Woli Arole, whose real name is Oluwatoyin Bayegun, found fame on Instagram posting videos of him preaching the gospel in comical ways reminiscent of local prophets.
Two years into the act, he found fame with 455,000 Instagram followers who have helped him build a national brand.
Arole is also an MC, actor, international stand-up comedian, viral skit maker and a “prophet” all rolled into one. One of Nigeria’s top online sensations, PREMIUM TIMES recently spent an afternoon with the Obafemi Awolowo University Psychology graduate in Lagos, where he opened up on his rise to stardom.
PT: You hinted earlier about delivering a blend of comedy and prophesy. How is this possible?
Arole: My gift of prophecy is inborn and I noticed it at a very tender age. I say things that people don’t say or things that people don’t see. I also say things and they come to pass. I have a very strong spiritual background so I don’t take alcohol or womanise. My background shaped the man that I am today. In fact I always say it that if I weren’t a comedian I would have been a pastor because that was the prophecy when I was younger. I was a unique child and there was nowhere I go to that I do not shine.
PT: Can you recall any of your most profound prophesies as a child?
Arole: There was a day I went to pray for a woman who was looking for a child. As I began praying, God me told me she will bear a son called Samuel and she confirmed that God had revealed the same thing to her. I was 13 at the time and it came to pass. That confirmed my gift of clairvoyance.
PT: You are being invited to perform at many churches and this has been met with criticism.
Arole: I haven’t been too criticised because I am careful with my jokes; I don’t crack vulgar jokes. I also do not blaspheme; my prayers are never negative however I say it in a comical manner. For example, I was on stage at Seyi Law’s show last year and I cracked a few jokes. I said there are a lot of single artistes in Nigeria but Banky W will get married soon. Banky W proposed to Adesuwa this year. I had forgotten about it until a fan of mine who caught that clip and it went viral. I recently was in London when I talked about the ASUU strike and it was called off in less than a week. I have also prophesied for myself in the course of my life’s journey and it came to pass. I was in my home around this time last year and something struck me that I will have a show in London and 10 months later it came to pass.
PT: With your gift of clairvoyance why haven’t you gone into full time ministry?
AROLE: A lot of people don’t know that the ministry we have is not only in church. The comedy I do is a ministry because the bible says a merry heart makes the soul glad. I also do a lot of humanitarian and charity works. Everything goes to God. I am not into comedy for money but to touch lives through humour and give back to the poor. https://www.instagram.com/p/BYYGcg3FuSv/?taken-by=officialarole
PT: You recently launched your acting career. Which has been more lucrative? Acting or comedy?
Arole: Yes, I have been acting before I became a comedian. I started acting in church and school as a prophet. But, comedy has paid off better.
PT: You belong to the new crop of Instagram comedians who are fooling themselves and smiling to the bank. Do you think your genre has come to stay? Are you guys also taking the shine off stand up comedians?
Arole: Ours is a new genre and I believe that the online comedians are doing well. With us, it means the world is coming to your phones as long as phone and data exists. Humour on social media will continue to grow because it means that on my phone alone, I can watch 400 comedians in one day just at the cost of data. It also means you can enjoy comedy without attending a live show and this is a global phenomena. Why do you think Netflix will ask for a comedian’s content alone on their platform? It is because they know that that is where the whole world is. We are getting to a stage where comedians will do a show with just 20 spectators and then package and sell it to content providers.
PT: What does this portend for our stand up comedians?
Arole: I was shocked when many big Nigerian comedians started using Instagram because it is the platform that many big brands are gravitating to. If an individual has over 2 million followers and when he posts a video it gets over a million views, he becomes a hot cake. My good friend, Craze Clown, is signed on to Nairabet and that is huge. Not everyone can attend a comedy show but Arole will mention something in Ogba and the whole world will be captivated, that’s the power of social media.
PT: When did you open your Instagram account?
Arole: Two years ago, on September 20, 2015 and I have over 450,000 followers.
PT: Can you recollect your first post?
Arole: It was a 15 second post wherein I said, “The election of your life which Orubebe wants to scatter, God should Jega it.’
PT: Did it go viral?
Arole: No it didn’t, I just got a little traction. I was just having fun when fame landed on my laps on a platter of gold because it wasn’t intentional. Yes, I wanted to be great but I wasn’t aiming for it when I posted my first Instagram video. That’s the problem that most young people of today have; they are too ambitious that they don’t even live their lives. It pays to be a dreamer, a hard worker and consistent.
PT: When did you strike gold?
Arole: Three months after that post, an innocent Nigerian girl in America slid into my DM and said, “Arole, I have compiled your videos myself and sent it to almost everyone in America.” And I was stunned. So, she sent my video to America, they sent it to London and then it found its way to Nigeria. A certain day I was at home when they sent my video to me and people where asking who the guy in the video was (they were in fact referring to me). So it took me three months. The first brand, Lenovo phones, approached me in December. I worked with them and ever since my growth has been astronomical.
PT: You render your jokes in Yoruba language. Don’t you think it is rather limiting?
Arole: Every brand has its peculiarity however there should be universality. My fan base cuts across different tribes in Nigeria. I now do some of my skits in English so I can connect with non-Yorubas. However, I still keep that core which is Yoruba language because it sets me apart from others.
PT: How did you meet your sidekick, Asiri?
Arole: We attended the same university and we have remained friends. I love the way destiny connects you with people. I started comedy before and beckoned on him to join me in my skits. So, he holds the bible and keeps reading jargons. Mind you, my Instagram skits are not rehearsed, if it were fake, they would know by now.
PT: Do you see yourself going into full time ministry?
Arole: I am already in ministry. If I ever go into ministry it wont be full time; I wont have like a church but I will be known as an evangelist.
PT: Comedy in church will always be a topic of discourse?
Arole: I have said it before that comedy is a gift from God. So who do we honour with it? If you must invite a comedian to church, he or she must not be vulgar or blaspheme. The same people that say they should not bring comedians to church follow me online and laugh to my jokes. I have ministered in many churches across Nigeria.
PT: Do these churches pay you?
Arole: I am given a honourarium; whatever they give me I will collect it.
PT: What is the least amount you have ever been paid for a show?