How did you become an actor?
I started as an actor under the tutelage of the late Hubert Ogunde in 1962. While I was with him, we staged plays that were billed as epics, like Yoruba Ronu. I was with him till 1965. Most of my peers that worked with the late Hubert Ogunde are dead now except a few of us. Some of my colleagues and I quit working with the late Hubert Ogunde in 1965 and formed a group called, ‘Araba Concert Party’. At that time, the theatre culture was not popular. I was in that group until about 1967 when I came to the NTA Ibadan, formerly known as WNTV/WNBS, for an audition.
Where were you residing before you came to Ibadan for the audition?
I was based in Lagos at the time. When I had the audition, they loved it, especially because we were young boys. They told me and some other young boys to work with the late Adebayo Faleti and after working briefly with him, he noticed that we were equally skilled and learned, so he asked us to join his theatre group and we agreed.
When we joined Baba Adebayo Faleti’s group, he changed its name to ‘Egbe Alebi Osu’. I had several gigs in the group and one of the stage plays I had with him was adapted into a blockbuster movie, called, Iwa; we also did works like Bashorun Ga, and Eye Atoka, among others. Also, we had a weekly radio programme called, Otelemuye, which was a detective series. I left Baba Faleti in 1972. When we were together, we travelled a lot and at a point, I decided to quit acting and stay at home because I needed to take a break from travelling.
At the time, the Ajimajasan Theatre Group had started doing television plays and they were competing with Baba Sala and others. I was invited to do a three-man show at the NTA. When I performed for them, they were so impressed with the three-man show they could not believe that just three people could entertain them that much for hours. My performance prompted Baba Ajimajasan to invite me to join his theatre group as he noticed that I was more or less a ‘free agent’. I agreed to join his theatre group and that was how I met Aderupoko and Jacob. I was there for a very long time because all I was after was to make a name for myself in the industry. I wanted people to know that I had the talent and I had always loved comedy, compared to the traditional plays which were in vogue at the time. All the while that I was with Ogunde, we only staged traditional plays and we travelled to virtually all the West African countries. It was when I got to the Ajimajasan Theatre Group that I got the name, Papalolo; it was Baba Ajimajasan that gave me.
How did he coin the name?
Baba Ajimajasan had a friend who was an elderly man. The man was very jovial. Whenever he came round, he made jokes and when he was done with his merriment, he would say something like: children, leave that place because ‘Baba lo nlo,’ meaning ‘Baba is using it’. But we never knew why he always made the statement. Before I joined the group, my stage name was Agbon Isale or Babangani, but I was mostly called Babangani. Even when I was working at Radio Nigeria as a freelancer, they referred to me as Babangani. I got that name after a programme we had on Radio Nigeria. It was a comedy programme and we invited other artistes like Lere Paimo, Yemi Elebuibon, and a host of others.
But when I got to Baba Ajimajasan’s theatre group, he renamed me Papalolo, which was coined from his friend’s phrase. I accepted the name and I thank God for where the name has taken me to in life. He just changed ‘Baba lo nlo’ to Papalolo.
After working with Ajimajasan for some time, you, Aderupoko and Jacob formed the Jesters International but Jacob died shortly after. How did his death affect you?
I had always been a lone ranger from the beginning of my career until I met Jacob and Aderupoko at Ajimajasan Theatre Group. When I met Jacob, I sold the idea of infusing comical songs into our funny plays and he bought the idea. And besides, the crowd was in love with the concept as well. He said that we should work closely together so that I could do some musical comedy while we performed, as he was strictly a comic actor. I agreed and that was how we started going to several gigs together.
At that time, I was already getting tired of working with Ajimajasan. I wanted to be on my own, so when Jacob mentioned that we should work together, I did not object. I had a girlfriend then, Moji, who was in the theatre industry. She also joined us and we went to several schools to entertain them. Aderupoko was staying with us since we were all friends, so when he told me that he also wanted to leave Ajimajasan and join our group, we agreed. However, his move really pained Ajimajasan because the three of us were his main characters on TV. Luckily, when we were leaving, there were some other people that had been groomed to take over from us and they called themselves, Ereke Alajeju. They were the ones that replaced us when we opted out. Everything was going smoothly for us and we were very famous till Jacob died in 1987. His death really shocked us. He had been ill for a while, even during the time he was with Ajimajasan.
What led to his death exactly?
Well, I would not say that he had sickle cell anaemia but he had problems with his lungs. We did not know at the time. He was one of the first patients received at the University College Hospital. He was not born a hunchback; he had left secondary school before the illness began to manifest itself. It was the sickness that deformed him. He struggled with the illness for a very long time and we spent a lot of money on him. He also spent a lot of money on himself. He bought some drugs that were as expensive as N5,000 back then when our currency was very valuable. Whenever we returned home from a tour, the sickness would rear its head again and we would need to rush him to the hospital for the drugs. Few days before he died, we had a performance. He died on February 22, 1987; while his last performance was on the 18th of that month, which was at the Cultural Centre, Ibadan. His death left a very big vacuum for the group. His death was a huge loss to the group and he was very irreplaceable. His death really affected the group to date, but there is nothing we can do about it.
You seem to have started this profession at a young age but did you have time for formal education?
My parents tried their best for me. I attended Wesley College Primary School, Ibadan. When I completed my primary school education, I went to Secondary Modern School, and from there, I got a teaching job. I taught for about a year before I quit. This was around 1956 and it was before I became an actor. When I stopped teaching, I went to Offa, Kwara State, where I got a job with UAC (United Africa Company). I left UAC when I got a job with Phillip Morris, makers of a cigarette brand. It was after I stopped working for the company that I ventured into the theatre business.
Why did you choose comedy?
When we started comic plays, there were only two people in the country who acted in that genre and they were Baba Sala (Moses Olaiya) and Ajimajasan. Ojo Ladipo’s theatre group also did a few comedy plays but theirs were different from mine. I infused funny songs with my comic performances and I was the first that started that style of comedy in Nigeria. I am happy and proud to say that. Others were just doing comedy plays but while I acted, I would infuse some funny songs into my performances to give it a different feel. For instance, I could hear a musician’s song and I would have an inspiration to turn the lyrics of the song into something funny.
The first time I did that on stage, I used one of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s songs, Yellow Fever. After the success of that performance, I did a remake of King Sunny Ade’s songs, because he was one of my best musicians. People were more impressed because I did it in form of a capella, using my mouth as an instrument. We were so big that there was no birthday Chief Obafemi Awolowo would celebrate without inviting us to perform for him. It was a very great privilege for me. Also, other dignitaries like the former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande; former Governor of Oyo State, Bola Ige, and others invited us to entertain them several times. We were one of the best comedy groups in the country and we were the first comedy group to perform live on air for an hour. We were also the first group to entertain guests during a musician’s gig; we performed with the like of King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey.
Ever since I left the late Ogunde, I have only been doing comedy. I noticed that a lot of people were sad or unhappy and knew that if I could make them laugh, I would not only make them forget their sorrows but also elongate their lifespan.
How did you meet King Sunny Ade?
In 1975, King Sunny Ade went to London; while he was away, people spread different rumours about him. Popular among the rumours was that he had gone mad. My elder brother, the late Yinka Osho, who was into music, produced most of my records. He was very popular and worked with virtually all the top musicians of that time. One day, he called me and told me that Sunny Ade was his very close friend and that he would want to give him a befitting welcome at the Ibadan Tennis Club when he returned from London at the time. I was excited and I told him that we could give him a memorable performance. When Sunny Ade returned, my brother told him that he had a special performance and we would be the one to entertain him after his performance. Since he had seen us on TV, he gladly accepted.
The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, was there but he had not been crowned king at the time. Also, people like Fajemirokun and Adebutu Kessington were all there. After Sunny Ade was done with his performance, they introduced us on stage and we began our performance. What we did was a novel idea and people loved it. In fact, Sijuwade was the first person that stood up to spray us with money. When we were done with our presentation, Sunny Ade admitted that he had never seen such a performance before. He told us that we would grace every stage that he performed and he kept to his word.
Is there a difference between Ayo Ogunshina and Papalolo?
The Papalolo character has leg problems and is older than I am. We created this character because back then, people believed that people living with disabilities were not useful in the society. We used the characters to preach against that mentality. That is why the three of us created characters with deformities. Papalolo had leg problems, Jacob was a hunchback, while Aderupoko was mentally impaired and drooled with saliva. We wanted the world to know that what an able-bodied person could do, someone living with a disability could also do it and even better. That was the logic behind our characters. To let those living with disabilities know that they can function in the society without begging for alms.
Has fame brought you a fortune?
I am grateful to God. When we started, there was no way of getting wealthy through this profession; we did it for the love of the art. We had the interest and passion to entertain people. We were not paid much even at WNTV/WNBS; our group was paid about N150 per episode. The whole group was given N150, not just one person and we recorded 13 episodes. We were lucky that people loved us so we were able to get shows to perform. We were very popular but that was it.
I am grateful to God that I was able to sponsor my children to school from what I made from the profession. I don’t have money and I don’t have a car, except Nigerians want to help me like they did for Fatai Rolling Dollars, who suffered till he clocked 80 years and some prominent Nigerians came to his rescue.