Tunde Adewale a. k. a Tee A has made his mark in the comedy industry. He’s made his mark not just in the comedy business but also in restaurant business. Unknown to many, comedy began for the young and talented man when as a JSS student, he was his school’s Chief speaker and the senior prefect his deputy. In this chat, he talks about comedy business, his restaurant, school and his wife among other issues.
What have you been up to lately?
I’ve been busy working behind the scene producing for my new TV show. It’s season three of Time Out With Tee A. That has made me withdraw from public events..
So what are we expecting in the new season of Time Out With Tee A?
We’ve created new segments and new characters. We’ve also changed the studio we’ve been using, all in a bid to make for a better production that everyone can be proud of. Our viewership has doubled since when we debuted on Galaxy and Silverbird TV. We’re now on eleven TV stations across the world- we’re in the UK, Europe, some part of the US and Ghana. We’re working on some other African countries like Kenya and Sierra-Leon.
Of course, we are on African Magic, DSTV, AIT Network StarTimes and Nigezie. So the pressure to give good contents to our numerous fans is so much that I rarely have time for other things. I’ve stopped doing my own concerts since 2004. I stopped because I wanted to focus on something else. I’d seen it all, done it all after eight years on the stage .
Didn’t you think of how your fans would feel when they no longer see you on stage?
Well, people still see me because I still get to anchor one event or the other on weekends.
But anchoring events has to do with smaller crowds when compared to a concert crowd…?
If I do an event for a beverage company people still get to see me. The difference is that I don’t put up my own shows again. However the successes of the TV show has everybody clamouring for me to return to the stage..
So are you coming back?
The kind of live shows I’m going to do now, is going to be different from my normal shows. We’re going into something more matured.
Do you really think you are funny?
I think everybody is funny. For me as a comedian, if I talk and you laugh, that shows I’m funny. If I talk and people are willing to pay for it, that shows I’m doing something right. And if I perform and get called again and again, it shows that I’m doing something right. So being funny is serious business. So I’ll say that I’m good at what I do and that’s why for almost sixteen years now, I’ve remained in the business. I don’t know the problem other people have because I’ve seen comedians come and go.
So what if you throw a joke and your audience don’t laugh?
With the amount of years I’ve spent in the business, the easiest thing for me to do is to read the mood of the audience. And where people get it wrong again is that some people think that what makes you a comedian are just the jokes- I don’t think so. There’s so much more to being a comedian. And like I said, every human is funny at one point in time. But what differentiates a professional comedian from every other person is the ability to study his audience and know what to say, when to say it and how to say it.
Does it mean you don’t prepare your jokes until you get on stage?
Don’t get me wrong. There are jokes appropriate for different occasions. Jokes for a corporate occasion will not fit into a private occasion. Also, there are jokes meant for a university crowd which shouldn’t go for a wedding reception. So, your work as a comedian is that, no matter what you’ve prepared to share on stage, you need to study the mood of the audience to determine which soothes at that time and the occasion.
So have you ever thrown a joke that the audience didn’t react to?
Is this a joke?
That’s the truth. You don’t start a show by throwing a joke. It has to do with the human psychology. Performing to an audience is like wooing a woman. You don’t just meet a woman for the first time and then go ahead to tell her you love her and want to marry her. At least you start by getting to know each other. So you start by wooing the audience- getting their attention gradually. And when you have them in your palm, you can thrown anything at them and they’ll break.
How has business been after 15 years?
We thank God for his mercies. Although we had initial challenges, everything is now under control.
Has it ever been comedy all your life?
You’ve seen the way our office is structured? This is my office, that’s the clients’ office, that’s the production studio and the editing studio. It’s been comedy, television production right from the beginning. I’ve not tried to do anything else, until two years ago when I set up a restaurant.
What’s the relationship between comedy and setting up a restaurant?
People who are close to me know that one of my passion is cooking.
But you don’t go to the restaurant to cook?
What you don’t know is that most of the customers favourite menu at my restaurant were created by me. The menu are meals I’d experimented with at home- they were nice and I decided to include them.
You said you’ve done comedy all your life. How was comedy during your university days?
Comedy at the University brought me fame but it dates back to my secondary school.
As a J.S.S 3, I was the school’s chief speaker while the senior prefect who was in S.S 3 was my supporting speaker. It’s unheard of for a J.S.S 3 student to be the chief speaker while the head boy was supporting. So the boldness was there and whenever I was preparing for my debates, I’d look for something funny to wrap around my debate. So that made people like me because whenever I talk, I mixed serious issues with something unserious.
Hyperbole was my thing and I was very big on satire. Because of that, I developed interest in reading books on riddles and jokes. And any time we went for debates, before it starts, I’ll be called out to entertain the students. So I became the official riddles and jokes person across all secondary schools in Lagos State.
You attended a public school right?
Yes, Betrima High School. My secondary school experience was one of the best experiences of my life and I keep saying that the only thing with the school is that you’re only known by your school mates and few students from other school. It’s unlike the University where there were thousands of students who knew me.
But Betrima was one of my fondest memories of performances because that’s where it all started. And a couple of great people have passed through the school as well. Although it was a public school, it’s not like those we have today. It was a very prim and proper public school because we were like ajebutters (kids from rich homes).
So how did your parents react when they learnt you wanted to go into comedy?
Everybody already knew I like making a nuisance of myself and making fun of people. So right from my secondary school days, they’d known I love to entertain people. So, when I got into the university, I had a bigger platform to practice comedy. It came natural for me. But my grand mother used to tell me to first graduate from the university before taking to comedy. In the past, comedy wasn’t lucrative but with the way things are going now, people are beginning to like the art.
So how did you survive with earning peanuts back then?
I grew up with my grand parents and one thing they always told me was that, if you work well in anything you do, don’t seek for money first. Just keep doing it, money will come later. As at when they were saying it, I didn’t even know I would turn out this big because comedy was a virgin territory. Ali Baba was just trying to make ends meets, sticking to standup comedy.
Danjuma Mohammed used to do a programme on NTA. Basorge also used to act, Okey Bakassi used to act too. These were the people who were doing anything like comedy then. So I always admire Ali Baba for choosing standup comedy and decided o get close to him. So there was a time Ali Baba came to my school and I was performing at the show as well.
After my performance, he commended and gave me his number to keep in touch. I kept in touch for a while. Then came another show and we shared the stage. After our performance, he commended me again and we became close friends. By this time he was already earning enough to rent a 5 bedroom duplex at Ilupeju.
What about you?
I was living with him then. From there, we moved to Lekki Phase 1. Even though we were making enough money then, we operated below our earnings. We were surprised at our success. We fed well, wore good clothes, cars and other things.
So you didn’t even suffer?
Thank God for the kind of family I come from- we were not rich but we weren’t poor either. We were a middle class family. Our parents were able to send us to school and we had shelter over our heads. My grand parents were educationists. My mother was into buying and selling which was in vogue then. So, we were not beggars. I don’t believe I have to lie and say I used to eat from the dustbin in order to impress you.
So you didn’t have pressures from parents who needed your financial support as their child?
No I didn’t. My parent were okay and even now when you give them, they appreciate it. But they’re okay on their own. They’ve worked well early in their life time and invested well too unlike these days when the first money we make would be spent on flashy cars. They didn’t think about all that during their time- they were the 504 and 505 people and not the Mercedes type.
But talented and cute guys like you usually get invited by cultists in the university?
Funny enough, they never came to me at any point in time. Even I used to wonder how I escaped them. And I never had a friend who was a cultist. I played with everybody- male female, lecturers even the cleaners who used to wash our clothes and clean our rooms. So, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been an asset to cultists because they’d just seen me as a loafer.
How was transition from school life to real life?
That alone is a really long experience that this interview will not contain. It wasn’t an easy journey trying to turn talent into business- that’s the shortest way I can put it. At first, talent was driven by passion and passion alone can’t make business. The basic objective of business is profit but passion doesn’t look at profit first. Sometimes, I didn’t even care about money.
All I wanted was for people to see me and know that I’m good at what I do. So that’s the first challenge- people calling you and you trying to be your manager, the artiste, secretary, PR all at the same time unlike now when the industry is developing to a stage where you now have people who can take the responsibility off you. When we started, you were everything- you’d perform on stage, print your invoice, write it, sit at the reception and account to collect your check, take it to the bank, pick up your calls, go for negotiation and drive yourself to events.
So now, life is easier?
It can only get better. No matter what I make financially, I still re-invest it into my business. So I’m not a really rich artiste because I’ve invested into structures, things that are not tangible yet but may yield dividends in future.
What’s the smallest fee you earned when you started?
The smallest amount was free. But really, the smallest amount I was paid is N200. And the N200 was during a departmental show back then in school. They were supposed to pay me N500. They gave me an advance of N200 and didn’t give me the balance till today. I gave them a discount and they’re still owing me.
So how much is Tee A worth now?
I honestly don’t know. I used to be the one handling that but now, I don’t know.
How do you handle female admirers?
I always tell this to upcoming guys that it’s only in Nigeria that we trivialize fans’ love. That a female fan comes to you does not mean she’s throwing herself at you. Eighty percent of them are genuine fans who just appreciate your work. Sometimes, the artistes get it twisted.
But take away the artiste, as an individual; every human being should have some level of self control, discipline and fear of God. If one has the fear of God, there are many things one wouldn’t do even if you find yourself in that particular situation because you’ll put that lady in the position of your sister and you wouldn’t want to mess your sister up.
I’m sure you’d have met some crazy female fans who wanted to date you by all means?
Sure, that exists everywhere. For me, I’m lucky because I’m not the very outgoing type even before I got married. I only go to events where I’m invited. If I’m not on a show, you’ll rarely see me. If I go to a club, there must be a reason why I’m there. I was walking on the street of London and two girls saw me and they screamed, jumped at me and wanted to take pictures. People around were just wondering and those girls had to start explaining that I’m a star in Nigeria and that my show is on TV.
So was your wife one of your fans who you met at an event?
No, she wasn’t. She’s been my friend from school, long before we got married.
So how did it happen between you two?
We were friends for five years, dated for another five years.
So you knew each other for ten straight years without any break?
I think the first five years we were just friends, not very close ones. Work took both of us to different direction but we got really close in the fifth year. I suddenly realized I’ve known her for such a long time and we decided to kick start it.
So how do you combine work and family stuff?
Actually, God is yet to bless us with children. And thank God that kids have not come yet but I know they’re coming soon. And I’m sure by the time they come; it’ll be a different ball game. But even now, being away for days and leaving just my wife in the house has been challenging but she’s been very understanding because she knows that whenever I’m not busy; I’ll be at home than be anywhere else.