A protruded belly juts out of his too-frequently-donned blue longsleeved shirt matched with black joggers and a Nike-branded pair of sneakers in a fashion faux pas. Gait steady and strides long, his arms swing with vigour so that it appears as though his torso struggles to catch up with his limbs. How often the plump Sabinus switches from exuberance to utter despair remains a comic wonder.
Always playing a hustle-hardy Igbo man who is ultimately embroiled in unfortunate situations, the Port Harcourt comedian — real name Chukwuemeka Ejekwu — is the man behind that comic persona whose mannerism is fast becoming a rich source of hilarious memes across social media platforms. His skits rib-cracking, Ejekwu also has a way with third-party add-ons that allow him to bring in context-specific exclamations as his often relatable storylines unfold.
Locally relevant phrases like “you’re a mumu man“, “chai“, “seventy years old man“, “this man!“, “sorry oh-sorry oh” would often be thrown in mid-way depending on context while excerpts from the actual sociopolitical discourse of famed figures also feature to heighten the comic effect of his videos, most of which are short in ways that deliver the maximum comic hit in the least amount of time. There’s just a lot to notice about Ejekwu’s style of skit comedy.
After initially putting off our conversation to watch a football match over which cheers had echoed somewhere near my neighbourhood, the 25-year-old entertainer would later rejoin me over the phone from the comfort of his Lagos home.
“Sabinus is just that character nothing goes well for. He always does the wrong thing at the right time; things never favour him. He goes out for what he wants but it doesn’t work out. He faces drawbacks, yet, shows up where he’s not called for things he shouldn’t concern himself with. Creating the character Sabinus, I just sat down and thought to have a persona that would be unique in terms of whether or not you find something similar elsewhere,” he said.
“I wanted it to be such that, whenever you hear the name Sabinus, you have an idea of what to expect but not too much such that he becomes totally predictable. I just wanted something that would be very different. Mostly, I just make sure my videos are straight to the point and that the comedy is on the high side. Also, I love doing skits that are relatable; acts you would often find in our everyday lives as Nigerians. I just think up mumu-mumu things.
“I’m able to do skits without overly focusing on female sexuality. I don’t believe you must show the immoralities in kissing and touching scenes to evoke humour. Humour is a natural effect. I try to make it such that a full family can watch. The father, mother, and children can all sit together and watch — not something that limits my viewership to the younger ones or the adult population alone. I try to find the balance, so my skits also have messages inside.”
For Ejekwu, who is the first son of a family of six, comedy has been a highly rewarding art after his humble outset nearly scuttled the prospects of his primordial obsession for the movie scene. Now, there are many ways he makes money as an entertainer. Having started out as a stand-up comedian, performing at shows for perks just enough to get by, Ejekwu now combines this with the pay accruing to his rich viewership numbers on YouTube and Facebook.
He also has the Instagram ads that have proven to be a steady source of cash coupled with his dealings with actual brands ready to pay a fortune in timed deals to have him as an ambassador. Then come fame and the privileges that accompany it; the occasional Nollywood roles for which he gets paid. Ejekwu didn’t mince words admitting, “there is money in online comedy!” But despite his win, the funnyman’s comedy career had not always been this lucrative.
Graduating in 2017 from the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), where he studied Linguistics & Communications Studies, Ejekwu said he has always had a knack for cracking people up, although his parents had pushed him to study Law. Sometime in 2015, he had kick-started his stand-up comedy career but later moved to Lagos to build his brand at around the time when he felt that plying his trade from Port Harcourt could stunt the growth of his personal brand.
“I based in Lagos after starting my career in UNIPORT. But, after my studies, I did some skits outside school within the state. I, however, saw that Port Harcourt wasn’t a place where talents get support. It’s hard, so we’d often move. Everyone needs a place where there is an audience. In PH, you’re celebrated only when you make it,” he explained.
“And that’s the journey I’m on now. There’s a lack of social media presence in PH, good TV and radio stations that speak out a brand. Everything concerning the media right now is in Lagos. So, the strategy was that, if you can hit it hard in Lagos, you’ll be accepted where you come from. I’d have stayed in PH but I needed to grow my audience. In PH, you can’t see much of our people on IG, only FB. But you will see the westerners dominating these platforms.
“The westerners show support more to entertainers and that’s what I just needed to project myself. I’m from River state, Ikwerre, Obio-Akpor LGA. I’ve always been funny since childhood. It has been a lifestyle, not something I had to learn. When I’m acting my skits, it’s just my normal life I’m trying to put out. Linguistics was what I did to go my way. I’ve never been a nerd but I’m intelligent in comedy. In my first year, I did Theatre Arts as a borrowed course.
“I got a form to switch to Theatre Arts but my parents didn’t like Linguistics not to talk of that. Dad wanted me to study Law, which wasn’t my thing. Besides, I didn’t see myself passing Law exam. Which head I wan take do am?”
Amid the conversation, Ejekwu reminisced about his early days being the “street guy” who would frequent football fields to make players laugh from the sidelines. He recounted how he partook in his department’s talent hunt after gaining admission into UNIPORT; the days of shooting his first skit with an Infinix smartphone and having viewers who would complain about how blurry his videos were. He had a share of being paid N10,000 or nothing in shows.
“I did my department talent hunt after my course mates urged me to. I decided I would take comedy seriously. And it helped, although it was hectic because I was also doing standup comedy as well. I started with standup comedy, which I learned because I really wanted to grow my audience. There is something about it in PH and other south-south climes. You need to bring in your social media presence for you to gain that relevance,” the actor continued.
“If not, you’ll find that you doing your standup comedy and you’ll remain like that. I needed to go wide. So I created a character, opened an Instagram page, and showed my acting skills there because standup comedy was very hectic especially in PH with many stories you would hear. I started standup comedy in 2015. To date, I’m still doing it. At first, I didn’t receive payment. Till now, you’ll find people still doing shows with N10,000 set aside for comedians.
“How do you live on that? That’s why you don’t hear of talents a lot of times. We have mad talents there but they’re not valid because there’s no encouragement. Imagine being paid N10,000. It doesn’t give you that vibe to perform. But now, whenever I go for a show, I get paid roughly half a million. That is because of my social media presence.”
Ejekwu dubs himself the Mayor of PH City, a sobriquet he said is owing to the level of effort he puts into his craft in comparison to his colleagues within PH and the south-south climes. Building his brand, he said, demanded that he pursued success with the zeal of a lion, at which time top entertainers cut ties with him after he had sought help in terms of networking. The funnyman noted his ordeal wouldn’t determine his disposition towards younger talents.
“I knew I had to and was going to grow bigger as a standup comedian of that background. I chased like a hungry lion. I knew what was ahead, not minding what people said. I didn’t have people to look up to. I was just doing my thing because, in PH, you can’t look up to anyone. In south-south, entertainers hardly help themselves. All of us from here have had that hustle-your-head mindset. If it works for you, good. If it doesn’t, you rest,” Ejekwu said.
“That’s the ideology; no one has to. Even some top south-south celebs blocked me on Instagram because I asked for help. I would say, ‘baba, how far now? Make una help me naa. Plug me naa.’ (connect me). To an extent, I knew it was every man for himself. I call myself the Mayor of PH city from the idea of being the most hardworking from that side. I don’t believe in the hype but work. I don’t know what every other person would say. It’s no pride.
“It’s a fact. I work, day in day out. No time. There are those who would hail me saying, ‘baba, you dey represent us o.’ They know what’s up but these things don’t get to me. Not helping upcoming talents is not in my nature. Now, I have some boys I’m pushing, trying to plug them without letting my own experiences define me. If you check my videos, you get to see some boys I usually feature. I told them; I have plans to put them on platforms this year.
“They’re good; I want people to see them. That way, I bring out at least one person. That’s my way of paying back.”
Quizzed further, Ejekwu admitted that joggling skit making with the many responsibilities that come with managing his brand has been no easy feat, especially factoring in his long-time plans to establish his influence in the movie scene. He said this reality had him shooting multiple times a week to amass a pool of skits in a way that allows him to stay consistent when brand deals and the need for repeated travels keep him too busy to get on set for new content.
“In a day, I could shoot up to like four to five times. That way, I get to achieve up to 20 skits a week. I stack them up that way because I travel a lot. I go for movie shoots and standup comedy shows. Instead of being choked up, I just have some videos I can post anytime. The Nollywood projects I’ve taken part in are not published yet. There’s a job with Nollywood Namaste, one of the big production houses in Nigeria. It’s directed by Ken Steve Anuka,” he noted.
“We’ve done like three jobs now. We had Regina Daniels, Zubby Michael, some other top Nigerian actors. They’ll be dropping any moment. I’m’ the one in charge of my stories, that’s the script on which the skits are based. In quiet times, I could just think up some mumu-mumu things that a regular person won’t think. Some of these are things that actually play out every day. I try to make sure it has my kind of ending where I get to mess up. I edit myself.
“But not always. There are ad skit jobs for companies I have editors for. At times, it’s the location and gathering the cast that becomes challenging. You tell people 4 pm and they come at 6. You just need self-control and tolerance.”
An industry shakeup is already in the works and Ejekwu knows this. The advent of social media also precludes the scenario of having fame and fandom in the grip of a few TV figures as in the early days of Nollywood’s emergence. Pretty much anyone can create video content and gain attention so much so that it belittles the perks of mainstream acting. But irrespective, Ejekwu pointed out that there is this clout advantage that accompanies the status of actors.
He said: “When I started having endorsement deals was when I knew I was doing well. My first was with Patricia, a Bitcoin brand. After that, I had another with a soccer prediction site. Last week, I signed another deal with a Bitcoin brand because my deal with Patricia ended. I signed with JTech Trade. I signed another one with a car company, Lekki Luxury Cars. The comedy is paying well. We usually make money from YouTube, Facebook, Instagram ads.
“There’s money in online comedy — I wouldn’t lie — but acting is still cool because it gives you a face. Movie money is also big especially when you land a role in major films. I will still be doing my skits but I still want to hit big face.
“[There are those blaming skit making, saying it’s gradually ousting stand-up comedy]. It’s not. It’s just that things are changing. Nobody is pushing anything. Social media is only taking over. The same laugh you get from standup is what skits give you. Some comedians are good with skits and others with standup. Even some are good with both. For standup, you need to be good with your jokes and be naturally funny, Not all skit makers are naturally funny.”
On his forthcoming projects and plans for the near future, Ejekwu adds: “My comedy show is coming up this year. Also, I’m planning my first European tour. I will get married this year too. Thanks to everyone who has supported my brand because, if not for them, I no go lie. Na hunger o. Comedy was the only breakthrough I had. I’m the first son. We’re six: Four girls, two boys. I don’t know how it would have been for me as the eldest of the family. Hmm!”
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