Akin Omobitan has been performing comedy for less than two years. He performed his first gig in April 2016. It is now January 2018. He has been a finalist in the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year contest, a semi-finalist in the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny contest and been a Comedy Virgins’ Max Turner Prize winner. So I had a chat with him.
JOHN: Did your first gig go well in 2016?
AKIN: Pretty good. After that first gig, I knew it would not be my last.
JOHN: You got the taste for applause?
AKIN: Yes. It fuels me; it’s definitely quite the drug.
JOHN: How old are you?
JOHN: Is it OK to mention that? Some people don’t like their age printed.
AKIN: I’m OK with that. I think my age allows my comedy to make more sense.
JOHN: More sense?
AKIN: As to why someone would hold so much resentment and anger… and not just be doing jokes about dating and partying.
JOHN: So you are a bitter and twisted man?
JOHN: But you’ve had a relatively easy life.
AKIN: Well, I have. I feel that’s part of the problem. I feel like I’ve had a life good enough for me to have become a better person than I am. There’s a lot of self-resentment – I should have made more of a lot of opportunities that I had. So I’m not really angry at Society, not angry at other people. It’s more a case of being angry with me – with jobs that I stayed at too long, relationships I was in too long.
JOHN: When this is in cold print, it might come over as I don’t hate Society; I hate myself.
AKIN: Yeah… That’s fair. But I’m learning to love myself and I hope that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on my comedy.
JOHN: You seem an amiable, well-adjusted person. That is not good if you want to be a comedian. Comedians are all barking mad.
AKIN: There is stuff. There is stuff wrong. But, yeah, the self-loathing is… Having had so many opportunities and having so much available… I think about my dad and how much he has achieved. My parents came to the UK in the late-1980s in their early-twenties for a better life and got a much harder one. It took them quite a while to get established. But now my dad owns a house and a flat. He’s married. He’s got three kids. He’s been in his job for two decades or something and this is someone who came here from Nigeria with just a suitcase. Then I look at myself and think, realistically: I should have far exceeded him in so many different areas.
JOHN: Do you have a suitcase?
AKIN: I don’t even have a suitcase.
JOHN: It sounds to me less like self-loathing than a drive to succeed.
AKIN: Maybe it IS ambition. Maybe. I do want to do a lot of things.
JOHN: Do you have one big, central ambition? Or do you just want to be generally famous?
AKIN: Fame isn’t even the goal. No. What I would love to do is make a living out of something that I enjoy. That’s the main goal. To wake up with a purpose that excites me.
JOHN: A moral purpose? You want to make the world a better place?
AKIN: Not really. My comedy is very self-indulgent, very autobiographical. It’s about me. I’m not trying to convince people about anything. I’m not trying to change minds. I’m trying to show them the world through my lens. It’s not Get on board! It’s just This is what I think.
JOHN: So it’s autobiographical, observational storytelling.
AKIN: Not even observational, really. At university, I got interested in psychology and philosophy, I like to ‘guise’ a lot of that in my comedy where it is about bigger questions and how do you have a joke about bigger questions?
JOHN: What did you study at university?
AKIN: Media Studies at the University of East London – film, TV, radio… and then you could add other areas which I found I was more interested in, like psychology. What I’m massively interested in now is psychology, philosophy and literature. I never really knew, back then, what I wanted to do.
JOHN: At school you were some sort of arty bastard?
AKIN: I went to three different secondary schools – in Camden, Finchley and Dagenham – I never went to an arty school. Everything was very bog standard.
JOHN: Did you have an urge to be in school plays?
AKIN: My parents talked me out of performing. When I was in secondary school, they came to a parents’ evening and the drama teacher tried to persuade them to further nudge me in the direction of acting but they talked me out of it.
JOHN: So they didn’t encourage you to be creative but they could stomach you doing Media Studies?
AKIN: I think by then I was doing well enough in school for them to think I had a bit more figured out than I did. At the time, I was very interested in film analysis and the construction and deconstruction of media.
JOHN: So what were you doing between the ages of 22 and 32?
AKIN: Making lots of mistakes. I think I grew up thinking Life just happens as opposed to You make Life happen. I had a strong influence from my parents in terms of being responsible and going to university. But there was no encouragement for anything creative. It was more practical.
JOHN: After university, you just bummed around?
AKIN: I worked in media.
JOHN: For example?
AKIN: In the advertising production department of a company – Media 10. They do magazines and live events like Grand Designs and the Ideal Home Show. They do Icon magazine about architecture and interior design… and onOffice magazine, which is all about work space interior design. My job was to check copy. It wasn’t that interesting. I did chip-in writing some copy and helping the studio team, but that was more just for my own interest. It was quite low-paying and, after a couple of years…
JOHN: Anything more personally creative?
AKIN: I used to blog.
JOHN: The last refuge of a scoundrel. What was it called?
AKIN: A Darker Shade of Black. It was quite successful in terms of views and interactions. I had had an idea for a book and I was two chapters into writing it when I re-read it and realised: This is horrible! The writing is terrible! So I started a blog to exercise my writing and it turned into its own thing.
JOHN: You wrote for the sake of writing, so it would just become natural?
AKIN: Yeah. It varied from current affairs to autobiographical to creative stuff like poems, short stories, opinion pieces. Just unfiltered – what I felt like, as the urge struck me.
JOHN: Why did you stop?”
AKIN: I had a job.
JOHN: Another job?
AKIN: Yes. Back then, I could stomach 9-to-5. Now, a 9-to-5 would be the death of me. But the job I had was 9-to-6 and it just crushed me. That extra hour just seemed to stamp out my entire day. I was a Project Assistant. It was very vague. I reported to about three different people. There was no real job description.
JOHN: Did you have a ‘Road To Damascus’ moment when you decided to be a comedian?
AKIN: When I turned 29, I just started freaking out about Life. I didn’t like where any of it was going – relationships, my career.
JOHN: Why turn to comedy? Why not acting?
AKIN: I think, having wasted three years in Media Studies, I was really put off the idea of going back and studying anything. I guess in terms of Why?… When I was 31, I was working on a list of 32 things to do before I turned 32 and, in a conversation with a friend, I joked about trying stand-up and his reaction was: That’s actually a really good idea. You should do it!
JOHN: Did you do all 32 things on the list?
AKIN: It ended up being only 26 on the list and I did 19 of them.
JOHN: What were the 7 you didn’t do?
AKIN: One was to give a random person £100.
JOHN: I am happy to help you with that.
AKIN: It was going to be in cash and I don’t have that amount on me.
JOHN: I can wait… You have not yet done two years of stand-up comedy. Do you want to be like Ken Dodd: still performing for the applause when you are 133 years old? Or be a film director? Or a novelist?
AKIN: I’m very open. I am still interested in acting.
JOHN: You should write a sitcom for yourself.
AKIN: I have. Myself and a friend have written two episodes.
JOHN: And you would perform in it?
AKIN: Very much so.