"Started from the bottom, now we here," comedian Seyi Brown references the infamous Drake line to describe how he feels about his journey from hosting events in his home country Nigeria, to now being the first Nigerian to have a comedy special on Netflix! The journey has not been easy, but when I spoke with Seyi for Amplify Africa he credited hard work, dedication and of course God for his success.
Amplify Africa: How did you get into comedy?
Seyi Brown: To be honest, in the household I grew up in, it was inevitable! My father was a pastor, but also the comedian of the family. He was just naturally hilarious and had a style of preaching unlike any other pastor. Let's just say, if you ever heard my father preach, you would never forget what he was teaching because he seamlessly infused humor into important life lessons.
AA: Would you say your father influenced you to be a comedian?
SB: Oh absolutely! He was my first influence. I was enamored by the way no matter what someone was going through, they never left my father's presence without laughter. I knew then I wanted to make people laugh.
AA: When did you realize you had the ability to make people laugh?
SB: I used to be extremely shy in middle school and didn't start clowning in class until I was in high school. When I watched Eddie Murphy's Trading Places something clicked for me. I said then I wanted to be like him.
AA: How did you get your start in the industry?
SB: I grew up in Nigeria and actually got my start as a runway model. There was one particular fashion show I had been booked for, and a comedian who was meant to perform failed to show up. That night I doubled as a model and a comic and I rocked the mic! I knew then, that was my future. I went on to become the host of Lagos Lottery TV Game Show and an actor in a Nigerian medical drama series, Doctors Quarters.
AA: How did you get your break in the U.S.?
SB: I moved here in 2008 and auditioned to be the host of the first comedy show for Africans in America called Africa Laughs, which was a platform for African comedians to showcase their talent. I got the part and hosted for a full season featuring the likes of Michael Blackson, Yvonne Orji and many other amazing guests.
AA: What comedian do you most look up to?
SB: Chris Rock! When I moved here the first thing I asked myself is who is the funniest man in America, and my answer was Chris Rock. I started studying him to understand what made him the best. I realized that he used current affairs and contemporary social issues to write his jokes. I started doing the same, and it greatly improved my style of comedy because when you do that you will never run out of material to write about.
AA: What kind of comedian would you describe yourself as?
SB: I would say I am a family friendly comedian. There is no vulgarity in any of my sets - so I don't curse, I don't talk about sex or anything like that. You can bring your kids to my show! I make it my mission to ensure that people leave my shows having learned something too. People sometimes look down on comedians thinking we are uneducated, but I went to college and I love to incorporate that into my sets. I also host church concerts and because of my father being a pastor and church being my foundation, I am able to make jokes based on Christian life and biblical characters in a respectful yet still hilarious way. I actually became really popular as a church comedian!
AA: Congratulations on being the first Nigerian to have a comedy special on Netflix! Tell me about your special.
SB: Thank you, I'm very excited! I titled my first comedy special Nigerian American because I write about my every day observations, and being an immigrant I naturally make jokes by drawing comparisons between being African and living in America. It highlights the lives and contributions of Nigerians in America. The Western culture portrays Nigerians as scammers and frauds, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Nigerians are hard workers and extremely successful. I'm proud to be Nigerian and to represent for my country. In 2017 I started my American comedy tour and visited Atlanta, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Seattle, after which I took a two-year hiatus to prepare for my show in Los Angeles, which is the one that was recorded and that Netflix acquired.
AA: What's your favorite thing about when you hit the stage to perform?
SB: I love that the audience is filled with people I don't know anything about - their background, what they've been through, challenges they're currently facing - yet for the time they're at my show I'm able to make them forget about their worries and just laugh. That's the best feeling!
AA: What's the biggest challenge about being a comedian?
SB: Comedy can be really hard because you have no idea the reception you will get, but I also love being confident that my set will crack everyone up! It can be challenging when you are out of your comfort zone. For example, when you perform in front of audiences in another country you have to be careful that they will even understand the punchline of your joke. You have to make sure that you do your research to know how to always land your jokes effectively no matter where you are. Another thing to keep in mind is knowing what is and isn't politically correct, so sometimes you have to tailor your jokes for different communities. English isn't my first language so I have to be especially careful because I translate in my language and sometimes that doesn't translate well.
AA: You have 3 daughters, do any of them want to pursue comedy?
SB: Yes! The eldest wants to be an actress, my second wants to be a comedian and an actress, and my youngest wants to be a veterinarian (laughs). When my daughter expressed her interest in comedy, I actually let her open for me in front of 300 people at just nine-years-old and she rocked the house!! She has that natural gift and I'm excited to watch her grow and will feature her on my next special.
AA: What about your comedy special makes you most proud?
SB: The fact that I portrayed my country, Nigeria, in a positive light. Also, it's really funny! Of course I am really proud to be the first Nigerian to have a comedy special on Netflix!
AA: So, when can we watch Nigerian American?
SB: It drops on Netflix in Africa on March 10 and after a month it will be upgraded to worldwide availability!
AA: That's amazing! Seyi, what do you want your legacy to be?
SB: I want to be known for leaving a positive impact with my gift and my message. I do everything with intention to ensure that my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren can all feel pride when they see my work.