With comedy Gods Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock listed as friends, Kojo the Comedian is planning to join them in the US to continue his quest to become a household name. With many UK stars finally receiving the recognition they deserve by achieving success in America, the so-called Fresh Prince of Hackney is about to make a move that could change his life forever.
The mere mention of New York makes Kojo’s eyes brighten and a wide grin appears on his face showing teeth so white he could star in a toothpaste ad. ‘I need to move where it’s all happening,’ he chimes. ‘I feel as though I can’t accomplish anymore here in the UK.’
Unlike some black comedians Kojo has managed to expand his portfolio and captivate a diverse audience instead of limiting himself to an exclusively black crowd. Hosting university events around the country and his weekly comedy club at Corks (in London’s West End), appearing on BBC 2’s Malai Monologue, co-presenting the children’s show The Mighty Truck of Stuff on CBBC, opening up for rnb singer Joe and Missy Elliot in front of a 3000-strong crowd and staging a one man show to a sold-out, celebrity filled audience at The Hackney Empire are just some of his accomplishments to date.
As Kojo reels off his glowing resume I realise the one thing I actually don’t know about him is his full name. ‘I’ve never told anyone that,’ he states looking at me seriously. Well, this makes me more determined to find out the answer to this so I press him further, while giving him a million dollar smile. Laughing he finally gives in and tells me that his real name is Kojo Akoto-Anim. Curious as to why he never tells anyone he says, ‘I just think there are two Kojo’s. There’s Kojo the Comedian that the public need to know and there’s the Kojo that my family and the bank need to know. So I just really keep it separate but you got it out of me.’
His two brothers, two sisters and his mum who is a nanny and dad who runs a family business in Ghana are all supportive of his choice to leave England. Kojo has also announced his decision on his page on the popular social networking site Facebook so all his ‘friends’ know this move is on the horizon.
When the Hackney born star first came onto the comedy scene he was described as ‘the new Richard Blackwood’. With the fanfare that surrounded his predecessors attempt to make it in Hollywood is he not afraid that he too will come back disappointed having not succeeded? ‘Nothing’s guaranteed,’ he firmly states as he moves slightly in an attempt to get comfortable in the seat. ‘But this game is 10% talent. There are a lot of funny people but there’s not a lot of people that have their business right so that’s why I will stick out.’
From Hackney to Hollywood
With Hollywood stunner Sanaa Lathan’s dad, Stan Lathan as his US agent and with fellow Hackney resident Leona Lewis making-history with her US No 1 hit single and album the idea of Kojo starring in a US box office smash comedy in the future is easy to envision as he lists his friends who have also attained success in the States. ‘Estelle’s just had a number one, Floetry had Grammy nominations and Idris Elba who is also a friend of mine went away and he’s come back with a huge name. Providing that I can still do what I’m doing in terms of being British I think I should have some sort of success. Chris Rock said to come out, Dave Chappelle said to come out and you can’t have those kind of people endorsing what you’re doing and stay here in London.’
With his innate ability to make people laugh it’s hard to imagine the 28-year-old doing anything else but comedy however it was Thierry Henry’s shoes he once wanted to fill as his first career choice. ‘I wanted to be a footballer,’ he says reminiscently. ‘I spent the whole summer doing trials for The School of Excellence. Got through and instead of going to the first game of the season, I went to carnival. I said to myself I’ll go and I’ll leave early. But no one leaves carnival early so I missed the game and after that they made me pay! They put me in the reserves and they hardly played me. So I was on a low but my back-up plan was to do teaching so I left and I went to do Camp America.’ It was during this trip that he had an epiphany. After dying of laughter from watching Martin Lawrence’s DVD You So Crazy he decided that being a comedian is what he wanted to do.
Learning the ropes
Ironically on his return from teaching at camp there was an ad in The Voice Newspaper for people to go to a comedy school which he attended for two month’s. ‘I wasn’t taught how to be funny,’ he says waving his hand slightly to drive that point home. ‘You don’t just say I’m a post man and go and dash the mail. You have to learn the process. Everyone has training. So the comedy school taught me how to involve the audience into my material and make them laugh without them seeing me and to help make me verbally and physically funny.’
That training could be the reason why he has been able to set himself apart from other comedians and since then he has been voted best newcomer and best male comedian twice at the Black Entertainment Comedy Awards and he has the most talented UK and international emerging and established comedians doing stand-up sets at his comedy club, including the legendary Chris Rock who Kojo is due to open up for at The O2 arena in May.
Chris Rock even did a brief impromptu performance at his comedy club when he was here in January. Can you believe some of the comedy club audience said the three-time Emmy Award-winning star wasn’t even funny? Clearly annoyed by these comments Kojo rants ‘but that’s like Jesus walking into your house and you saying he never performed any miracles. Jesus came into your house, smile, leave and be satisfied that you saw Jesus.’
Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see Chris Rock but I was there to see Kojo’s set at The Shaftsbury Theatre for MTV Base’s Young God’s of Comedy. Joined by Asian sensation Paul Chowhdry and US stand-up Will E Robo that night I experienced, can’t breathe, belly hurting, laugh out loud jokes and was truly impressed. It’s exactly magical stand-up comedy like this; that I’m sure got Kojo to the semi-finals of US hit show Last Comic Standing. Presented by actor/comedian Bill Bellemy and Brit-presenter Fearne Cotton this show can be described as a comedy version of The X-Factor where the winner will receive a huge cash prize and TV contract. Unfortunately ‘I never made the final 10,’ he says. ‘But from performing and being in front of loads of agents, I had a lot of meetings which resulted in me getting a three-year American working visa.’
With very few opportunities left for Kojo to explore here in the UK. It looks like we’ve lost one of the nation’s favourite comedians to the Big Apple. Although he doesn’t know what’s around the corner, his future is looking bright. All he needs now is a girlfriend to complete his fabulous life. ‘My mum’s starting to talk about grand children so very soon I’ll have to be with someone or my mum is going to kill me.’
New York is known as the city that never sleeps and if Kojo works and plays as hard there as he does here, there won’t be time for any babies just yet as he will be too busy chasing the American dream.
What Kojo thinks about…
Richard Blackwood…He’s good at being spontaneous – a very funny comedian. I just think that he’s stopped writing and when you’re spontaneous you loose some good stuff ‘cos you don’t put it down on paper. He’s doing a lot of acting at the moment, and channeling his energy into something new and being successful at it. I believe that when he comes back to do stand up properly, he’ll go back to writing again.
Gina Yashere…Gina’s a beast, man. Gina’s funny, she gambles, she’s a brave soul. She’s out in LA now and the first person to do Def Comedy Jam she opened the door for me to go out and do Def Comedy Jam this year.
Curtis Walker…is the best comedian I have ever seen from this country. He’s the only comedian who says a joke and I’ll think ‘Why didn’t I think about that?’ They call him The Don of Comedy for a reason, cos he is The Don.
Wayne Rollins…is one of the true pioneers. Wayne’s been around for a long time so now, I’m just waiting for him to do something major with his character Dibbi, instead of doing show’s for the sake of doing shows. Then that will be his chance to shine.
Eddie Kaddie…For me Eddie’s not a stand up comedian. Eddie is the same bracket as Kat. He can do comedy, but his comedy is more personality driven and he gives you energy, he’s an entertainer. Eddie has one of the best personalities that you can get in this game, and that’s why people are drawn to him. When I stopped doing the university circuit, Eddie was their new host and I set a high standard, but he kept up the level and that’s someone that’s got their business right.
Babtunde…is the new Kojo. As I was the new Richard Blackwood, that kid just oozes talent and he could make people at a funeral start busting up. When you’ve got it you can’t explain it. Angie Le Mar said to me ‘celebrities are made and stars are born’. Eddie’s a star, and Babatunde’s a star. They walk into a room and you think ‘who is that person?’ He’s the next one 100% to blow.
Words by Annika Allen, Photography by J.D. Will, Styling by Afua Acheampong, Make-up by Karmel