Interview: People think I’ve deviated from the scripture because I do Comedy – Woli Agba
The most suitable description for Woli Agba would have been a tetchy, cantankerous and tithe-loving elderly prophet. However, a peek into the life of Ayo Ajewole, the man behind the character, betrays the validity of that impression. In this chat with YUSUFF ADEBAYO, he gave an insight into his trajectory as a comedian, the criticism of his brand of comic evangelism and the purported rift with his brother, Alfa Sule. Excerpts…
The film ‘Won ti Gan Pa’ back in 2002 unarguably propelled you to limelight but who was Woli Agba before that time?
Before I decided to go into acting, I was actually playing football. So we’ll just win those trophies that they make by putting bulb in a tin of milk and wrapping it for you. That was what I was busy doing at the time before dabbling into acting and comedy.
So what was your first introduction to acting?
It was at a Redeemed Church where I acted on January 18, 2002. It was a dance drama and it was good introducing what people have not seen before then. The fact that we combined acting with dancing was new to the audience. So, the reception was quite good.
Was the idea of ‘Woli Agba’ in your skits now inspired in any way by the characters you’ve played before?
Well, I can say yes and I can say no. I can say yes because people loved my Woli Agba character in my dance drama days. So, I just wanted a continuation of what people had known Woli Agba to be as a funny prophet. So, coming to social media, can I still infuse this into the social media world? I discovered I was going to be able to do it and I did.
And at what point did you decide to make that migration to social media?
That was some four years ago. I got introduced to social media through Instagram specifically. Somebody just told me that I can put my pictures and videos online and people will like it. To me, it didn’t sound interesting at first. Why will anyone like my pictures? But when I got into Instagram, I started seeing celebrities and what they are up to. So, I felt this is actually updating us and bringing us closer to our celebrities. Which is quite fine but then I was looking at their followers and seeing thousands of people. So, I started thinking of what to do in order to announce my presence on social media.
You’ve been producing comic home videos before you migrated to social media to release your skits. Do you remember the particular one that blew you up on the internet?
Well, when I joined social media, I found out that there was a guy already, Woli Arole and some other guys who were doing the prophetic type of comedy. So I had to look inward at what I could do to announce my presence. Can I bring dance drama into this? It is not my concept, it’s for my brother. I tried making videos with my native dialects and people enjoyed it. That announced me and my followers grew from 629 to close to 10,000. I tried doing it again but because I have been based in Ibadan all my life, it didn’t sound so great. It was on a Monday that I decide to wear a white garment and shot a skit. I made a video with Reekado Banks’ Oluwa ni and that went viral. So I said okay, if you all are going to enjoy me in this Woli Agba character, then I’m here for you. So, that was the beginning.
The tone and intensity of some of your skits is not strictly Christian-like. Is that a deliberate attempt to appeal to a wider audience online beyond the Christian belt?
I’ll just give you a straight answer to this question. Laughter has no religion. Everybody wants to laugh. And as long as it is what is relatable, I’ll keep making them laugh. I call myself the prophet with the oil of gladness. So it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to reach a wider audience because I was not limited by religion. All I wanted to do was to be real and draw inspirations from the realities of life.
The brand of comic evangelism that you do has come under fire a number of times from orthodox Christians for being a form of distraction especially since the wave of comedians being invited to perform during Church service became a norm. How do you react to this?
Well, I’ve been able to do justice to what I do. The thing is when it comes to the use of the word ‘comedian’, the fact that someone makes you laugh does not make him a comedian. People believe that a number of people have misused the platform of being a comedian and that’s why they group all comedians together. But we’re different. Mine is to just make you laugh and forget your worries.
You’ll agree with me that religion is a pretty sensitive issue across all climes. When you mix it with comedy, it becomes even more delicate. As a creative, how do you draw the line between wanting to crack up your audience and being grossly blasphemous?
I’ll say it is very important and necessary to draw that limit. Upbringing and association have made me deeply rooted in the faith. When we talk about religion, it’s supernatural. We are very cautious because by the time we are putting our dialogues together, if someone is going to say something that will come off as being blasphemous, I’ll say no. There are several things that can make people laugh. You don’t have to go deep into the core of religions because you want to prove a point. I know the boundaries and limits. I’m also human and I’m not going to try to do justice to some things. Let’s just have fun as humans.
Most of your skits are themed around an elderly but troublesome Woli Agba and a mischievous and exuberant Dele. What is the creative process of putting these stories together?
I’ll say I found favour and I love what I do. I can forget to eat because I want to get this done. Most times, I do the creative work. It just comes because I’m dedicated and the craft falls in love with me as well. I’m planting dedication so I’m reaping creativity and this is not about comedy alone, it applies to every other profession. Once I drop a video, my next worry is what do I drop next but I’m getting better by the day.
The journey so far I’m sure would not have been all rosy. Can you share a couple of stumbling blocks you’ve met on your way to becoming this prominent?
C o m i n g from the days of doing dance drama with my brother to doing my things all alone, a lot of questions have being popping up. A lot of people think I have compromised from doing dance drama to doing comedy. People think I’ve deviated from the scripture because I do comedy. So, I had to prove to them that I’m still the same person and I’m just diversifying. I kept being me and now I have a lot more people believing in me.
With more than 2 million followers and over 3000 comic skits, more people definitely know Woli Agba now than a few years ago. How does all of this translate into commercial success for you?
Well, we thank God for inspiration. We’ve been able to fuse comedy with adverts. So we do adverts now and make it funny and that has brought a lot of brands to want to work with us. And I study economics in school so I know that there is no free lunch even in Freetown. I know how to bill them and they get a good video. So that has been able give us the financial strength to do more.
When questioned about the purported split between you and your elder brother, Femi Ajewole, you once responded that there was no split but what you did was to expand the scope and follow the new trend. Do you fear that there will be a point where the likes of Dele, Dara who you currently work with will want to expand the scope of this brand of comedy causing them to depart from what you do and create a thing of their own?
Well, I think every leader should have a mind of lifting people around them. Like Davido said, we rise by lifting others. For me, I can account for my blessing based on the impact I’ve made on people. I don’t expect them to be here forever. What I only tell them is to do whatever we can do together so that when they leave, I can say I missed them. Nobody should feel that you have to serve him or her forever. And I think that is what has happened with me too.
Beyond social media; beyond the skits, are you a prophet in the true sense of the word?
Well, I won’t say I’m not. Neither will I say I am. But then, I’m a prophet and I’m operating in an office of laughter right now. You never can tell if I will operate in another office anytime soon.
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