Just the other day some friends and I were recounting both the scandal and hilarity of the infamous film “Coming to America”. While comedy is known as an envelope-pushing artform blurring the lines between the offensive and the poignant, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and others are not the only Black folk who can make fun of Africans in the U.S. while at the same time making us all laugh.
Say what you will about Nigerians, but one stereotype could almost serve as fact: Nigerians are some of the most innovative people in the Diaspora. And one clear demonstration of this is their role as groundbreaking pioneers in the global entertainment industry. Notwithstanding the highly lauded phenomenon otherwise known as Nollywood, Nigeria also boasts an impressive roster of comedians. One such funny-man is Jude Onakpoma, also known as “Away Away”, a stand up comic and brilliant Master of Ceremonies. Since his high-school days in 1972, Away Away has been tickling the ribs of audiences from Nigeria to New York, having performed for dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, Reverend Jesse Jackson, former U.S president Jimmy Carter, and a host of other African and European presidents and royalty.
Away Away describes his comic style as “free flow satire”, which he has explained as “using daily activities and finding the humor in them while sending a message at the same time” and of which he draws much inspiration from the everyday experiences, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, of being an immigrant in the United States. Perhaps some of Away Away’s comic genius-ness could have something to do with the fact that he not only has a master’s but also a doctoral degree and a professional career as a clinical psychologist. If laughter is medicine then who better to dish it than a comedic doctor!
In addition to his multiple awards, Okanpoma has also collected several accolades over time, including being voted Comedian of the Year and Best Entertainer of the Year at past award ceremonies. As if that were not enough, Away Away is also a singer, producer, songwriter, and promoter. Then to top it off, Mr. Onakpoma serves as the CEO of an African heritage organization/African Music Association which promotes African music and arts; holds an annual African festival showcasing African art; and has brought the likes notable African artists and cultural groups such as Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Sunny Okosun, Fela, Lucky Dube, and Youssou N'dour to the U.S, Europe and other global locations.
Whether this jack-of-all-trades (and incidental master of many things) who has been dubbed the “Eddy Murphy of Africa” is selling out concerts at the National Black Theater in Harlem, preparing for an HBO special, or hosting a benefit reception, the one thing that remains most important to him is family – true Naija style.
Another breakthrough entertainer from the region is Ghanaian comic “Michael Blackson”, who has been coined the “African King of Comedy”. Drawing his early inspiration from the great Eddie Murphy, Blackson has been working the stand-up comedy route since 1992, having appeared on BET’s ComicView and the HBO’s iconic Def Comedy Jam. After performing before the eyes of rapper turned actor/business tycoon Ice Cube, Blackson was offered the opportunity to appear on Next Friday, the big screen follow up to the cult hit comedy film Friday. Shortly after the success of his unforgettable role in Next Friday, Blackson released his top-selling sketch comedy CD titled, “Modasucka, Welcome to America.” Blackson has since appeared on P. Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy and starred in a Dave Chappelle Show commercial. Along with making waves in film and television, Blackson continues to headline for live shows at comedy clubs, universities and special events.
Similar to their comedic contemporaries such as Godfrey C. Danchimah, Jr., (known simply as Godfrey), the transplanted Nigerian comedian with wide mainstream commercial success, entertainers like Away Away and Michael Blackson are not only putting African comedians on the map, but using the humor of their lived cultural fluidity to further integrate the laughing roar of the Diaspora.