Sunday, 1 November 2009

Owen Gee’s long route to stardom

This is Owen Gee’s car,” my friend announced, pointing to a blue Toyota Corolla packed in the corner, as we made our way into the premises. He actually helped to arrange an interview with the comedian since both men are neigbours.

Immediately Owen stepped into my friend’s apartment with his little son, David, the atmosphere became charged. Did I hear you say by Owen? Well, everyone knows what Owen can do as a comedian, but that night, his son was totally in charge. In fact, it was like performing a ritual, trying to stop David so we could record this interview.
First, he grabbed my two phones from the centre table. Knowing what he’s up to, Owen quickly took both from him. Then he reached for the glass centre table, pushing it up and down. Again, Owen moved the table to the corner. As if that was not enough, little David turned to the TV set showing one of the English Premiership matches.
“Dis boy, you no dey hear word,” Owen shouted as he jumped from his seat. “Because of him, I don’t have glass furniture in my house anymore; I’ve changed everything to pako. I had to put my mattress on the floor because I’m afraid this boy would fall from the bed one day,” he said looking so worried.
Thanks to my friend, who kept David busy with a pack of fruit juice and a bowl of chin-chin while we did the interview. Anyway, that did not stop David from breaking into our chat at intervals. Truly, to be a father is not a day’s job!

BORN and brought up in Ilupeju area of Lagos, Owen Gee is one man, who has succeeded in carving out a niche for himself in the already crowded comedy scene. Funny enough, his biggest dream was to become a Petroleum Engineer.
“After my secondary school at Baptist High School, Obanikoro, Logos, my mind was made concerning my career line. I did JAMB several times, but couldn’t get up to the cut-off mark for the course. Those days, there was no post-JAMB.”
Rather that wasting his time writing JAMB every year, Owen was advised to take Poly JAMB.
“I almost had no choice. I filled Maths and Statistics, thinking they will not take me, so that I could still pursue my petroleum engineering dream. But as God would have it, I beat the cut off mark very well and the admission letter was sent to me from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Initially, I just decided to start, hoping to still pursue an admission to study petroleum engineering. You know what happened, that admission never came. So, I ended up having HND in Maths and Statistics.”
In 2002, Owen Gee did his one-year compulsory National Youth Service with the Pipeline Product Marketing Company (PPMC) after which he got a job with an oil company, but had to voluntarily resign halfway.
“I had to resign to pursue my true love, which is entertainment. I actually started very early; at my son’s age (two years), I was already a dancer. I started our very young.”

AT 12, Own Gee had become a known kid dancer in Lagos, representing his school and community in dance competitions.
“That was when dance was just coming up in Nigeria. In fact, in school, I was a member of rap group called Your Uncles From The Psychiatrics; that was where I started my comedy.”
But the group was supposed to be a music group not comedy?
“It was during one of our performances for Crush; we were performing outside and screaming with my friend and people were just looking at us. At a point, I just started talking to people, yabbing them. I was like, ‘we’ve been trying to entertain you here, but you are just looking at us? Is it when somebody dies here that you will appreciate us? If we come to your house and rob you, you will complain that we are armed robbers, that we don’t have anything doing. Now, we are trying to create a talent that will help us in future and you are not encouraging us,” he recalls with laughter.
However, these words actually opened a new page in Owen’s career as an entertainer.
“After the show, the organizers came to me and said, ‘don’t you think it’s better you become a comedian than you doing music?’ In fact, they paid me to anchor the finals of the show the following day and from there, I went on to anchor many other shows; that’s how my comedy career started.”

THOUGH popularly known as a comedian, Owen Gee still has his hands in other aspects of entertainment.
“I’ve grown to the point I can call myself an entertainment entrepreneur because I’ve done a little bit of almost everything; I’ve done stand-up comedy, anchoring events, I’ve done stage plays, I’ve done two movies and I just finished recording my album.”
You are going back to music?
“Exactly,” he quips. “I just shot two videos, the third one is coming soon. I just finished recording my 12-track album, Owencyclopedia.”
“Well, half of it is serious, half is comedy; there are sometimes you need to get serious with issues. I’m not doing music because I want to show people that I can sing; I did it to show people how creative I can be. Music is another means you can place yourself in the people’s eye because, music travels faster than comedy; it’s universal.”
To Owen, it’s high time entertainers started diversifying.
“If you look at successful entertainment entrepreneurs abroad, you will see that they’ve been able to put their legs in different parts of entertainment. Even here, people like Julius Agwu, Gbenga Adeyinka, Basketmouth…they’ve been able to put their hands in different aspects of entertainment. That’s the only way you succeed, else, you will have plenty of time, yet you are not doing anything with it.”
He continues: “I’m on the board of my own clothing line being run by my wife; it’s called David-Jean Clothing. I’ve appeared in numerous TV and radio programmes; comedy has been able to give me a branch into other aspects of entertainment.”
The comedian, who has won different awards for his talent, recalled his experience after he resigned his white-collar job for comedy.
“Nobody gave me a chance, not even my parents; in fact, my parents thought I was crazy. Some people thought I was just being lazy; people gave different excuses why I shouldn’t do comedy. But I’m someone that perseveres in anything I do, that’s my way. I never stopped, I didn’t give up; I kept writing my jokes, hoping that one day, things will get right. That’s what has taken me to where I’m today.”
Presently, Owen Gee is working on his TV series, Owen Gee’s Crazy World.
“I’m done with the scripting; we are starting shooting next month. I’m also going back to radio production because you have to give your audience more than what they bargained for. I want people continues to see me from different angles; that the easiest way to increase your fan base.”
For your information, Owen is already planning his retirement.
“There should be a time when a man should start thinking of his retirement. But for you to retire, you have to have had structures in place and that is currently where I’m now.”
Owen did not conclude without giving kudos to the forerunners in the businesses for their resilience.
“People have put in a lot of work to ensure that this trade survives; we need to give kudos to those, who struggled to get the industry to where it is today. A few years ago, comedy was there, but not viewed on a large scale; it was like a background thing. But people like Ali Baba kept pushing and promoting, bringing up young people like us. When we came up, we started attaching importance to it because, if you know you are paying a comedian heavily, you won’t treat him shabbily.”

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