In a candid interview with TANTV’s journalist Nicole Milanovic, the Nigerian-born comedian talks about his experience moving to America, change in his style of comedy, and about his up-and-coming Netflix Comedy Special called “Culture Shock”.
Seyi Brown, 45, covers contemporary social issues and current affairs within his comedy. Since moving to America, he has been able to notice differences between Nigerian and American comedic style.
“I used to practice Nigerian style comedy where I build up a premise and the conclusion is a punchline. After a while, I started going to American comedy clubs and noticed their style was different,” Brown said.
Brown has noticed that there seems to be more patience with Nigerian comedy audiences. In America, it looks like people are in a rush and that they seem to enjoy shorter jokes.
Although Brown noticed this difference between Nigerian and American comedy, he believes that he was able to add to that Nigerian influence and has made a difference in the comedy industry since his move.
While living in America, Brown has experienced a huge culture shock not only in comedy but in society as a whole. Public display of affection was an enormous culture shock that was noticeable to Brown. People showing affection and kissing in public is not common where Brown is from, in Nigeria. The attention that Americans give their pets was another big culture shock for Brown.
“I see that there is a one-billion-dollar pet food industry. Whereas, where I come from, pets eat our leftovers,” Brown said.
The money, care and attention that is given toward pets in America is drastically different from what a lot of people in Nigeria are used to. In Brown’s culture, it is more common for pets to sometimes receive leftovers after meals. Growing up, Brown always knew he had a talent for comedy. However, at an early age, he found himself to be quite reserved. His father, who was a pastor, was a great influence in his life. Brown describes him as a funny man who was spoken very highly of and tended to put a smile on most faces.
It wasn’t until Brown started school that he began seeing that he, too, could put a smile on people’s faces everyday. Some of his other influences were people like Eddie Murphy, Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock.
Brown’s comedy has evolved since he moved to America in 2008. It has also continued to spread a positive outlook on Nigerians in the diaspora.
His first Netflix comedy special, “Nigerian American” was a huge success for Brown. The special became the first Nigerian stand-up special on Netflix. Brown is now in a post-production period for his new special, “Culture Shock”.
“Culture Shock” is going to be five times better than the first one (Nigerian American),” Brown says.
“Nigerian American” was only released to Africa, so Brown is officially looking forward to his comedy special, “Culture Shock” to become available globally.
The Full Interview with Seyi Brown:
How does your comedy shed a positive light on Nigerians in the diaspora?
Funny enough, that is the reason why I do what I do. I noticed that the media paints a negative picture of Nigerians in the diaspora. That is why I released “Nigerian American” on Netflix Africa just to shed a positive light on their achievement. One out of two or three Black nurses in America is of Nigerian descent and we have the only Nigerian double specialist medical practitioner who is a cardiologist and nephrologist. The media won’t tell us stuff like this, so I want to let the world know that Nigerians actually contribute a lot to Black excellence in America and around the world.
What are some examples of culture shock that you have experienced after moving to the U.S.?
One example is public displays of affection. We are not used to seeing a lot of this. I would see people kissing in public and I think, wow, P.D.A. is very prominent here! Also, the attention that is given to pets in America: I see there is a one-billion-dollar pet food industry. Where I come from, pets eat our leftovers. And, in some rare cases, pets have to bring food and are used as hunters. America has hotels for pets. I heard someone say their dog was depressed. We don’t even know when a human is depressed in our country. Americans tend to say that they eat when they get depressed. However, the lack of food is what causes our depression.
What influenced your comedic nature and career? And, is it true that your university inspired you or did you always know that you had this talent?
My dad was a big influence. He was a very hilarious human being, and he was a pastor. Aside from preaching to people, he had a humorous side to him and was always putting a smile on people’s faces. I saw how people spoke highly of him and that inspired me. I used to be a shy and timid child, but as soon as I got to middle school I became the class clown. From then on, I just wanted to keep doing that. The moment I saw Eddie Murphy’s “Trading Places”, I knew I wanted to be like him. Some other influences were comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle. I did not end up starting comedy as a professional career until I moved to the States in 2008. Then, it was my full-time gig.
How would you describe your comedic style and how has it changed since you moved to the U.S.?
I do social issues and current affairs. When I got here, I used to practice Nigerian-style comedy where I build up a premise and the conclusion is a punchline. After a while, I started going to American comedy clubs and noticed their style was different. Americans don’t have patience for the build up. I think I was able to add to that influence. It is because of my background, growing up in the church, that I do not cuss or talk about sex. I try to keep it PG-13 and family friendly so that families can bring their kids. It is also educational and informative, so you get to learn things about me and my culture when you come to my show.
What was it like working with Netflix on “Nigerian American” and do you have any upcoming projects that you are currently working on?
I studied a lot of American-style comedy and decided that I wanted to do shows the way that Americans do their specials, which is a one-man show. I decided to put some stuff together with the little money I had, on a budget. I wanted to get it off of my chest and I shot it with no intention of having it featured on Netflix. A friend of mine said, ‘I will have you introduced to someone on Netflix, and eventually I was put in touch with one of the top managers. Then, I sent it to them and they loved it. It became the first Nigerian stand-up special on Netflix. Now, I just shot the second comedy special called “Culture Shock”. We are on tour to check with a few cities to see if I can add or improve anything from the shows. I am not in a rush to release anything until I am satisfied with what I have done which still requires me to travel back to Nigeria to shoot some scenes. This is because the beginning of the special will start with a five minute introduction showing where I was born and raised so that people can understand why the first years of living in America were a real culture shock for me.
Interview by Nicole Milanovic
Edited by Adedayo Fashanu
Images: Courtesy Seyi Brown