News was announced yesterday of a new E4 comedy pilot, The Colonel Banjoko Show. Pitched as a “modern day Mrs Merton”, it will feature Samson Kayo, star of the acclaimed sketch show Famalam, as a “bombastic, charming, utterly self-obsessed and highly dangerous” African dictator, who has been given his own light entertainment show. It promises “celebrity guests, music, games and summary executions”. Guests will be “kept on their toes by his unique and unpredictable style of interrogation”.
A mad African dictator terrorising his audience for laughs? Count us in. Sounds like a great concept.
In fact, we know it’s a great concept because someone’s successfully been entertaining Fringe audiences with it for years. And his name is President Obonjo.
“A formidable man with a rock-shattering voice. He begins by issuing diktats, eyeing up potential wives, and threatening to have people shot.” This was our review of President Obonjo at the 2015 Fringe.
“I shot many and received many medals for my comedy bravery. This time around I need the audience to help me start a revolution. I am looking for audience members ready to die for me.” This was our interview with President Obonjo for his next state visit to Edinburgh.
“You’ll be interrogated on how you can help him rise to power, and if you’re a young woman on the front row, possibly invited to be his 14th wife.” This was our review of President Obonjo at the 2017 Fringe.
Hmmm… executions and interrogations from a self-obsessed dictator? Maybe it wasn’t Mrs Merton that was the inspiration behind E4’s hot new comedy…
Now, there’s coincidences. And then there’s “coincidences”. Comedy is a small world and it defies credibility that someone in a position to make or commission a TV comedy was not aware that a circuit act had been performing a very similar act for a decade.
The assumption has to be they knew. And they knew they could get away with it.
Joke theft, of course, happens so often as to go unremarked upon. “Borrowed” routines have found themselves onto shows like Britain’s Got Talent. But this is President Obonjo’s entire act we are talking about. It’s only a pilot, but should Colonel Banjoko take off, and prove to be as similar in nature as it sounds, then the original President is going to look like he’s the one ripping off the TV series.
The theatre world was up in arms recently over an authorship controversy. Young theatre-makers Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin claimed they were not receiving due credit for their work on the Manchester International Festival show Tree, which had gone into production billed solely to two famous men – Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba. Many people in theatre circles saw this as an abuse of power, an example of established figures exploiting the work of lesser-known creatives.
This is a reminder that it’s not just theatre, and it’s not just young women who can be at the wrong end of that power dynamic. It can be a well-liked, middle-aged bloke from St Albans. One who has slogged his way round the country for ten years, building a character to growing acclaim, but not much money, only to wake up one day to a Chortle article revealing someone else has got a shot at TV success with it.
Twitter has done it’s thing and the likes of Dane Baptiste and Kae Kurd have weighed in behind Obonjo. Njambi McGrath and others have tweeted E4 for a response. They may get none. E4 may brush it all away. But whatever happens we can all say we know who the Real African Dictator is.
All hail Obonjo! #VivaLaftaRepublic
And if you want to support the real deal, you can. Goodbye Mr President is at the PBH Voodoo Rooms, from Sat 3 Aug at 21:05.