my sunglasses but it does not mean that if people see me and recognize me I would not greet them. I keep reminding myself constantly that anyone who comes to you it is because they appreciate what you do so you have to accept it. I am the kind of person who if it was possible to be a worldwide entertainer without the fame. That is what I would have been, without the perks and recognition.
I don’t like the fact that I cannot move freely, or come out without my shirt, eat at a local joint …those are the things I miss but as I said ultimately it’s because they appreciate me so I am trying to get used to it.
Any strange stories or things that fans may have done to you? Sometimes we hear about fans going to stars and doing crazy things … has anything like that ever happened to you?
I won’t say crazy … I would say weird! The weirdest thing that has happened to me was when I was going to an event dressed in all white … and this guy comes and pinches me hard leaving his finger marks all over my shirt … I have been slapped in the name of play in clubs, ” Heyy what’s up ?” and I would reply “fine!” with the same gesture … they would say “Did you just slapped me?” and I will respond “You slapped me first !” … weird things like that (laughs) .. some come to you and are out-rightly rude in the name of trying to be funny saying for example ” Hey Bovi do you know you are a big fool?” … I would say “Excuse me?” “I say you be fool you know say you be fool” … I reply “ok” then they would say ” how you de?” … I reply “I am not fine” then they claim it was a joke but my reply is “you call me fool and tell me you are joking?”
For comedians it is really really bad, we get it in the ugliest forms but that is not taking anything away from those who have come “good afternoons we love what you do we appreciate you me and my family” I appreciate all of them.
I have this maybe pre-conception about comedians I think the most successful comedians in Nigeria are from the DELTA/ WAFI area would you agree with that? Or why do you think that the most known comedians are from there?
If you say “most” that is ok because Basketmouth for example is not from there and he is one of the most successful comedians to come out of Nigeria… WORI is a melting pot you have the UROGBOS, the IJOS, the CHEKIRIS, the ISOKOS, the IGBOS, the BENINS … pretty much any tribe that stays in Wori is a place like if an IGBO man is in a Yoruba land even if he grows up there he can maintain his Igbo accent, if a yoruba man grows up in an Igbo land as long as he has his immediate community, he will maintain his Yoruba accent but it is not like that in Wori … if you see a young man in Wori unless he tells you the tribe he is from you will not know that is how well people have mixed in that area … the RMD used to tell me that when you are looking for your kid they would tell you he/she is in someone’s house with 10 other kids … whoever ‘s house they were in, the mother would cook for all of them .. there was this camaraderie and I think that is what helped different people coming together to accept pidgin English as their lingua franca, once they did that we then had professors of pidgin English creating different nuances, different idiomatic expressions etc … That is why Wori stood out because when you have 10 to 20 people gathered they are telling stories and it is from those stories that funny people came out and that is what gave birth to that thing where everyone wanted to be funny or do comedy for Wori.
Have you met people sometimes who have misunderstood you or have a different perception of who you are?
It even happened to me today … (laughs) but there are two sides to it NOW this is who I really am ..you need to know the second side to it is that you believe my art so much that you cannot see me in a different light. I am not offended by it … I take it as it comes but there are people who go overboard sometimes but you know like I said ultimately, they appreciate what I am doing.
So what are their misconceptions? What do they say for example?
“So you can speak English?” this is the most common one and it makes me laugh because I think to myself that this person did not realise that I was fully grown before I started speaking pidgin English. The second one that happened was in Lagos I was driving my wife’s brand new car and when you see it is squeaky clean to the eye, and when I parked it a grown man approached and said “you are the guy that did the advert for that multinational company isn’t it ?… They have really done you well!” … they see me and expect me to be driving some jalopy or at least that my driving a new car is linked to that particular advert and not from my own means … I get that a lot ! (laughs).
Do you have anyone in particular from whom you may have learnt certain things from positively or negatively?
I am going to say the positive because I would not want to promote anyone who has affected me negatively… RMD took me under his wings as his personal assistant. I learnt a lot from him, so many tricks of the trade. BASKETMOUTH is phenomenal, he has been very open to me; he taught me the tricks of being a stand up comedian. ALIBABA I have never been under his wings but the first time he saw me doing stand-up, years back on 30th October 2005, then I had not done TV, neither had I become a professional stand up comedian .. I just saw the opportunity to grab a mike and I did .. he watched me and later said to me “You should do comedy … you are funny !” … on that night, I wasn’t really funny but he saw what nobody saw. I appreciate him for that because I never forgot what he said that night .. he said “you are funny, in fact they are some big names that you are already funnier than, I can see it .. You should do comedy!”
Even when I started comedy I cried to him once that I wasn’t getting the shows but that I knew I had the goods … He told me not to worry, to be patient, told me some of the calculations I needed to do, he drew me a chart that I cannot really remember now, but it stuck.
So it does help to have people to lift you up in any industry because most time you hear more stories about people trying to put you down, it’s good to know that you have people who will show you the ropes?
In everything in life there are people who not that they necessarily want to pull you down but their lifestyle and yours do not meet, so in their hearts they are not doing anything bad and in your heart you are not doing anything wrong but you just cannot work together so because you hold on to your principles and your views you must just want to stay in your own lane. That is why I like to dwell on the positive side I mean apart from that person’s heart, God loves everybody. Everybody cannot be your friend.
Even when I started comedy I cried to him once that I wasn’t getting the shows but that I knew I had the goods … He told me not to worry, to be patient, told me some of the calculations I needed to do, he drew me a chart that I cannot really remember now, but it stuck.
You just mentioned a word that I was going to ask you about? GOD … Are you a religious person?
I love God and he loves me.
Have you had any supernatural experiences?
I get them a lot, when I was younger and still very innocent, but basically the ability to come up with some of these jokes, some of these stories, it’s esoteric. It’s not in any way a physical thing. That’s the gift God has given me and his word does say that a man’s gift will make way for him to dine with Kings and I believe every man needs something to believe in … and I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
You talked earlier about the first time ALIBABA saw you, you did not think you were funny on that night?
I wasn’t funny, the jokes were funny but I wasn’t (laughs).
Can you remember what you would class as you worst gig and how did you get through it?
I would not remember easily because what is worst for me probably was average for people and that is primarily because I never go into battle without my sword that is I never go into battle without preparation, without training. I have had gigs where I have performed below par but luckily they were not commercial gigs. There were more like private events. This particular one was so bad, but I had to keep talking … It wasn’t totally my fault even though I take responsibility but the ingredients to make a performance good were not available: there was no stage… The lighting was not good … the sound system was not good and people were eating … All of this came against me and then I became afraid and like I always say what Robert Green wrote “Fear in the EYE of the participant is evidence of failure in the eye of the onlooker … Fear in the MIND of the participant is evidence of failure in the eye of the onlooker” … Which means that people can smell timidity from a mile away and when you are timid you bring out the lion in people who are not naturally blood thirsty. But those were the early days of my career … I have reached a point now where if the elements are not going to favor me I will let you know … God has put me in a position where I have gained acceptance to the extent that even if all the elements are not there the fact that I am there will make people want to listen but then you can only have them for a short while.
So from your early days until now in the entertainment industry do you think that it has changed?
Sadly not much has changed everybody seems to thrive individually but collectively as a team , as an industry it’s been very slow. We can only hope it gets better with time that is the major bane now because there is no structure, that is why anyone can get up and say she is an actress, anyone can wake up and ask how much will it cost me to produce a film ? they will tell her “just bring 2 million naira and we will knack it together and we will produce it” So without being registered with any Guild, without any prior experience, she calls herself an actress, she goes to the press, she does interviews, she makes noise there is so much garbage on display .. and it is not just peculiar to the movies it happens in music, it happens in comedy: someone wakes up, buys two comedy CDs, watches them and picks the jokes that him laugh, crams them, prints business cards that say he is a comedian. They even design websites and throw themselves out there.
So there are many pretenders in the business right now … but a part of me is not so angry because would you rather they sit at home doing nothing ? become idle and become the Devil’s workshop and do crime? … NO.
If you had the power what are the things you would change in the industry?
If I had the power that power would be presidential because everything starts from the government. It is because the government has not paid the kind of attention it needs that is why the private sector is still not sure about delving in full blast yet. But don’t forget some marketers who woke up and said “lets do this” and they did it and it became big but we could not manage it, so now everything is trying to take shape, the government has registered distributors properly who have the right to distribute the movies. They have the Censors’ Guild which in my opinion should be called the classification Guild because censoring gives you the right to infringe on my artistic creation: just classify my movie as R18 and I will be satisfied so we know that you cannot watch the movie unless you are 18 but don’t tell me to go and cut some scenes of blood or sex from it … You do not have the right to define my art. These are some of the little things we need to put in place.. a proper distribution channel.. we are talking about 170 million Nigerians, if you can reach out to 2 million legitimately, with a product as cheap as 50 naira, we are talking about 100 million naira (if my math is correct). The government can use movies to launder its image, to sell themselves to the entire world. This is what Hollywood did, this is what Jamaica did with Reggae music.
We are getting there, the world has recognized us as a movie making nation, the second largest, however that is on a commercial level, critically we have never graced the OSCARS carpet, we have not graced the CAN Film Festival major booths. Music wise we are getting it right.
Recently I hear the OSCARS have put together a group of people who are going to present a Nollywood movie to the OSCARS board?
I heard it too and as I said it is a step in the right direction, and I hope we won’t have to do this for 3 or 4 years before ONE movie makes it to the board because our stories are unique and we have to tell our own stories …. You cannot sell what is not yours. So we are getting there but the speed could have been faster.
Talking about movies, do you watch any of the Nollywood Movies?
I watch them I do … I hope I will not be misunderstood and that the world will forgive me for saying this but I watch because I want to learn more about WHAT NOT TO DO … I am overly critical when I watch movies. I hate the fact that I can predict most of the time, I hate the fact that I can rush out to do something come back and still catch up … That is what is missing probably because I am a writer. There are Hollywood movies I watch as well and I can predict what is going to happen, and my wife will wonder how am I sure? I usually advise to wait and watch as these are templates … and when it happens she tells me “Get out of here !” … Of course there are still movies that take me off balance and leave me wondering Wow how did that happen ? I missed that …. So I watch Nollywood movies but my wife usually tells me to watch them on my own and let her know if they are interesting I’ll watch it … so I do try! I am really passionate about Nollywood I truly am but maybe I am just a bit too critical about them when I watch them.
I think this is a good thing, because I believe that there are two things one can learn from any situation what to do and what not to do. I am glad you are watching them for those reasons because it means that at some point, natural progression, what we can expect from the BOVI camp will be better?
By the special grace of God. That is why I don’t talk too much on camera anymore, or in industry circles because I don’t want to do something that will be a mess … in fact I have been so critical that I have chosen to be very patient with what I want to do. I strongly believe that I have an eye for what can sell, not just about telling beautiful stories … God please help me when my time comes (laughs).
Well we look forward to that movie … Talking about who would be some of your I won’t say top 5 or any classification) just name some of the actors and actresses that you like.
I like Mercy Johnson because she is convincing, I love Genevieve because in my opinion she has been the most versatile because I have seen her play good girl, gone bad girl, gone confused girl, gone apologetic girl … in ONE movie. Which is very difficult to achieve. I like her because you can look at her face and tell the dominant emotion and as you keep watching you can see that face changing from angelic to devilish … That is why she is my top pick that’s how highly I rate her.
And on the men’s side?
(laughs) I have worked with the best. I worked with RMD (Richard Mofe Damijo). He is a trained Theatre artist so he is very manipulative when he goes on set. I watched him closely not only on screen but working closely with him. I think I am still with the “old school”?! (laughs)
No it’s still very current … Any other actor apart from RMD?
Oh yes many of them but I wouldn’t like to start naming names .. But I like Majid (Michel) too because he is very intense … his intensity is on another level.
So have you ever thought that you made the wrong career choice at ANY point in time in your journey ? Did you ever stop and thought “Wow I should not be doing this?”
NEVER, If that was going to happen it would have been during those years when returns were not coming, when I lost everything that was when I may have thought that but I never for once. But I have not for once doubted what do you want me to do if I am not doing entertainment ? I would be useless to the society … I am too old to play football now my passion was football … Even if I was a professional footballer I would have been writing the twilight of my career as a footballer and this I can do until eternity … until Jesus comes. I have never doubted it.
What advice or word of knowledge would you have for other budding entertainers who are looking to someone like yourself?
I would say continue working … work work work because it never ends; you are only as good as your last performance, your last show, your last music album, your last movie. So keep working, you may stumble but if you fall get up, dust yourself and continue working. FAME is fickle … Don’t pursue fame; fame is supposed to pursue you… When you chase fame you are on the wrong lane that is how you start trying to keep up appearances, start trying to be who you are not so I would strongly advise just keep working because the perks, the benefits that come with a good job … You naturally attract them, you don’t chase them. You ought to be paid for what you love doing, you don’t need to hustle to get paid. If you love what you are doing. You will want to do it for free… If you love what you are doing you will never get tired. If you get tired of doing it, take a break and check because everybody gets tired. But if you sleep and wake up re-energized ..continue. If you’re not you are probably doing the wrong thing. It’s work work work and the benefits will come to you and not you chasing it.
Social Media … Are you active ? Facebook you can let our viewers know how they can contact you?
I try … have been dormant on FACEBOOK just because there are so many … How many do you want to keep up with ? Facebook it’s strictly Bovi Ugboma. I reply to direct messages, I don’t know how to poke, I don’t know how to write on walls except I’m advertising. I don’t indulge it that much … My TWITTER is @officialbovi …. There are about FOUR parody accounts that I have nothing to do with, two of those parody accounts have more followers than me because they tweet all kinds of things even obscenities you will never hear me say … My handle is officialbovi that is the only twitter handle I have ever had. INSTAGRAM officialbovi … I recently joined MOBLI (???) its mobliofficialbovi as well.
So, apart from comedy we are waiting for a movie that may be written (or produced) by BOVI
More written, producer is very difficult I am not that patient – (laughs).
So a script from BOVI is what we are waiting for … We don’t want to be kept too long
Neither do I … I think I have waited too long too … Blockbuster movie coming from Bovi LIVE & DIRECT!! Watch out … Yes I am boasting but what do you want me to say ? that I don’t think the movie will sell ? YES the movie will sell … You will like it, If you love my sketches you will like my movie by the grace of God, it is not by my power but please when it comes out watch out!
It’s been great having you here