“My Talent Is Hereditary’’
Shola Matthew Remilekun Babatunde, popularly known as M.C. Smart, is a comedian and compere of no mean repute. In this interview, he speaks expansively on several aspects of his life, including his youth,
experiences, and his expectations for the future
How are you doing, sir?
I’m doing good
You are looking fresh
It’s the handiwork of God and my wife.
When did you discover you could make people laugh?
Mine is hereditary, from my dad. But I decided it was time to give it a shot professionally in 2004. So, late 2004, which was a festive period, I got started officially.
Since then, how has the response been like?
It was never easy at the beginning. A lot of entertainers actually started their ministry from the church and along the line, only a few would understand what you are up to. And of course, the majority will find no
reason to listen to you, talk less of giving you an opportunity to express yourself, but it’s now left for you to apply the never-give-up strength in you. Of course at some point, you will be discouraged, but
never give up. So, for me, I had those challenges and I never gave up. In fact, comedy for me was before 2004. It was something I just liked. I just like to make people around me laugh. So it was more or less a
hobby and I just said, O.K! And with the non-employment rate in the country, I decided to turn my hobby into a profession and it has paid off since then. Comedy for me, is a hobby turned profession.
How would you describe your progression in the entertainment industry?
Before you delve into a business, you must try to understand the basics. Understanding the basics means that, you are well equipped. You might not be totally equipped, but you are well equipped to give it a
shot. So, the acceptance, the ovation, was quite encouraging I must confess. As we continued to move, the encouragement got bigger but, you know, of course there comes a time when you will need the
financial aspect to put up one or two things logistically, to propel you to the next level. So that becomes a challenge. The ovation was there but the financial return wasn’t still encouraging because, people
believe in an established brand, well established brand that needs no introduction. So at that point, at that stage you will need to put on a lot of introduction: “I am this and that, my name is this…ok! Ok! What
can you do.” At some point, it was difficult to get a five-minute performance but, whatever little time you are given, you just have to make an impression that lasts long and that would give room for long duration
on stage. So that was the way I did experience my own line of comedy.
What is usually on your mind when you are on stage?
I just like to be myself. Like I said, it comes naturally and there are actually events where you don’t need to crack some of your composed jokes – the things you see around you, you just freestyle with them
and they sound funnier than the established, well composed jokes of yours. And that is why when I go to anchor events, I like to arrive at the venue at least an hour earlier so that aside getting the basics of the
event, the information needed for the event and all that – like the names of the guests and the like, you acclimatise with the environment – and that has helped me a lot. And even arriving the event on time,
makes me feel relaxed, takes away pressure because when you arrive at the venue of an event, and you immediately take the microphone, you are bound to make some mistakes. Arriving at the venue of an
event on time also gives me an opportunity to put to practice some of my own professional touches in an already planned event because, there are some certain areas that were not even noticed as a result of
oversight, or were never even given a thought. But when you get there and you are like, ‘Why not do this, why not do that’, and they reason why you should do it, eventually it now makes you a unique
comedian; you are not just a comedian to do the work, you are also at some point lending your own support to the work you are doing.
I enjoy myself on stage and to God be the glory, most of my performances have been very credible. Sometimes, you perform and people commend you but within you, you feel, “I could have done better than I
have done.” So, that also comes to play at times. And then sometimes, on my own rating, I just conclude, “Today is not my day” but people still come to me and say, “Wow! You did great, you did this, you did
that…” and I just keep wondering. “Ah, for me I haven’t done anything.” There are still some times when people will tell you, “Yeah, you have done well” and you also have that deep feeling that, truly, I have done
I remember one very, very (laughs), let me use the word “funny” event that I actually went, to support a friend of mine, a lecturer. He did organise an event, a comedy show somewhere, it was more of hotel/bar
setting and that, I can classify as my worst event ever. (Laughs) My brother, I cracked jokes and the people refused to laugh. I asked myself on stage, “Hope you’ve not delved into the wrong profession?” They
refused to laugh. The next thing was, “How do you leave the stage?” You can imagine my state of mind – I was demoralised. But something just said to me, “Kneel down” and immediately I knelt down, and I told
the people: “Well, I can understand I have actually tried my best, I have tried to come out here and support my brother, and also try to create an impression of myself, and these people have refused to laugh. I
can understand that some of you are actually on more than a bottle of drinks, which could be the influence. Probably I am not saying what you want to hear, but I am just kneeling down to thank you people for
refusing to laugh.”
My brother, it was as if that was actually the performance. (Laughs) They gave me a standing ovation, and I never hesitated on the stage. I left immediately. Because, leaving the stage after the ovation would
bring back the question, “How do you leave the stage?” So I already had gotten the opportunity of leaving the stage and I was leaving the stage on a pleasant mood, amid a standing ovation. That was my worst
performance. But generally speaking, once I see the microphone, I just like to express myself. I enjoy myself when I do my thing.
Are you saying you prepare for a joke before going on stage. Or whenever you sight the microphone, it just flows?
Inspiration comes in different ways. Sometimes, you are supposed to envisage or visualise the event, even before the event holds. Because if you are going to an event, you must put into consideration the
quality of guests – I mean, the categories of human beings that make up the guests for the event – the location, and several other factors. You now decide, because it is not every joke you crack at a
student/youth kind of event that you crack where the likes of professors and ministers are in attendance. But there are still some jokes that cut across every sphere of human life, that can fit into every event.
These are called, “Precise jokes”. Those are jokes for those in medical fields, jokes for those in the kitchen field, jokes for an ordinary market life. Those jokes that are called or categorised as “Social jokes” are
those jokes that cut across all spheres of human life. As long as it carries a good message, and a good message could get different interpretations but, as long as it is not offensive, you can always settle with
Have you ever run out of jokes while on stage?
In my early days in the industry, I did. But experience is not bought with money. That is where experience comes to play. For a very good comedian, you would generally do what is called, ‘free-styling”. You will
use what you see. And if you are more of such a comedian, you are bound to last longer. You know, when you are doing a proper stand-up comedy performance, the time duration is usually short, especially
when it’s not your own event. But if it’s your event, you are bound to stay longer on stage. Because it is your event. So, you must gather enough material. But when you are anchoring a proper event, that is
not a proper stand-up comedy show, then you will have a mixture of free-styling and already-composed jokes. For me, free-styling works more than already-composed jokes. So, I can say it comes through what
I see when I am with the microphone; as long as that mood is activated, the inspiration comes any how. There are things I say sometimes, very funny things, that I just ask myself, “Ah! How were you able to say
this? How did it even come?” And sometimes, too, jokes don’t come. I get a lot of inspiration when I am taking my bath. Or when I am using the generator at home – I get a lot of inspiration there. Gone are the
days when okada was so common in Lagos. When I am on a bike, I get a lot of inspiration. So, people get inspiration in different ways but these are some of the ways I get my own inspiration. So for me, free-
styling works the more and, I am so selective in the kinds of events; I don’t do just any kind of event.
You just told us your most embarrassing moment as a comedian. What would you say your best moment was?
Ah! On that, I have lost count.
Like a lady coming on stage to give you a kiss, or what?
(Laughs) I won’t even accept the kiss. Really, I have lost count because when I say most exciting moment, what I call exciting moment is, to come and anchor your event and you appreciate the work that I have
done – no matter how long the event lasts, no matter how brief the event lasts. That, for me, is an exciting moment. Because your satisfaction will give birth to another event for me and, it may not actually be
you organising the next event, it could be your friend, or business associate, and you will definitely stand for me. Even when such a person does not probably know me, you will know that I can do it. So,
satisfying my clients is what I call excitement. And on that, I have lost count.
Apart from being a comedian, do you have any other business?
I am going to disclose just a few because, they say,” Jack of all trade, master of none”. But I am trying to set up something which is going to hit the industry soon. Of course, on a positive note. Aside comedy, I
do event packaging, I do event consultancy, I manage events. That has been on for a while but, some other aspect of M.C. Smart, the business aspect, is going to be revealed very soon. Also, I am in my final year
in Lagos State University, Festac campus, studying Sociology, and I I have got something prepared in that line too. But for the immediate future, something big is coming up soon. I am just taking my time to relax.
I am still in my early years of marriage, so I’m taking time to get my family settled down very well, then explore other aspects. Because those other aspects are going to be myself and my wife, and not me alone,
because I cannot do it all alone.
For a period of time you’ve absconded from the industry; where have you been?
(Laughs) Well, I wouldn’t say I absconded from the industry. No! I have been practicing, except that the market is wide. Actually what happened is that, I got engrossed with religious activities and I served in the
Youth Apostolic of the Catholic Church. At some point, I was the president of the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria, in Lagos diocese. And as about then, we had about a hundred and twenty parishes; I
think we have about a hundred and fifty parishes now. So, that actually took a lot of me from the eyes of the public, but I still do event, I still anchor events, and I get a lot of patronage. In fact, most of my clients
come from within and around the church circle. But now, I have actually served, I have finished serving, and we need to give opportunity to those coming after us to also serve. So, I have served. I was I was
actually representing Lagos as the president of Lagos at the National level, and so at some point, that actually took me out, so I traveled out. Before traveling to Brazil, was Benin Republic and that took me on a
pilgrimage to Brazil in 2013.
Basically, it’s been the Youth Apostolic of the Catholic Church that took me. I do events, they are very serious events. When I say serious events, they are not those kinds of events you publicise on T.V. I don’t
think a big, maybe the board of directors of one oil company will want to do like a summit, or a dinner, and go to the T.V. to advertise. So, I got so engaged with such kind of events. But now that I am free of
that, though that is not to say I have left my religious life (laughs). No! But there is no official portfolio within the church that is holding me down. So, I have served, I have served God, I have served the Youth
Apostolic, now I have to serve my family. I am fully back in the industry. And then talking about touches, I always believe in experience a lot and it pays a lot. It’s just aspects where, sometimes I watch some of
my clips to check my expression, to check my delivery, and work on those aspects, and I can say there has been a lot of improvement on my craft, from where I started 5/6 years ago and now. Though I am not
where I think I want to be, it is a gradual process. But I am not in a hurry.
Would you say you are in competition with other comedians?
Mybrother, if you say you dey compete with anybody, you are killing yourself. See, be yourself, do your thing, allow people see what you’ve started on. For me, I don’t make noise, my work makes the noise. I
value relationships a lot. Apart from me anchoring your event, there is life after your event and that life after your event, could give birth to other things. So it goes beyond handling the microphone, make
people laugh and you go. So I am not in competition with anybody. I am doing my thing. So, I am not in competition with anybody. I am just doing my thing and when that grace fully arrives, then everybody will
know that patience pays. So, I am not in competition with anybody, I just do my thing, and relate with others well.
What inspires your sense of humour?
That is one difficult aspect that I can find difficult to explain. But I know getting into the comedy business was as a result of my getting tired of being an employee of people. Because from my childhood days, I
had engrossed myself with a lot of hustling. I have sold ice water (not pure water o), I have sold sweets, biscuits, nylon. You know, because I was born in the north, I had offloaded chicken feeds, and fish feeds. I
remember I worked in a pure water company for four years. I had sometime in my early days been an apprentice, a mechanic apprentice, so I am naturally not a lazy person. And so it got to a point when I said,
“No! no! no! no! no! and people were advising: “Smart, you can do comedy.” And when people advise you, you need to talk to yourself – “Should I take to this advice? Should I do it?” Because if you do it because
people say you should do it, and you are not convinced, whatever comes your way, you would want to put the blame on those who adviced you.
So, I got well convinced by what people advised me, because I reflected very deeply into it and said, “Okay, let me turn my hobby into a profession.” Because for how long will I continue to work under people
with no good pay? And jobs in this country are almost impossible to get. So, this is my own way of employing myself, and I have never had reason to regret my action or my decision. So comedy comes to me
naturally. It is what I can’t do without. I have forgone a lot of things because of comedy, because I am so convinced that, this is my line. The inspiration comes naturally. Like I said, it is hereditary. I am not the
only one that does comedy in my family; my elder brother does comedy too (M.C. Topsy); my dad also, in his youthful days. At least we had privilege to see him perform in those days. In those days, they were
not called comedians, there were called M.C.s. way back. So, it comes naturally.
Who are your role models?
When it comes to diction, use of words, well-constructed phrases, Teju Baby Face. I wish God could just give me half that ability of his. I don’t believe you must speak pidgin before you can be funny. And Ali
Baba, of course, remains the number one. You see when we praise Ali Baba, it is not as if Ali Baba has given mansion to every one of us. No! But when people create opportunities for others to excel, Ali Baba is
in that line. He encourages, Ali Baba doesn’t look down on you, and he encourages you to be yourself, to move on. So, I would say, Teju Baby Face and Ali Baba. These two people, they stand out to me. They
are my role models.
What are your lowest and highest pay if you are to perform in an event?
My brother, there can only be a range. There is no fixed price. (Laughs). There can only be a range, there is no fixed price, I am telling you. And that range, of course, goes along with the level of your brand.
Because sometimes, clients you expect will pay you much will not even pay much; those you expect won’t pay you much, will eventually pay you much, even more than you expected. So there can only be a
range, there can’t be a fixed price. No comedian has a fixed price. Say this to any comedian, “M.C. Smart says this,” and let him or her dispute it. There is no fixed price, there can only be a range. Because
sometimes, aside going on professional charges there are things we also put into consideration. Mind you, we are human beings and relationship also matters in this business. Life after that event also matters
because, charges bring clients closer to you, and charges drive clients away from you. There is even a level you get to as a comedian and people begin to think within their imagination, to feel that, “Wow, your
charges are out of this world.” And they have not even approached you, to verify how much you will charge them. But because of what they have seen, they conclude within their heart that, “Ah, this guy is funny
o but we can’t afford him.” But on the reality scale, if they had approached you, there is a possibility that you could have given them a price that they can afford, that is even far less than what they have actually
budgeted. So, there can only be a range. There is no fixed price.
Tell us about yourself, your family and educational background.
Let me start with my educational background. My primary school was First Baptist School Zaria, Kaduna State and unfortunately, I went to four different secondary schools. I started with a private secondary
school, and after a year, because of relocating, I had to go through three other public schools and my life was horrible. That is one aspect of my life that I am not proud of. What actually kept me going was my
foundation, my primary school which I cherish so much. Had it not been for my primary education, and the family I come from, it would have been a different story. Like I said, I am in my final year, 500 level,
because it is a part-time programme in LASU, and it is quite unfortunate though that I am still in my final year because, had it not been the several ASUU strikes, in-house strikes in LASU, I ought to have finished.
And that also could have also helped aspects in my plan.
Then to my family, I am happily married, a father of two kids, two lovely daughters, Emmanuella and ….- are their names. My wife is from Cross River state; you can imagine a Yoruba man getting married to a Cross
Riverian. My brother, I crossed many rivers to marry my wife (laughs). So, we are doing well, to the Glory of God, but we believe we can do better. I am from a family of seven brothers and three sisters, but only
five brothers, myself inclusive, are still in existence and only two sisters out of the three sisters, are still in existence. The others have passed to the great beyond. My parents are still alive, and of course, we are
still pushing on to the Glory land. We are not there yet, we never hammer, and very soon we shall get there.
What state are you from?
Kwara state. I am from Ayedun town. I was born in the North, in Zaria, Kaduna state.
How did you come by the name M.C. Smart?
Of course, people know what M.C. means but I want to give my own definition of M.C. I like to define M.C. in my own way, that is quite different from what people know. M.C. for me is Master Comedian because,
I am not just an M.C., I am a comedian. Then the word Smart. Smart is actually an acronym of my four names put together. Because as a Yoruba, we from this part of the country believe that your name tells a lot
about you, it does have a lot of influence on you. When people ordinarily hear the word smart, the possibility of thinking about the negative aspect comes before the thought of the positive. But that is not my
own definition of the word smart I am bearing. Smart is an acronym of my four names given to me by my parents. The names are: S for Shola, MA for Matthew. It was actually SMRT but, I added the “A.” S for Shola,
MA for Matthew, R for Remilekun, and T for, Toyin. So, these were the things I put together.
What is your surname?
Babatunde is my surname. I was tempted to use names like “Baba Tee” or “Mr B,” but I needed a name that is unique. Of course there is somebody bearing “Baba Tee” already. There is also “Tee A,” the “Tee” from
“Tee A” is gotten from Tunde, so I said: “Okay, let me do my own thing.” So when you call me Smart, there is this extra excitement in me because, you are calling four names together. But if you call one of these
names I just disclosed, which is not known to a lot of people, then it means you actually know me to my root. So that is the meaning of M.C. Smart.