For The Girls: Real Warri Pikin is an unstoppable force in African comedy

"make I no lie to you, I funny die!"

Undisputedly, the functions art serve for any consumer cannot be summarised in a finite list. From documentation of events to a means of self-expression or simply as a medium to raise awareness and educate. However, a major role art plays is entertainment. And for a country like Nigeria, regularly riddled with a plethora of quandaries, the entertainment purpose of art doubles down as a means of escapism. For years on end, comedy has served as a reference point to temporarily suspend reality. Despite the fact Nigerians unarguably need a laugh from time to time, the stand-up comedy industrylike every other creative and non-creative industry in the countryis reserved for and dominated by men. Working just as, if not twice as hard to achieve results, the women struggle to make a name for themselves and stand out from their male counterparts who have no issues taking up space.

On the rare occasion that a woman is credited for her outstanding efforts in this field, one of the names you’d likely come across is Real Warri Pikin (Warri Pikin). As her stage name implies, the comedianborn Anita Asuohahails from Warri, Delta State. “I think my heritage is one of the factors that has brought me this far and it has played a huge role. I remember when I was going for my London show, the first set of people who bought my tickets were Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri people that live over there. It was really strategic.” Anyone familiar with the comedy star knows that her heritage is also reflected in the sort of jokes she tells as well as the language she adopts. “Na where my strength dey, that pidgin English. I don’t speak proper pidgin. It’s the Warri Pidgin.” 

However, deciding a stage name and the reference point for her witty punchlines and jokes was the least challenging aspect of the journey ahead. Building a career from scratch, with minimal experience in the comedy field after studying political science was difficult enough but doing it in a male-dominated field made it more tasking. Reminiscing on her entrance in 2018, sitting amongst industry heavyweights like Basket Mouth, Bovi and AY to name a few, she faced numerous setbacks. From being told to change locations or the tone of her jokes because they were too ‘vulgar,’ some industry colleagues made several conscious or unconscious attempts to paint her as an overachiever. 

“‘Why do you want to use a big hall? Start with a small hall because you know female comedy shows are not as big.’ They tried to discourage me but I said, ‘why I no go fit use the biggest hall? If a man can use the biggest hall, why can’t I?,” Warri Pikin laughed as she looked back at the measly attempts to shut her down. However, she chose to remain persistent and authentic, trusting that her hard work will pay off. In a sit down with The NATIVE, Warri Pikin goes into detail about her journey and lessons in the industry thus far as well as how the steps she took at the start have enabled her to build a brand on the global stage that is the internet. 


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A post shared by ANITA ASUOHA (@realwarripikin)

Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity. 

NATIVE: Let’s start from the top. As someone working on the inside, what’s it been like building a career in the Nigerian entertainment industry?

Real Warri Pikin: It’s been very bitter-sweet. It’s been difficult. It’s just mixed emotions because when you’re still in the beginning stages you don’t realise that it’s something you’re going to build forever. You never get to the finish line. As long as you are alive, you continue to build and evolve if you want to remain relevant. The foundation was not easy, especially coupled with the fact that I was married with little kids. I’m also a woman in the industry, dealing with those backward narratives. You know how e dey be. It’s been really difficult but I was very intentional and bent on changing the narrative. A woman can be in a male-dominated industry and still stand out. 

Comedy in Nigeria as you’ve rightly pointed out is very male-centred with many top spots reserved by men. Would you say there’s been a significant incline in the number of women doing comedy? 

About an increase in women in comedy, not at all. There’s no single increase. If you want to compare with the male comedians, it’s nothing. No one can count but you can count the number of female comedians and we might not be up to ten. The number is really not encouraging. 

What’s your secret ingredient to staying confident and focused on your craft?

Not really a secret ingredient but I’d say authenticity. Just being myself. It’s very easy to be me. I do my very original jokes and I’m not faking it. Who I am on camera is the same person I am in real life. Just being myself is my secret I guess. It’s also a blend of my being very focused, consistent, intentional and also trying to learn new things. Being myself is still that key. 

Given that there weren’t very many women in the space, who did you look up to growing up? Who were your early comedic inspirations?

For my role models I had a couple, like Helen Paul. I had role models like Aunty Mandy and Lepacious Bose from A Night of a Thousand Laughs as well. 

Having recognised this problem, what role would you say consumers have to play in ensuring the longevity of female comedians?

Oh yes! The consumer factor is like 50%. Consumers need to support and they need to encourage. I remember when I won [Comedian] of the Year [at] Humour Awards and I saw a lot of comedy consumers say things like, ‘Ah na woman them go give? Where was BOVI?’ I was just thinking, didn’t I work? Didn’t I do comedy shows? I no crack joke? They need to really show support because the comments were not good. Even on Hip TV, they were saying ‘You want to tell that Warri Pikin is funnier than so and so?’ Do you understand? I had to block out the noise. Make I no lie to you I funny die! The narrative is just poor and consumers need to really support female comedians.


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Comparing when you started in comedy and now, has your approach to comedy and the sort of jokes you tell changed? 

Of course, my approach is still changing because I always evolve and build myself. I always want to learn, unlearn and relearn things. The joke wey I crack for stage 2018 or 2019, I no fit crack am now. I go don pad am and upgrade am. I’m more in tune with my environment. I understand people better and I understand my audience better. I can say for a fact that my comedy now and before has really really changed. 

We’ve also had a shift from stand-up comedy to Internet comedy in Nigeria. How would you say using social media channels such as Instagram and TikTok have been for the advancement of your career?

One of the advantages of also having an online presence is reach. As a standup comedian, when you’re on stage and people don’t know you, the first look they give is always a weird ‘you better be funny.’ It takes the grace of God to really perform and leave the stage without getting booed. Since I already have an online audience and presence, before they call me, they’ve started cheering. So the online videos help them have an idea of what to expect. They know that I’m funny. That has helped me in my standup. I’ve never been booed and I don’t think I will ever be booed by the grace of God. That first ten seconds of cheers, na the energy wey you go take kill am. 

Fair enough. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work and what are some of the ways you navigated that rough time?

That 2020 ehn? The pandemic made me discover other things about myself because when I started, all I had going for me was standup comedy but it occurred to me that we need to focus on other things. At the same time, it taught me that I need to have more content online. That was the time I opened my YouTube. Invest and create more content online across platforms. Instagram is very short, you know. The life span of one video is short so I had to create longer form content on YouTube. Staying at home helped me discover that and see how I can get more content for other platforms. 

I guess it would’ve also helped you grow audience membership. 

I’m telling you! The kind of views I got on Facebook in 2020 I’m struggling to get them now. I used to get 16-20 million views but now I dey struggle with 1000 views. I’m telling you. My followers increased drastically as well. I opened my TikTok in 2020 and I got over 500 thousand followers in a week. 


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What advice would you give to any woman trying to venture into comedy in Nigeria? 

First of all, you need to work on your mind. If you can conquer your mind you can conquer the world. It’s all in the mind. When I started, if I had listened to what people said I won’t be here today. There are two veteransI no fit call their namesbut top comedians in Nigeria, one of which told me to come to Lagos if I want to blow. Just imagine those words coming from a veteran. It will make you start thinking and making decisions that you aren’t prepared for. Because they’ve done 20 years plus in the industry, you’d now be thinking you always have to take their advice. I don’t know the kind of mind I had then that just pushed me to do as I like. I had a goldfish mentality. Anywhere wey I dey for the water, they go see me.

Very essential especially as you’re starting.

Exactly. Another veteran told me to change my type of comedy saying, ‘You’re too vulgar. You’ll not go far.’ You need to conquer that mindset and set your own rules. Times have changed. If you’re a woman that wants to do what I’m doing, you need to conquer that mindset. You don’t have to go with what the world thinks. It’s what you think would work for you. Everyone has their own customised grace and strategies. Second of all, you have to make sure that what you want to do is what you’re supposed to do. Be sure you have passion for it and you feed it by learning about it and working on it. With those things, you now focus as well. You’re good to go. The internet is also like a small stage right now so in 2 seconds you can blow.

Amazing advice. What’s next for Warri Pikin this year?

Just stay put. Watch out. 

Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE