Recently, SaharaTV’s Dr. Damages chatted with the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of African Abroad-USA newspaper, Mr. Alex Kabba, as part of the events marking the 200th episode of the satirical TV show, Dr. Damages Show. In the interview, Dr. Damages talked about his motivation and where he would like to see political comedy go in Africa. On the prospects of making it big as a comedian in America, he says, “It is easier to go to Harvard Medical School and be a neurosurgeon than to be a successful comedian in America.”
On December 11, 2015, Dr. Damages and Keeping It Real’s Adeola Fayehun will perform live at the MIST Theater in Harlem, New York City.
Here is an extract from his chat with African-Abroad USA newspaper.
African-Abroad USA: As you approach the 200th episode, who will you say is Dr. Damages?
Dr. Damages: Dr. Damages is a concerned citizen of Africa who has chosen not to continue to sit and stare like so many others, but to intervene in the treatment of the socio-political maladies afflicting Africa. He is not your grandfather’s doctor. He uses ridicule, humor, and all the tools in the workbox of satire to highlight human follies with the ultimate goal of cajoling and shaming African socio-political actors to change their ways. Dr. Damages believes that most countries in Africa are failed states that ironically work for the very people who failed them. His core belief is that until Africans begin to hold accountable men and women in authority within their society instead of worshipping them as the situation is today, Africa will continue to battle with basic developmental problems that the rest of mankind has virtually outgrown.
African-Abroad USA: What keeps you going to pursue this project considering the limited financial returns on your effort?
Dr. Damages: Every week, I receive hundreds of emails from Africans who are touched by something they watched on the show. Some write to express their thanks for the relief the show brought to their stressful lives. Some write to express appreciation for the knowledge they gained from watching the show. But, most importantly, the people that keep me going are those who are inspired by what they see on the show that they take action on their own to question people in authority within their circle of influence. I have come to regain hope that the younger generation of Africans are not just self-absorbed narcissists, but that they are interested in finding solutions to Africa’s challenges of today. They are looking for pointers and they will embrace one when they see it. So, that’s encouraging. And to be in a position where in my own little way I’m contributing to that conversation, there is no honor greater than that.
African-Abroad USA: Do you think Nigerians in general appreciate humor?
Dr. Damages: Oh, yeah. Nigerians do. They like to laugh. In fact, you can say that laughter and religion are the two things keeping the Nigerian, the African and even our cousin in America, the African Americans, alive in the midst of so much of life’s challenges. Studies after studies find African society at the top of the list of happiest people in the world. You don’t attain that without the ability to laugh at life and your own condition. My concern, though, is that we appear to laugh more at the wrong things. We laugh at the oppressed in our society; we laugh at the disadvantaged; we laugh at the disabled; and we laugh at those who are afflicted. That is a counter productive laughter. They reinforce and institutionalize the conditions that produced these subjects of our laughter. In other advanced societies, humor is channeled towards curing ills and not perpetuating evil. So laughter is typically used to correct the stupidity of the privileged, the vices of those in authority, the excesses of the celebrities, and to expose and discredit inequality, injustice and inefficiency within a society. We haven’t gotten there yet but we will. We have started well. There are thousands of us who get entertained by comedians like Bovi, Basketmouth, Ali Baba, I Go Dye and so. We currently laugh at I Go Dye’s fart joke of how he beat airport immigration security by farting. The real fart joke is the one being told by a general overseer of a church who collected seed money from the congregation to build a university only to turn around to say that the university does not belong to the church but to a ministry under the church that he and his family members are the directors. The real fart joke is the one being told by a governor who spent tax payers money to build a multi-billion naira hospital only to fly on a private jet to London after being involved in a minor accident. These fart jokes are splashed on our faces and they smell more than I Go dye’s fart.
The next logical step is to channel that entertainment to a positive end. And that is what Dr. Damages hopes to prove that it could be done. His is not a dumb down form of comedy. It is satire. And the problem with satire is that it entails using one’s tongue to count one’s teeth. As simple as it sounds, some people are predisposed to only use their teeth to count their tongue. A wasted day is not the day we did not make money. A wasted day is the day we did not laugh. Each day we fail to laugh, a little bit of what makes us human dies. Only the dead are excused from laughing. The alternative to laughter is to frown our faces. The reward for days of frowned face is wrinkles.
African-Abroad USA: What episode will you consider the best and why?
Dr. Damages: You are essentially asking me to choose one favorite child out of 199. That’s not fair to me and to the children. Twenty years from now, the ones not chosen will go on Oprah Winfrey Show and cry. He will say that he needed therapy to get through that horror. That’s another way of saying that after 199 episodes, I cannot say this is the best. Each one served its purpose and accomplished something. As long as a particular week’s episode captured the stories of that week, I am satisfied. But my personal bias is toward special episodes like episode, 50, 100, 150 and 200. These landmark episodes try to look back at what was accomplished 50 weeks before. Whenever we do that, we appreciate more the amount of work we put in week after week on the shows. For those who are not watching on a weekly basis, those episodes give a good glimpse of the best the show has to offer.
African-Abroad USA: As an immigrant in America, will you recommend comedy as a profession here in NY?
Dr. Damages: Comedy is tough. It is tougher than any other career out there. It is easier to go to Harvard Medical School and be a neurosurgeon than to be a successful comedian in America. There are so many comedians out there but very few are successful. But it can be done. To do so, one must commit to it and give it their best. There is no short cut. You have to learn the craft and deal with the setbacks and all the disappointments on the path of any successful career. Anyone who is not willing to put in the time should not bother. But if you are successful, the rewards are immeasurable. In fact, in Hollywood, comedians are the highest paid. It is the same in Nollywood. With the possible exception of South African’s Trevor Noah who is taking over The Daily Show on Comedy Central, African comedians are not making it big in America. But again, they don’t have to make it big in Hollywood. They can do well if they carve their own niche and satisfy their immediate constituency.
African-Abroad USA: You said that you are giving President Buhari a sort of honeymoon. When will that be over? And does it not limit your ability to entertain your fans who are very crazy about politics in Nigeria?
Dr. Damages: We actually talk about everything he is doing, the same way we talk about every political actor out there. What we haven't done is to define him. Defining someone is like giving the person a tattoo. It is not like make up that you put on today and remove tomorrow. There are still several unknowns for us to convincingly define him. If X plus Y is equal to Z, and X is Buhari, you cannot find what Z is until you know what Y is. And the only person that can tell you what Y is, is Buhari. The pieces will come together. With Jonathan, it happened so fast. Two weeks after he won the April 2011 election, before he was even sworn in as president, the first thing he did was to secretly approved the transfer of $1.1 billion to the London account of Malabu Oil and Gas owned by former Minister of Petroleum and a convicted money launderer, Dan Etete and Sani Abacha’s son, Mohammed. The money came from funds paid to the Federal Government by two multinational companies; Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited and Shell Nigeria as part of the settlement of the Malabu oil block case between the Federal Government, Malabu and the two multinational oil companies. As soon as the money got into the account of Malabu Oil in London it was wired to secret accounts of cronies and some political associates of President Jonathan. He did not deviate from that path for the rest of his term in office. In fact, as more oil money came in, he became more carefree.