Nigerian Comedian Bovi looks back on his astonishing journey from his sitcom Extended Family to stand-up comedy.
Bovi is walking down the Westfield Mall in Stratford, a bounce in his gait. And as he walks, a smile is planted on my face. He had just told me a very funny joke, one of his new materials; It was a joke that captures the differences between elections in Nigeria and the United States. My smile is the dying embers of laughter. A woman with a baby in buggy saunters to Bovi, taps him lightly on his arm. “ I know you, you are the famous Nigerian comedian. I want you to know I love your show” she says. He thanks her and we continue our walk to the exit of the mall.
I walk briskly, Bovi in tow, two tall men with long strides. Adoring fans mob him along the way, they cut across different age demographic; from swooning girls to women with babies, to impressionable young men and experienced older men.
We got to the platform, not in a record time though and got on the Jubilee line to North Greenwich. If walking to one of the exits of the Westfield Mall was an Olympic sports, no medal will be giving to Bovi and I, rather we would set a new record of the longest time it took to walk across the mall.
On the train, we sit across each other and I am happy to have him to myself finally- lots of questions begging for answers.
Bovi is currently the second most sought after comedian in Nigeria. He has performed alongside Nigeria’s number one comedian Basketmouth to sold out shows in different African Countries, United States and in the United Kingdom. Born in Benin City, Nigeria, he studied theatre arts at the Delta State University Abraka. After graduation in 2002, he proceeded to Nigerian Television Authority in Lokoja for the one-year compulsory national youth service. In 2004, he got a job as personal assistant to famous Nigerian actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo. He worked for two years and six months and went on to set up his own production company in 2006.
In 2007 the sitcom Extended Family, written and produced by him hit the airwaves to critical acclaim. He was also the star of the show. Perhaps buoyed by the success of his sitcom, Bovi launched his career as stand-up comic in 2008. Many did not know that he had honed his skills in a couple of events where he left the audience in stitches.
We get off at North Greenwich, again to the warm embrace of another adoring fan. She is happy to see him. I am getting used this banter between adoring fan and celebrity. Bovi is not your average celebrity. He is cerebral. Well-read, highly intelligent and brilliant writer. Both his parents are academic. They both hold PHD degrees.
The bus 472 arrives to rescue us from more fans. Now I feel guilty for convincing him to go on this journey with me. I now understand why his regular mode of transport when he is in London is usually taxis. We sit down, this time next to each other.
I notice he is courteous with all the fans we meet. What does the adulation from fans mean to him I ask: “It makes me happy and shows I’m doing the right thing”, he says.
Bovi has made giant strides from his acting days in Extended Family and when ask him if he prefers acting to comedy, his response is akin to a man in love with two beautiful women. But he seems to know the one he wants to keep forever. According to him, he loves acting and comedy equally. Comedy gives him periodic joy while acting gives him unlimited joy. “I will never stop acting,” he tells me with excitement in his eyes. It allows him to be several characters and says he would rather be an actor in Hollywood.
He is on his way to achieving that dream. His call back cards have been distributed to casting agents in Hollywood. His ambition is made of sterner stuff. Gone is the teenager who was happy to read scripts he wrote to the admiration of his friends. His tenacity of purpose is evident in his career trajectory.
Bovi sells happiness; you can tell he loves making people happy. But his family is what makes him very happy. He is willing to sacrifice everything for them. “if you get the family right, your career will go well.”
Bovi’s first solo show Man On Fire is scheduled for March in Lagos, Nigeria. What influenced the concept of his show? “ I just want to do stand – up comedy the traditional way. 20 minutes is really not enough for a comic to express himself. I’m a storyteller. That’s what I want to use this medium to do. A comedian’s career is incomplete without a command performance like this.”
So who are his role models? “ I can’t pick one person as my role model any more. I admire a lot of people, though from all works of life. If there’s anybody I really like to be like though, that’s Jesus Christ. But I am not dying for sinners sha”.
We get to Woolwich Arsenal, our destination. My crave for Nigerian food had brought us this far. I warn him to brace himself for more fans as we walk into the restaurant.
I open the door, surprise and recognition is etched on the faces of the customers. Bovi, comedian, actor, writer, poet, and intellectual take it in his stride with a smile on his face.