Ayo Ogunshina popularly known as Papa Lolo is a veteran comic actor, who is one of the very set of people to start comedy in Nigeria. He is one of the founders of Jesters International Group which was formed by him, late Tajudeen Gbadamosi aka Jacob and Kayode Olaiya otherwise known as Aderupoko. He was then working with Ajimajashan Theater and he left to launch the new group in 1980 in Lagos. Their own style of acting was totally different from what others are doing today. The comedy troupe in Nigeria then were like 4 which the likes of Moses Olaiya aka Baba Sala, Baba Mero of Awada Kerikeri, Ajimajashan with Awada Concert and the fourth was Jacob and Papa Lolo. Recently, www.yorubamoviegist.com’s GBOLAHAN ADETAYO met with him, and he exclusive told us about the challenges facing him after his friend, Jacob died years ago, among others. Excerpts:
How did you get into acting?
After I graduated from school, I worked briefly as a teacher, thereafter I worked with UAC in Kwara, and the manufacturer of cigarette. In 1961, I joined late Hubert Ogunde Concert Party. As at then, there was nothing like movie. I was under him for 4 years before I graduated. Some of the flicks I did with him were Yoruba Ronu which was one of the theaters that gave him the breakthrough in Nigeria and abroad. It was later banned in the Western Region as at then, because it was believed that the drama was exposing and insulting the government. Others that I took part in were Otito Koro, Aropin Ni T’eyan, Seroko Seniyan and many others.
Who really brought you in?
Nobody will want to bring you into acting, because your parents won’t allow that. The parents believed that entertainers are beggars, and some of us joined secretly. It was even okay with the men, the women among us are the worse. Even the bosses who allowed them to join their groups will be threatened with the police if their parents eventually got to know about it.
You mentioned it earlier that you were once a teacher, when was that and at which school?
I didn’t stay long in that line of profession. Not even the kind of life you live now in Nigeria. As at then, after your graduation from Standard six, you have the privilege to get a government work. Before you graduate, they will give you a form to fill and you pick the job that you are interested in, which will be granted immediately as a student teacher after your graduation. If you pick more interest in it, you will enroll in teacher’s college to gain more experience. Either grade one or grade two teachers, it was categorically separated. I didn’t spend more than a year and half before I ran away.
Which school was that?
You may not know it because that is a story of 1960. The school is called Methodist at Egbeda Atuba in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Who advised you to choose teaching initially?
Nobody! It depends on your interest. I initially had interest in it but when Late Ogunde came to perform in my secondary school, I fell in love with his performance; especially the dance steps, the songs and others which influenced my interest. Meanwhile, when I was in secondary school, I love reading Literature books, especially the ones from Shakespeare. I was a member of Literary and Debate Society in the school. Secondary school education is no longer interesting now. Unlike then, once you are a student of the school, you must belong to a society. We used to write composition and debate in several schools while we also act in the society.
What is happening to the group you floated with Jacob and Aderupoko now?
Nothing bad, the group is still functioning. Jesters International has no rival in Nigeria. When you talk about Baba Suwe, Baba Ajimajashan, Baba Mero and Baba Sala, we are the next on board. Our style of comedy is different from what you see today. We are the first to start dancing comedy on television. It was a weekly programme on TV. People envy us a lot when you mention Jacob and Papa Lolo in Lagos. Wherever we are performing, motorists will pack just to watch us. Nigeria economy was still very okay. It was the likes of Duro Ladipo, Ogunde and other who were doing proper acting. We are the originator of Comedy Theater in Nigeria.
What impact does Jacob’s death has on you?
His unexpected departure wasn’t only painful to us as his co-workers, but very painful to Nigerians because he was a big artiste who we all loved. His painful exit was a great loss to me, the group and the entire theater industry in Nigeria.
Many of today’s comic acts are forcing themselves to be funny, what do you think is responsible for that?
We all have different ways of marketing our products. Those whom I mentioned initial are the set of people who think so deeply before they dish out anything to their fans. There is no how you watch Baba Suwe that you will look boring. That is one of the things paving ways for Awada Kerin Kerin till date. I am talking about Oga Bello, Aluwe, Taju Kaka and a whole lot of others. They were all in one group. They have their unique ways of churning out their stuff and that is what is still making the likes of Oga Bello to still be relevant in the industry till date. Same thing goes to Ajimajashan. When you mention Jacob and Papa Lolo in Nigeria today, you will be happy because you already know that you have comedians to reckon with. The nowadays comedian are just trying their best but they need to be more creative. I will advise them to take their time to be more creative. It is better you create your style than imitating others.
Do you think stage performance can still be revived in Nigeria?
Oh yes! Theater is all about stage performances; home video is second to it. Stage play is the only drama you see and learn from. When we were still doing stage, any town we visit to act, if we fail to go there after 2 months, they will be begging us to come because they knew that they achieve something important and genuine from the play, and the money you make from it goes to your pocket. Compare to this era of piracy. We can only be trying to stop them but piracy can never be eradicated in this country. I remembered in the era of “Kehinsagba”, and then if you are an armed robber and you were caught, you will be killed immediately. Babatunde Folorunsho was caught and when he was about to be killed, he said do you know the numbers of children he has who are armed robbers? He said if they killed him today, they can’t kill the numbers of robbers who will come after him. And look at it today. We don’t only have armed robber on the streets again, we also have them in corporate organizations and in government offices where their pen is powerful than AK47, they steal in billions every day. Now, how many people do you want to kill? Same thing goes with piracy. We can only try our best but we can’t eradicate it. Stage performance is coming back soonest. The one Shakespeare established in London is still in existence. It is called Royal Theater. Shakespeare died many years ago and the establishment is still on point. Even when he died, we are yet to know about acting in Nigeria until when Hubert Ogunde introduced it, which is now useful to us in the acting industry. We were known as “Arinjo Theater”. All that you see us doing today, we performed them in songs and dances from the beginning to the end. Whatever you want me to do for you, you will sing it which I will do and also reply with songs that I have done it. We are still coming back to that soon.
How easy was that, acting with songs?
In those days, it was very interesting because people were forced to reckon with it. When you are a character and you want to face audience musically, it will look so funny. I will recollect the first play I did with Awada Concert Party, which was the first group we established after we left Ogunde. We were using that system and it worked for us. I believe we can still revive it because some set of people are already doing it in another way. And those are the Ayo Ajewole of Alfa Sule group. They pass their messages with songs. They just tapped from the old style. We have a lot of people who tried to copy those guys but they all failed. If I don’t say it now, many don’t know that this was the style we were using then. We call it concert party before civilization made us call it theater.
What do you now do for a living?
I am still very much in the line of acting. But I am assuring my old fans that we are bringing back the old comedy they know us with. If you call yourself a comedian, and you want people to know about the problem facing somebody or a family via comedy, you must be able to do it in a unique way. It is a serious matter but because you want to make it look simple to people, you will change it to comedy. When we do it, you will laugh but later when you are alone; you meditate on it and bring out the lesson you want to learn from it.
Why are they not featuring you again in movies like before?
I am still acting but not like before. When you look at me, you will realize that I am aging now. We need to set aside for our children to also make waves in the industry. Look at the numbers of youths we have in the industry now. Some actors you see today as veterans were still kids when we were the rave of the moment. So, we are very happy that this profession still exists. I am very proud to be among them, working and also advise them. They are also happy to have we the elders in their midst.
Away from acting, which other job do you do?
I have no other job aside acting. But if you have money, you can invest it in business but acting will not allow you to do other profession. If I am not acting, I am busy anchoring events for my lovers. I am a professional MC now.