By Anote Ajeluorou
No one can resist the charm of a good joke. Like medicine, a good joke heals with the accompanying laughter it generates. Jokes, in the hands of a master craftsman like Julius Agwu, become infectious, spreading warmth and benign glow on all. Julius (D’Genius) Agwu has written his own life’s story in his autobiography, Jokes Apart: How Did I Get Here? (Reel Laif Books, Lagos; 2013).
Unlike many of his fellow road travellers, Agwu has stepped off the stage or podium to walk the path of those who write about their life’s journey. Already famous as one of the comic geniuses around, his life is now an open book for all to read and enjoy; readers will forever be drawn into the intricate maze of this comic mind. Like all road to fame, Agwu’s path to fame didn’t come easy. But he was determined to carve something for himself and he persevered in spite of the many challenges.
A fistful of talent, Agwu seemingly came with a comic sense of mission. Born into a poor background like most of his compatriots, young Agwu has clawed his way to the top of his career and is in a vintage position to look back down the long tunnel, especially when he turned 40 and be able to say a thing or two about how arduous a journey it has been.
Today, Agwu is in the top bracket of comedians in the country; he has walked the uneasy road to the top. And so he tells his story candidly, with an infusion of his comic self to enliven the narrative of his rise from indigent background to stardom in Nigeria’s flourishing but difficult entertainment industry.
Books like Jokes Apart perform several functions. Apart from informing about a star’s rise to fame and the many props that supported him, it serves the critical purpose of redirecting the minds of young people, who are usually in a hurry to seek similar status as ‘made stars’; young ones who may not know how many critical ‘man-hours’ or even ‘years’ and personal self-sacrifice and education that go into the making a ‘Julius Agwu’. Herein lies the prime position of Agwu’s Jokes Apart, that while stardom is desirable, it needs a measure of self-training, restraint, doggedness and early recognition of one’s genius and the willingness to work hard at it.
While young Agwu’s father wanted him to study law so he wouldn’t have to pay for the legal fees of his involvement in the many land cases he had, his mother wanted him to be a carpenter so he could fix her stall for free as well. But young Agwu had the comic and performance streaks in him right from start when he would sing and dance his way through to any item he was sent to fetch so he would not forget.
An Ikwerre man, Agwu grew up in Choba, where University of Port Harcourt is located. Hearing the Theatre Arts students rehearsing, singing and performing was the first intimation Agwu had of studying Theatre Arts. He eventually made good his intention and enrolled to study the course. His eclectic talent eventually served him well both at university and when he later began his career in Lagos. He could dance, since, act and crack jokes; it soon earned him the sobriquet, D’Genius, which has since stuck.
Indeed, reading through Agwu’s book, for those who have seen him perform as a comedian, is another opportunity to encounter inimitable Agwu. His unique comic act, his diminutive self, his infectious smile and laughter come through in this book. Jokes Apart is simply Julius Agwu in print! Which is remarkable, as the Julius Agwu mystique now goes beyond the stage and even recorded CDs of his comic act and to living rooms and libraries. All thanks to Agwu’s sound education in performance arts, which effectively puts him in commanding position at self-expression beyond the regular mill.
Jokes Apart is an extension of Agwu as a humour merchant. Some of the chapter’s titles would elicit explosive laughter from readers: My Pikinhood Days, Julius Goes to School, School Daze, Homeless in Lagos –(A Squatter’s Tale), My Temper Is As Short As Me, I Am A Business, Man, etc. These are reminiscent of his stage skits for which many pay so much to see on stage. But this is quintessential Agwu, one of the young masters at the craft of comedy, a craft he felt called even as a Youth Corps member when he dragged Opa Williams’ Nite of a Thousand Laughs to Kano where he served.
In this book Agwu delivers some of his trademark jokes: “I have many fans; ceiling fans, table fans, standing fans and she (his wife, IB) knows that fans need to keep rotating and the only way to keep a fan oscillating is to be nice to the fan!”
Again: “No doubt, I have a beautiful daughter but people see me and they say, ‘you have a beautiful daughter, thanks to your wife’. That really angers me. What of me? I know my wife is beautiful but let tell you something, ‘you reap what you sow’. My daughter is more beautiful than my wife. So, where did she get all that beauty? It is what I sowed. It’s what I put in there that came out as more beautiful than her mother! You understand me?”
And, according to the Agwu, “This book is primarily a vehicle for keeping memory alive, for pausing to blow my nose like a flutist. It’s my own way of taking stock of my life, of considering the consequences and otherwise of the roads not taken. And in doing that I am looking at myself and my actions from a distance; I am considering what I did right and what I did wrong. In creating that emotional and sentimental distance I am becoming not Julius Agwu, the husband of IB and father of Zahra. No. I am seeing myself, instead, with the eyes of a stranger and I can say that one of my failings is my bluntness and directness”.
Jokes Apart is vintage Julius D’Genius Agwu, an inspiring book that also documents salient aspects of Nigeria’s entertainment industry, especially the comedy and filmic part. It makes for a hugely entertaining reading.