Owen Gee opens up in ‘THE NATION’ Interview

Owen Osamwengie, known as Owen Gee, who left the thriving Nigerian oil and gas industry to pursue his passion in comedy in 2001, has done well for himself as a brand in the entertainment world. The father of two, who is currently working on a feature movie and a comedy show, in this interview with DUPE AYINLA-OLASUNKANMI, reveals the intricacies that go into building a brand and being able to remain a name to reckon with in the showbiz world.

What are your plans for this year?   

I am currently working on my first movie titled 200 Million and it features an array of top superstars. It’s an action comedy movie with a funny twist to it. We are hoping it can be out by the middle of the year. I also have something else planned for later this year but I don’t want to reveal it until the plans are finalised. For this year, I have a couple of things that I have planned. I will also be releasing the third season of my talk show, Buzz Live with Owen Gee.

Who are those featured in the movie?

We have the likes of Odunlade Adekola, Frank Donga, Chigurl, Mercy Aigbe, the legendary Basorge Tariah Jr, the King of comedy, Alibaba, Saka, Lepacious Bose, Woli Arole and other acts. If the movie starts doing well at the box office level, I am thinking of doing my own comedy show later on in this year. But that will be late in the year.

What does it feel like to be 40?

Well, when I was much younger, especially when I was in my mid 20s, I always used to think that people in their 40s were old people and would always make fun of them when they tried to do things meant for younger people. But I’m in that age grade now and have a lot of respect for older people.

In fact, I enjoy lending a helping hand to people who are much older; the age of 40 actually came upon me suddenly. I had no plans for it but I have always lived a good and simple life. I space my meals and eat in small portions, I only drink red wine and I don’t smoke. I exercise regularly and I also enjoy laughing and resting when it’s deserved. As regards my looks, I just try to be simple at all times, and I am also careful not to womanise. I just take life easy, but try to continue to maintain my youthful look.

Tell us about what inspired your show

Well, the talk show, Buzz Live with Owen Gee, is a concept by Total Recall Media. After doing so many other things that were comedy-related like standup, stage plays, skits, and music comedy, I sat down and thought of the next step and decided to follow in the footsteps of international comedians who add the title of talk show host to their many achievements by doing a hilarious talk show that addresses current issues comically while getting to know celebrities resident in Nigeria. We shot two first seasons as a test run and it worked out well and so we continued and it has gathered acceptance and international appeal. We also wanted a segment where we can help up and coming artistes to appear on huge platform to sell their trade to a larger audience. That was why we introduced the What Was Buzzing? And we have had up to 50 or more.

What is it like trying to sustain such show?

Trying to sustain the show is one of the most difficult aspects of my career. In fact, we haven’t shot for a year now due to proper funding and returns. The recession is making it difficult to fill advert spots even when the show is a brilliant one. It has only been by the grace of God that we have survived.

We have to pay for so many things like the empty studio where we practically shoot the show. We have to pay for the construction of the set, lighting, sound, crew; that is because we do a three-camera shots. And then there are other things like logistics, costume, producers, directors and others. And getting sponsorship is a huge challenge.

That is why when we go to preach this huge concept to all those cable stations and they say they don’t have money, it’s always painful. Because the money we could have used to build houses and buy flashy cars or go abroad for holidays are put into these projects to entertain people. We have done three seasons on our own now and we are yet to do the fourth, which will cost about 17 million naira. So sponsorship has really been a major challenge.

Are you considering quitting and getting a white collar job?

Getting a white collar job is not something that I have really thought of, but it won’t be a bad idea.

People do not know that entertainers are professionals on their own. For one to be able to sit down and write three verses of a song, and it becomes a global hit is not an easy task. It is the same thing with having to sit down and put these jokes together for sitcoms, skits, stage plays, talk shows, concepts and writing scripts for movies; people do not know that it is a very huge task.

The white collar job is easier, because it is a monotonous way of doing things. We do the same thing repeatedly all the time. I won’t mind doing it. But if I want to, I would like to hold a political position. We have had a lot of people who haven’t been delivering well where governance is concerned.  I would like to work in or with government. I won’t want to contest for any position. I would just love to go in and contribute my own quota. I don’t want it to be a permanent position.

But, really, a job is a job; whether white collar or not. As long as it can take care of your needs, putting in work as a labourer and getting paid wages is what is important.

Are you sure going into politics will be beneficial to the people?

I am not a politician. What I have always said is that if I am called to serve like some, I can say I have a particular expertise they might like to exploit and that they would want me to use in developing my society. I will definitely go and do it. We cannot all sit done and be criticising all the time; it is something that I might do at one point of my life.

How will you feel if all your children go into comedy?

I wouldn’t mind that. But I would love them to get great education as professionals. So it won’t be bad to have a son who is a doctor, a lawyer, a musician, politician or a pastor.

My children have the freedom to choose their lines of profession and if they want to follow my line, then that’s okay. It will be easier to show them the ropes, but I will also advice that they get degrees with specialisation in other fields just in case they change their mind along the way. With that being said, I have no regret being a comedian or an entertainer.

It will be easier for them because they already have a father who is a comedian, and I will be able to tailor them. I wasn’t stopped, because none of my parents was a comedian. I chose this path and I was able to convince them that I could make a good living.

How easy is it to put up a show and get returns?

I haven’t really done a stand-up comedy show. I am planning my first one for this year. I wanted to put up one last year, but I put it on hold and started the movie project.

Why?

It eats a lot into my time and finances. And I could not really put the show together. And for those who say it is not possible, it is only few that have been able to do it and break even.  For a lot of people, it is all about brand building, selling. They sell their brand out to the fans and loyal customers. Whatever cost is used to put up the show is far more than what they get in returns.

A show that takes place in somewhere like Eko Hotel sees you pay between 20 and 22 million naira just for a night. And that does not include the money for surcharge, the artistes, the lightening, the crew, and the media coverage. And at the end you have to invest like 50 million to put up a good show and in return get like 25million from the gate fee.

Don’t forget that you will have people who will come to beg you for free ticket, reminding you of how they helped you when you started. It’s really killing.

And I have asked some of my colleagues who have done it and they were like, ‘guy, if you are making this to make money, then you are wasting your time. ‘It is all about brand building.’ And that is what scares me.

That is why I will be using a different approach to my show. I will be using a smaller venue, and non conventional method to prove to them that I can still do it and make profit.

THE NATION

Sebastiane Ebatamehi

I am a Writer and Online Publicist, destined to give a voice to the silent echoes and hush whispers that are seldom heard