USIAPHE KELVIN (WHALEMOUTH) ON HIS JOURNEY TO BE FREE AND WHY HE DECIDED TO BECOME A COMEDIAN WHY IN THE SEMINARY SCHOOL, WITH THE HOPE OF BECOMING A PRIEST OR A REVEREND FATHER. By LOVETH SIMON ODINAKA
e’s gone from celeb-baiting ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ host to self-realizing stand-up comedian. But as he brings his funniest show yet to Lagos, Usiaphe Kelvin tells EMAGES why he chooses comedy over priesthood having found himself in the theater and drama group.
EMAGES: CAN WE MEET YOU SIR?
KELVIN: My name is Usiaphe Kelvin but I am popularly known as whalemouth. I am a stand-up comedian, actor, writer and a geologist.
EMAGES: HOW DID YOU START YOUR COMEDY?
KELVIN: I started comedy from a very weird angle because I was in the seminary school, with the hope of becoming a priest (Laughs). Imagine by now, I would have been a reverend father because my classmates then are priests now. While they gave us the opportunity to express ourselves, they put us in a position where we can do very well. I found myself in the theatre and drama group and was always doing well. Then I do jokes of Ali Baba, I go dye, Basket mouth and discovered I am funny and that was how I got myself into comedy. I remember the first time I performed as a comedian at seminary school in Warri, we had to play a novelty match with another seminary school at Asaba. We were defeated by 2 – 1. Later that night, we did a social gathering. Our hosts entertained us they had musicians and dancers and I said “una no fit win us for this two sides”. So I told my friends “You can dance, let’s go out I tell them we can do this”. When I was performing everybody kept asking “What is your name?” and I told them “my name is whalemouth” that was how the name came about and today I am a professional comedian.
EMAGES: LOOKING AT WHAT YOU SAID, WOULD I SAY IT IS THE SEMINARY THAT ACTUALLY HELPED IN BRINGING THE TALENT IN YOU?
KELVIN: I would say yes because they gave us the chance to express ourselves and that helped me a lot. Already it is in-born and discovering it, is the most important so I think they did a lot.
EMAGES: SO, WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A WOMAN IN COMEDY?
KELVIN: For me I respect women a lot and I don’t demeaned women in my jokes. Sometimes comedians would make jest of women. “Like ahh – all these girls they fine but they no sabi speak English” but that’s not the reality. For me I like to talk about woman and the realities. I am not that kind of comedian that tries to create stories that do not exist. I try to talk about what I have observed from people and women. Women have pass through a whole lot just like us and they are very dramatic as well, they are funny people too, so whenever I create a story about them it is something I have observed I just talk about.
EMAGES: SO, WHEN DID YOU START TO KNOW YOU WERE FUNNY?
KELVIN: That is as a little boyoo because in my neighborhood, I was known and I was popular, I was a noisemaker. I am that type of kid that stayed in face me I face you. So, in all those compounds, you would like to create these mummy and daddy play, where you go do marriage, cook, con put am in tin tomatoes. All those types of play I was the lead role. So, from there, even primary schools, there were some dramas I did in the church where I would act and play very important roles. So, from primary 5 I already knew I was a funny guy and everybody liked me then also wants to play with me.
EMAGES: SO, YOU STARTED REALIZING YOU WERE FUNNY WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
EMAGES: DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WERE FUNNY BUT WASN’T THERE YET, YOU WERE FUNNY BUT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AN IDEA OF BEING A COMEDIAN.
KELVIN: Yes, I didn’t know that being funny would pay. I didn’t know it’s something money could come from. I felt it was just for fun that’s why even when I knew I was funny I still wanted to be a father and I went to the, seminary. It was in the seminary I knew that what I was doing it really comedy and then we were seeing videos of night of a thousand laughs, Okay let’s take it from there that is when I made up my mind, I would be a comedian and not a priest.
EMAGES: IS COMEDY YOUR CALL OR BEING A PRIEST?
KELVIN: Being a priest was a call but it was a missed call because first of all, I picked the call but before pushed the pick button the call don go off. So, it was a missed call. Afterall, bible said many are called but few are chosen. Comedy chose me.
EMAGES: WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES? WHO INFLUENCES YOU?
KELVIN: A lot of people influenced me like I have people both in the industry and outside the industry. One of the people I see and become motivated is AY. In as much as people write little about him and say he is not funny, but he has been able to always keep his game and stayed true to his dreams. I appreciate his hard work and I am always motivated by that, then I also have international comedians that I look up to. I just want to be like Dave Shapmel, I love Rosary Peters, I love Kelvin Harts cause of the hard work they have put in and if they can be become international just like them, so I have a lot of influencers even outside the industry. Many people in their own little ways who are friends and the efforts they put into their respective careers, even if it is not entertainment, I see it like woah!!, the person is able to go to school and be doing things the same time and I get inspired a lot because it is all about efforts. I read a lot so my inspiration comes from everywhere.
EMAGES: WHAT QUALITIES DO OTHER COMEDIANS HAVE THAT YOU HAVE NOT HAD?
KELVIN: I admire creativity, originality, I admire the fact that you are able to think outside the box. Somethings when I see a colleague doing a joke. I would be like “why no be me get this joke”, “This joke too sweet oo” I admire Bovi for example because of his high intellectual strength in the kind of jokes he dishes out because it appeals to the elites and also the lower class. And I do admire his efforts and his thoughts of reasoning. Creative comedians are the people I look up to and say I need hard work. For example, Kenny Blanc, creating humor through music and then while you are singing you are laughing at the same time. Just like Michael Jackson songs, fuji, you do it so well and people. So creative comedian challenges me to work hard on my own.
EMAGES: LOOKING THROUGH THE QUALITIES THAT YOU HAVE MENTIONED SO FAR, THERE MUST BE ONE QUALITY THAT A COMEDIAN MUST HAVE THAT YOU WOULD WISH TO HAVE TOO, WHAT IS THAT QUALITY?
KELVIN: Okay being funny, I am creative and innovative. Except maybe they are tall and I am short (Laughs) that is it. I value people who are intelligent, I respect them a lot
EMAGES: SO, WHAT’S YOUR ART ALL ABOUT?
KELVIN: I am more of a social commentator. I am the comedian who address issues based on my environment and the things I see happening. I see things and I address them. There was a time in my career I was talking about the content Nigerian musicians put out. Not that I was attacking them, I was just bringing out their mistakes in their songs and bring to their face and say, like look at what you did and everybody has been listening to the songs without really putting a good ear to the lyrics. For instance, Orezi did a song and said “one million dollars in my pocket” How can one million dollars fit into your pocket? In reality one million dollars is meant to be inside Ghana must go. And 9ce told us he would bring us, Grammy till today we haven’t seen the Grammy. How are people supposed to trust him, even Tufac is one musician that people laugh at a lot calling him father Abraham, father of nations, he has plenty children and I just recently discovered that was a blessing in disguise because he turned his mistakes to miracles. After all, his large family gave him the chance to do an advert of cocacola which he will make money from.
EMAGES: When you see these musicians and say it to their faces, is it that they don’t get angry?
KELVIN: Yeah, you know there is a thin line between insults and toasting, I can insult you and start below the belt, and I can roast you and we will be laughing about it. For instance, I did a joke about Iyanya he said “from the couch to bed, from bed to the bedroom”. How will you do that. Now that wasn’t an insult because he laughed about it. There are only a few comedians that know where and when to cut it. So, people go below the belt and people find that offensive and people matter a lot as comedian. And listener has to understand am a comedian and standing on this essence I am meant to create humor, meaning whatever I have said wasn’t intentional. So, after saying things we just say “Oga na joke oo”. Appealing to your conscience makes you calm down and then smile, then as a comedian I do another one again. At the end of the day you will know that this boy no really well, this one is useless.
EMAGES: SO, YOU ARE HELPING THEM REALIZE THEIR MISTAKES?
KELVIN: That’s just one aspect of it, I talk about the government etc. that’s why I said social commentator, bringing out the humor from serious issues and make people laugh and be happy.
EMAGES: WHO ARE YOUR FIRST FIVE FAVORITE COMICS?
KELVIN: within Nigerian, my top five are Bovi, I go save, acapella, Ay and Seyi law. I chose these people because I understudied them and there is something special about each of them. For seyi law he is one person that even though they to box him as a Yoruba comedian, he was able to take himself out to the main street, he didn’t stereotype his acts. I go save is someone that has been in comedy for some years and you can see year in year out he remains consistent. Then for Ay, I enjoy the entrepreneurial part of his craft because its showbiz. So many focus on the show and forget the business. Ay has been able to open our eyes to the business part of the show. For Bovi he is a comedian with the intelligence and ability to manage and hold the crowd with intellectual materials that is what I admire the most because that is my style.
EMAGES: LOOKING AT WHAT YOU HAVE SAID SO FAR DID YOU SOURCE FOR THE SPONSOR OR SPONSOR SOURCE OF YOU?
KELVIN: We source for sponsor and laid back and reluctant to commit especially when you are not really popular like Basket mouth or Bovi. But looking at these famous comedians, they are actually hard to push and survive on their own before sponsor could come, they struggled to put things together till it became a brand. The sponsors are coming on because they see that you now have the crowd that they need and that’s why they are coming in. They are actually coming to recap from where they have not shown (Jokes) please o, come and recap from my own ooo (Laughs).
EMAGES: WHAT IS COMEDY LIKE, DO YOU WRITE OR JUST DECIDE TO DO JOKES AS THEY COME TO YOU?
KELVIN: I am a spontaneous comedian but most of my joke is thoughtful. I drive, I think about it and so I have to pen it down, I script before I perform at any event but when you are spontaneous, it works but it isn’t a guarantee because there times the spontaneity may not work for a particular audience and at the end of the day, you may be stranded if you don’t prepare from home. As a comedian you should be able to fit in the environment depending on the audience.
EMAGES: HAVE YOU EVER BEING IN A SITUATION WHERE THE JOKES YOU CRACKED ON STAGE WERE NOT WHAT YOU PREPARED FROM HOME?
KELVIN: Yeah! At times, like I said when you flow with the environment, there are events that when you prepare and get there, as a comedian, your ears are opened to the event and you are seeing other funny things present there. It would be more interesting when you quickly pick those things up.
EMAGES: (CUTS IN) SO, HOW DID YOU ARRANGE IT?
KELVIN: Yeah, the most important thing is to make the audience laugh and however you do, your primary assignment has been achieved.
EMAGES: WHAT IS THE PERSPECTIVE YOU ARE CREATING FOR THE SOCIETY AS THE WHOLE?
KELVIN: I don’t want to be just a comedian that would make you laugh; I want to be that comedian you learn new things from and I want to affect the society positively. I want a situation where my voice of making you laugh should affect you positively as well. There are other things you should have been impacted with. Between 2017 – 2018, we have had more suicide cases. I see things on Instagram everyday and it only means that there are a whole lot of people out who are depressed. Comedy relieves, but the thing is when you are attending my shows depressed, I would make you laugh. And by the time you get home you would have forgotten the jokes and still be depressed. I did that show using it as an opportunity to encourage whoever is depressed out there and we did some stage play to encourage depressed people that no matter what they are going through, it is not enough to take ones live and there was a tag for everyone that attended the show. On the tag was a quote of encouragement to everyone stepping into that event. So, when you take time and read it, it will register into your subconscious, with the drama encouraging you that all will be okay. I remember I left the seminary to become a comedian so there is an formation that is already in built that I take everywhere I go.
EMAGES: WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A SUCCESSFUL STANDUP COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: Success is relative, I say that a lot. To one your bank account is a success to another your legacy is a success. I am not a party to the number of cars or the number of houses you have, because that can’t calculate your success. I keep talking people, Wole Soyinka may not have five million in his account but he is successful. If you put him and Abacha side by side, one is billions of dollars the other is academically successful.
EMAGES: YOU KNOW THERE IS A THIN LINE BETWEEN SUCCESS AND FAILURE.
KELVIN: When you are fulfilled and happy you are successful.
EMAGES: WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER OPPORTUNITIES AS A STANDUP COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: That you are a comedian, that’s your career. The opportunities that comes with comedy is that you get to meet the crème de la crème in the society because you perform before elites, the lower class and the middle class, you meet people and one of the greatest gift God gave to man is people; people make the people. The most important is thinking of what to bring to the table when you meet someone, which is where the opportunity comes from. Make sure to maximize every opportunity
EMAGES: WHEN YOU WERE A COMEDY ASPIRANT AND ALSO WHILE COMING UP, DID YOU EVER PAY MONEY TO SEE A COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: Yes, I have. If I don’t have access to the comedian, I pay for the ticket, but in situations where I have access, I approach the person and participate in the preparation. For example, pasting posters at different locations and even telling people about it. I also use the opportunity to pick some jokes and make it at small events when the comedian has returned to his location. Back then in Ebonyi, while I was in school, I paid for a ticket to see a show but the comedian wasn’t funny and people were complaining. I smuggled myself to the backstage but the organizers were reluctant to give me a chance but the DJ had issues and I was later given the microphone and the environment became lively and people were laughing. At the end of the show the organizers were happy and I was appreciated for making the people laugh. So, I asked for a refund on the money I spent on buying the ticket and I was given 400 naira which I used to transport myself home (Laughs).
EMAGES: WHAT KIND OF JOKE DO YOU THINK CAN FILL THE CROWD TO LAUGH?
KELVIN: No comedian can tell a particular joke that can make people laugh because jokes are relative, a joke you made at a show which was very funny can be very dry in another place. I always try to go to event on time and when client call me, I always try to understudy the event/ class of people that are expected to attend. When a comedian comes in on time, he will be able to study people’s expression and attitude so as to know the kind of jokes to make. As a professional you need to know your audience and act on it to know the manner of presentation.
EMAGES: WHO IS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL STAND-UP COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: Success is relative and it depends on “you”. I can’t point to a particular person because I believe we are all successful as far as one can take care of himself. Man, generally is insatiable because his needs increases every day and we also desire to get better. But based on people that have growth and became success in comedy. I will mention a few like: Bovi, Seyi Law, Basketmouth, Ali Baba etc. Even whalemouth is a success.
EMAGES: HOW DID YOU HANDLE BEEN ON STAGE FOR THE FIRST TIME AS A STANDUP COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: I defeated stage fright because I even became a comedian because of my upbringing as a Christian. My coming on stage was very familiar because it helps self-confidence. To the people I wasn’t familiar it wasn’t easy I get to pray. I pray a lot before I handle the microphone, then I work on myself to conquer fear and I also study other people. The seminary formed me well and I am really happy about it. My willpower brought me this far and the seminary was a part of the facts.
EMAGES: WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST PART ABOUT BEING A STANDUP COMEDIAN?
KELVIN: The toughest thing about being a comedian is being on stage and doing a joke and then nobody laughs. I sometime fall sick when that happens to me. I can liken it to a husband telling his wife you don’t taste good after all the stress of the woman. For the comedian that experience they do not laugh with anyone when they come down from the stage. That time is when you see people pull their phones to find something to distract them.
EMAGES: HOW CAN YOU HANDLE BEING A COMEDIAN AND HAVING A SIDE JOB?
KELVIN: It depends on the kind of job because there are some people who can multitask very well and there are some businesses that don’t require your presence because money works. In as much you are a comedian and knowing fully well comedy is not a salary job, it is good to diversify and look for multiple streams of income.
EMAGES: WHAT CAN OTHERS LEARN FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE?
KELVIN: Anybody can learn from the “Never giving up spirit” I have. For every time challenges arise, I have never given up even though I was faced with bad shows, rejection from my family that don’t support my decision to be a comedian at first. The most important thing is that I never gave up my dreams even though desired results weren’t showing. Your belief will make it work out because it’s only a matter of time.
EMAGES: WHY ARE THERE FEWER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY IS THERE ANY THEORIES ON THAT?
KELVIN: The only industries there are more women than men are business that relate with women e.g. (Fashion styling, makeup artist etc.) and men don’t complain. It is all about having the “Can do” spirit. As much as both genders have what it takes there shouldn’t be any gender differences in the job. We even want to have more of them.
EMAGES: WHO IS YOUR CELEBRITY CRUSH?
KELVIN: I have a joke on celebrity crush. I admire people from the craft. It was in those days I wasn’t a celebrity I used to have crushes (Genevieve Nnaji), but now, we are all colleagues. I admire and it doesn’t get to the point of crushing because I don’t intend to marry a celebrity. If I want to settle down I would rather marry someone who isn’t in the entertainment industry because both of us can’t be pursing the camera, I would prefer a professional that is out of media. I respect family unit and togetherness.
EMAGES: HOW WOULD SOMEONE GET YOUR SPECIAL ATTENTION?
KELVIN: I love people who are themselves to the core. When you try and fake to pretend to be you are not, it is a turn off for me. For instance the Christianity tell me I am broke, don’t tell me I am rich when I am not in actual sense. I also like people who are enterprising, no matter how little. Hardworking, trust-worthy people, they get every part of me.
EMAGES: AS A COMEDIAN, WHAT IS YOUR ANNOYING HABIT?
KELVIN: I rarely get angry because even when I do, it gets off easily, almost after I air my point. The part that gets me angry is when you try to look down on me or humiliate me or just bringing people down, I don’t like it. I don’t disrespect people and I don’t like it when people disrespect me. When I feel disrespected, I get angry.
EMAGES: HOW DO YOU GET USED TO BEING A CELEBRITY?
KELVIN: Some people are used and dump. Being used is a relationship. For instance, some relationships are symbiotic because we both stand to gain something. I feel used in a situation where it is time for the person I helped to reciprocate. Also in situation where I realize you are trying to cheat; begging me to collect a certain amount of money whereby millions of naira will be realized.
These things get me angry. I try to know the possibilities of me gaining from what I am being used for even if it is not directly from you but the environment. I see it as an opportunity to network and gives room for recommendation, that what, I don’t feel used.
EMAGES: IF YOU WERE NOT FAMOUS, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
KELVIN: (Laughs) preparing for evening mass, I would be a priest.
EMAGES: WHO IS THE CRAZIEST PERSON YOU HAVE EVER KNOWN?
KELVIN: I meet crazy people a lot, especially in my industry and I can’t really pick a particular person but I know my friends are crazy. Comedians are crazy, but when it gets to the point of being serious, they would be serious.
EMAGES: LOOKING AT HOW FAR YOU HAVE COME, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WOULD LOVE TO LOOK BACK AND REMEMBER?
KELVIN: I want it to look like after 10-30 years of being in the comedy industry, I should be able to point to 10-15 comedians who I have nurtured and are doing very well and are successful through my grooming.
I should be able to say I have impacted my society, not just by making them laugh but by adding positive values to lives. I want a situation where I would be given a platform to encourage the youth for them to know that they can actually become what they want to be. That is my fulfillment of being a comedian. Ones of my jokes could even form a policy in our country. For instance, in the police force, the IG of police should see something that can be enforced in the police force.
EMAGES: WHAT IS ONE MESSAGE YOU WILL LIKE TO GIVE TO YOUR FANS?
KELVIN: To everybody out there, my friends, families, fans, the one message is keep being you no matter the situation. The road may sometimes look rough, it is like that everybody, and even Jesus the son of God had to show us the beginning would look rough, so be focused and be you.
The bottom line is that the beginning will always be rough, I believe in you, keep working on you, learning and don’t stop learning. Keep improving in whatever field you are. The world is dynamic and it changes. Keep renovating, do quiet time sometimes, mediate, acquire training on your field, look at the people ahead, respect and do not envy them. Be assured that the difference between you and those at the top is hard work and opportunity. When opportunity meets preparation and hard work, you fit into it and success would be your story.
EMAGES: THANK YOU SO MUCH
KELVIN: You are welcome, Thank you too.