Helen Paul, also known as Tatafo, is a Nigerian comedian, singer and actress from characterized by a voice range that makes her sound like a child. She recently graduated with a doctorate in Theater Arts from the University of Lagos. In this interview with Isaac Oladipupo, she shares about her humble beginnings.
Thinking back at your childhood, what was the definite major career you intended pursuing?
Acting. I had always admired the actors and actresses I grew up seeing on the big screen. I used to crave the opportunity to just step into the shoes of any of them and deliver those wonderfully scripted lines. The gesticulations, the mannerisms, the elocution – everything was just fascinating to me.
On the side, I also admired Law. Watching home videos, soaps and other films that involved proceedings in a courtroom also fascinated me. The attraction was probably because I saw court proceedings as another form of drama. Lastly, I admired Fine Arts due to the way artists, painters, sculptors, etc express themselves vividly on paper, canvass, etc. Let’s just say the most expressive professions attracted me.
Why did you choose to do comedy?
I always say I never chose Comedy, rather Comedy chose me. Looking back, I would never have imagined myself standing before people to do things that’ll make them laugh. I wasn’t raised to make a joke out of everything around me but as God would have it, I started doing things that I never thought anyone would find funny but people would go “Oh she’s so funny”!
When did you first know you were funny?
It’s difficult to say in specific terms. All I can remember is that at a point in my life even as an adult, I discovered that I could mix freely with kids and even talk like them. When I play with kids and mimic them, they would chuckle and stare at me in amazement. I realized later that these kids probably felt that at last they can relate to a tiny child like them who was only trapped in the body of an adult. I wouldn’t say their giggles and smiles made me realize that I’m funny but that was probably the beginning of self-discovery for me.
At what age did you venture into comedy, and what inspired the decision?
Professionally, I first appeared on stage to perform when I was about 21. I was asked to perform impromptu at an event where a billed comedian did not show up. The organizers were getting agitated about the absence of the said act when someone suddenly suggested that I should perform instead. The person had seen me put on some funny acts (mainly mimicking some already established entertainers back then) in private and thought I was very amusing. I stepped on the stage (with butterflies dancing in my stomach of course) and that was the very beginning of the sequence of events that keep unfolding till date.
More than just funny—you take difficult subjects and make them entertaining. What gives you the nerve to delve into the hard stuff?
I see every talent as a gift given by God for a specific purpose and every artiste as a messenger. As a messenger, your delivery of a message is as important as the message itself. If you say “Happy Birthday” to a celebrant with a grim look on your face and your hands flailing in the air like someone who’s wailing, people would wonder what is wrong. Now, all facets of entertainment are like that and even more. You might have a serious message but you need to deliver it in a way that’ll grasp attention and make people laugh without compromising the very message itself. The reason people would sit in front of a TV screen and watch a movie spanning 2 hours is because it’s entertaining. After all, we already have enough grief in the world, why add to it?
You are undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s finest comedians. What’s been responsible for your consistent success in the industry?
This is the part of the script where I get to say “GOD, only GOD, and nothing but GOD”. It has just got to be Him. I always ask for His mercy and grace never to allow things get to my head. I do not want to believe that where I am today is as a result of my own doing. I might answer by listing factors such as hard work, persistence/consistence, constant practice, etc as those responsible for my growth in the industry, but that is not the case here because a lot of other people do that and even more and still get nowhere. I give all the glory to God.
Why do you think we have more male comedians than females?
Probably due to the many reasons responsible for this incidence in some other careers. I think that the reasons could range from family responsibilities to societal pressure and so on. For example, there were days when people would label a female singer as wayward. Of course, this tended to discourage any budding and talented female singer from putting her talent to practice. Though those days might not have gone totally, things have evolved and people now understand things better. On a lighter side though, some of my comedian uncles have said that “when hunger deals with you, you will discover your talent”. Maybe we the women are not hungry and as such, we never go the extra mile to discover our talents (laughs).
What are the opportunities or limitations facing female comedians in the industry?
Opportunities are those that we choose to see – it’s a case of consciously “counting your blessings and naming them one by one”, probably so you never forget them. I say this because the industry is more or less a level playing field, you get what you put into it. The limitations are also those that you choose to see – some ladies might be easily swayed by the society’s expectations of their gender as women, etc. As a lady though, you need to work twice as hard because some people have some things cast in straight stone for them. They tend to believe that a certain gender must be able to excel in some vocations than the other gender. As for me though, “all is fair in war and love” – I don’t see these things.
What stands you out from Nigeria’s fast increasing comedians?
Well, again I must say I rely wholly on God. The little I do is to talk like a baby and He blesses it. Maybe it’s the baby voice or the quirky humor that God uses to set me apart? Also, I do a lot of improvisation on stage (something that a singer/rapper would call “freestyle”).
Aside making people laugh, do you also pass any other message across whenever you crack jokes?
Yes, definitely. As I said earlier, artistes are like messengers. Each time I create a joke or story, I usually have a message that I intend to pass on to my listeners. Most times, I pick up an issue that’s ‘trending’ in the society and analyze it in a satirical manner. Even if at the end of it all, there’s no serious message to be learned, I might be telling people to laugh more than they frown – the world is actually more beautiful than they think it is, and situations are not really as bad as they think it is; plus it costs more to frown than to laugh anyway.
Aside comedy, what other jobs pay your bills?
Singing, acting, anchoring events, event planning.
Do funny people like you ever have a downside moment?
I do have my low moments, but one thing I’ve learnt is to turn such low moments around into something positive. At such moments, one is able to reflect on the past and apply lessons learnt to the present and the future. One always has to lift people’s spirits, even when the person doing the ‘lifting’ is down – not an easy job but God helps.
Describe your kind of man in 3 words…
God-fearing, intelligent, focused.
Tell us about the lucky man in your life…
First and foremost, he’s my friend before anything else. He listens, supports and cares and is a lawyer by profession.
Tell us about your weirdest experience with a male fan.
I can’t really tell which one is the weirdest but some fans do all sorts of odd things like calling at 12 midnight or at other times in the dead of the night just to say “hello”. Of course, some others bring infatuation and their own version of love into the picture at times, but honestly, I’m always grateful to God because I really don’t have serious or uncontrollable issues with male fans – they’re usually stuff I can handle.
Does the prospect of parenting scare you at all?
No it doesn’t. It’s challenging though but I think that with God and a lot of patience/perseverance, things will be great.
Favourite American comedian
Favourite Nigerian actress
Hmn, that would be asking for a long list of about 100 names because they are many and choosing one will be pretty difficult. I admire nearly all of them because it takes a lot of courage and guts to do what they do. I am inspired by many of my aunties (as I call them) including Funke Akindele, Eucharia Amunobi, Joke Jacobs, Sola Sobowale, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Genevieve, Stephanie Okereke, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Patience Ozokwor, Rita Dominic, etc.
Role models in Nigeria’s comedy industry
Although inspired by all comedians of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I must make special mention of my much revered uncles like Ali Baba, Omo Baba, Koffi, Gordons, Bovi, Klint ‘d’ Drunk, AY, Gandoki, and of course my aunties, Mandy, Princess and Lepacious Bose. There are much more as I learn at least something from each and every one of them but I cannot list all their names for want of space.
What would you die for?
My belief in God and His power to solve the problems of mankind if we call on Him.
What would you do if you had 5minutes to live?
(Laughs) I would rather you say “if I had 500,000,000,000,000 years”. That’s because I have a covenant of long life in good health and prosperity with God. To answer your question, I’ll say I’ll keep serving God by utilizing the gifts He gave me until the world ends.
To be the best in all I lay my hands upon, to be known and respected all over the world and to rise to the pinnacle of my career, whilst still remaining humble.
Not imparting lives, missing heaven.
Favourite time of the day
The wee hours of the morning.
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