When Dubai-based Nigerian comedian, Paul Ohitime Imanah aka SheikhPappy first set foot in Dubai in 2014, it was rough and tough. But due to his tenacity of purpose and sheer dint of hard work, the rib-cracker who started his career in Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), carved a place for himself as one of the most sought-after comedians.
In this chat, DJ Pappy opens up on how he surmounted the steep slope of success and found his groove.
Tell us about growing up, were you born with a silver spoon?
Growing up was normal. I was born at Christ Apostolic Church, Oke Araromi, Oworonshoki, Lagos on February 13. I was raised in the Bariga area of Lagos and I studied Library & Archival Science at University of Ibadan. Was I born with a silver spoon? We no even get bronze spoon for house not to talk of silver (laughter). We went through a tough period, but to God be all the glory.
How did your journey into comedy begin and who were your influences growing up?
I was a member of a non-denominational drama troupe and we embarked on a lot of projects, and that motivated me a lot. I was always acting either as the devil or playing a comedic part, but surely I couldn’t compete with the devil in real life. So, I said ‘let me kuku become a comedian’ (laughter).
My influences then were the likes of Gbenga Adeboye, my late dad and my crew on the street. From my drama troupe, I started the ‘pastor and interpreter’ comedy before gaining admission into the University of Ibadan. I was always performing on Galaxy TV with Alam Bloo, LTV with Sola Kosoko and also at church events. I had issues but I followed my dreams as a stand-up comedian.
Why and when did you relocate to Dubai and what was your initial experience doing comedy in the country?
I went to Dubai in search of a job. But it was pretty hectic and rough there. I wanted to better my life and hoped I could be working and doing comedy alongside it. I moved to Dubai in February 2014. Initially, there was no African comedian in Dubai. I was the first comedian and I needed to do jobs in the church. The RCCG in Dubai really helped me because the motivation to wake up was from the talent hunts the youth church organized from time to time. From there, I never stopped.
Dubai is a different society in terms of norms and culture, as a young Nigerian, how were you able to find your feet and establish your rhythm?
It was a big deal! As I said earlier, the church really helped me. I did free tours across all the RCCG churches in the United Arab Emirates to create awareness about my brand. At some point, I had to stop my job and become a freelancer. Sometimes, I couldn’t pay my rent but God helped me. Gradually, events started coming in and I was willing to do free jobs so that people could know me and identify with my brand as an African MC or comedian. We started pushing and today we are still pushing.
What is a busy weekend like for you in Dubai, and how many shows have you organised so far?
Talking about busy weekends, Fridays and Saturdays are the climax; most especially, when I have weddings and birthdays back-to-back, it is a blast! We go for boat cruises or after-parties in the club and then go to church on Fridays. I have personally organised four shows. The first was with the youth in my church. I knew that was not what I wanted; I wanted something big and classy. Another thing that people need to know is that, organising events in Dubai isn’t like Nigeria. In Nigeria, you can get a hall and decorate it, and bingo your show is good to go. But in Dubia, everyone going on stage must be paid. Also, we must do permit for the show and this costs money. On every ticket, the government gets its own percentage, and you must register any ticketed event with the government. If not, you and the hall will get a fine. I have also done ‘Komedy Buffet’. The idea for ‘Komedy Buffet’ came because I couldn’t afford to raise sponsors for what I wanted, which was to register my brand and name in the minds of people. We did it in a restaurant hence we didn’t need a permit. I simply negotiated with the restaurant owners, so they charged some extra amount above the normal buffet price. My guests laughed, ate and enjoyed themselves. It was a success because I was able to have two editions. But I still wasn’t satisfied because that was not the setting that I wanted. It took me another three years to be able to stand my ground and host ‘The Medicine’. I started planning in February and we had the show in June.
You recently took Cossy Orjiakor on a musical tour of Dubai. Why Cossy and what were the factors that informed your choice?
I have known Cossy for a while from a whatsApp group but we never met. She is such an amazing person! I know she looks troublesome, but meeting her, I realised she is very understanding. The truth is that, I wanted her wahala (laughter). I knew her stage presence would give the show a charged atmosphere. From the moment she got on stage, everybody was up both male and female, with ladies covering their husbands’ faces, and that was what I wanted to achieve. The show was actually an eye-opener and the most successful African comedy show in Dubai.
Compared to Nigeria, how vibrant is the entertainment scene in Dubai?
The Dubai entertainment scene is not vibrant at all. The Nigerian entertainment scene is established. Another thing is that Africans in Dubai don’t have time for entertainment. Everyone is hustling to send money back home. As an artiste, you have to work 10 times harder to gain their support. In fact, they won’t come out for your show if you don’t have personal relationship with them. Hence, I have to be nice to them so that they will come to my show (laughter).
What has been your most challenging experience working as a Nigerian comedian in Dubai?
Language has been my biggest challenge. You see, as soon as they see your Nigerian passport, as soon as you introduce yourself as a Nigerian, they raise their eyebrows. And then if the sponsors and the companies don’t know you or they are not familiar with the artiste you are bringing to them, they won’t support you. You know, it is hard to build a foundation on a sandy floor.
What is the secret to your success?
Basically it is God. I don’t want to be too religious; I just told you I enjoy abundant grace. I don’t want to go into details. God’s grace and my heart are the secrets to my success.
As an entertainer, what is the craziest thing a female fan has done to you in Dubai?
Fear no dey catch them? But I really can’t remember any, all I know is that if some of my female fans catch me in a dark corner, dem go knack me akpako (laughter).
How is Nigerian music doing in Dubai and what is your advice for the youth who want to take after you?
Nigerian music is actually going viral. We have African clubs in Dubai and even the Arabs love Nigerian vibes. We are doing impressively well globally.
What is your advice for youths who want to take after you?
My advice is simple. In the process of pursuing your dreams or whatever you want to be, be humble. Character is very important because whatever you put your heart to, you will definitely achieve.
What are your dreams?
I want to be happy and make people around me happy. I am also trying to make an impact in my little way, and make people know that, not all Nigerians are bad. We have plenty legit Nigerians out there.