Chinedu Ogu, 33, has spent the past seven years making comedy videos imbued with his Nigerian roots and his Houston upbringing. At the urging of a comedy mentor, he began uploading videos to social media around 2012. Five years later, after posting nearly 1,000 scripted videos, Ogu scored a viral hit with his hilarious “I’m from Houston” .
Ogu, born in Houston to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, says he’s hardly alone.
“Out here in the South, our generation of Nigerian and African-centric people have come out of the woodwork, displaying a new perspective on comedy,” Chinedu Ogu says, referring to the 15 or so Nigerian comics who are based in Southeast Texas.
It’s not a mistake that Ogu’s rise is happening now. The Nigerian population has ballooned locally, with the Chronicle reporting last year that there are approximately 150,000 Nigerian-Americans in Houston.
So have the types of entertainment that cater to this audience — from Nigerian-focused local television options and Nollywood movie premieres to a buzzing comedy scene — that are all here.
He has performed in Nigerian churches and made African audiences at venues in Houston’s Nigerian community crack up with a generally clean and family-friendly style of joke telling that has become a staple for big events, such as weddings.
Fellow comedian PC Akhigbe has seen Ogu perform at weddings, as it’s common for a Nigerian wedding to have a host or MC who also reels off jokes. “As a comedian, I see him at the same level as the Kevin Harts and the Trevor Noah’s,” Akhigbe, who is professionally known as MCPC, says. (MCPC will be hosting an event on Sunday with Nigeria’s godfather of stand-up comedy, Ali Baba, and a slew of musicians and comics, including OT White who has performed with the Wowo Boyz.)
The 42-year-old retired banker came to Houston a decade ago and since then has organized comedy shows for Nigerian audiences here, as well as performing his own sets. Akhigbe got his start playing for laughs for Christian audiences in local churches. He said it began to limit fans who might not be Christian or who didn’t want to go to a house of worship to enjoy jokes. He does however, still keep it clean. “I am a family-friendly comedian,” he says.
Evangel Okafor is a comedic performer who spent several years making YouTube videos for her own show. She would walk up to people on the street in Houston or elsewhere to ask candid, sometimes borderline blue, questions. “Love, Sex, or Money” was one of the episode titles.
Okafor, 25, who performs under the name of Ecovangel, came to Houston from Nigeria in 2013. “I haven’t been very active, like I’ve wanted to be, ever since I entered nursing school,” she admits about falling off the comedy wagon. She said she would be returning to her Street Chat video series and doing more comedy when her nursing residency is over next year.
In fact, a career in health care is such a stereotype for expat Nigerians that mainstream Hollywood has started taking notice. “Bob Hearts Abishola,” a new CBS sitcom from “Big Bang Theory” creator Chuck Lorre that airs Mondays at 7:30 p.m., centers on a Nigerian nurse (played by Folake Olowofoyeku from “Transparent”) who falls for one of her patients (Billy Gardell, “Young Sheldon”).
So, it’s no surprise that local comedians like Ogu are able to break out of the local scene that included doing stand-up for Nigerian audiences at Omega Banquet Hall on Bissonnet, a place he called the headquarters for Nigerian events in southwest Houston.
“Chinedu connects very well with the African-Americans and the second-generation Africans that are here,” Akhigbe adds.
Ogu, a former Cy-Fair ISD staffer, now tours the country doing stand-up and has a regular TV-news segment on Houston’s CBS affiliate, KHOU, as part of the station’s morning show, “H Town Rush.”
“Now the shows that I do, the comedy clubs here aren’t big enough for,” he says. “That’s kind of a crazy twist of fate.”