Kojo Anim, the comedy star “discovered” by Britain’s Got Talent after spending just 20 years playing the club and stand-up circuit, is booked to perform at the Ashcroft Theatre at the end of next month as part of his first national tour.
Anim had the rare accolade of being BGT chief judge Simon Cowell’s golden buzzer act, sending him straight through to the live semi-finals from his audition: “I don’t really like comedians on this show… But I love you!” Cowell said of Anim’s performance, which has since been seen more than 23 million times on YouTube.
The former BT customer service employee from Hackney was not really the novice act that you may have assumed when you saw him on television: previously, he has appeared on stage with American stand-up stars Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. Anim appeared on the American TV show, Last Comic Standing, as long ago as 2008. He has also hosted the breakfast show on radio station Capital XTRA.
Here, Anim answers a few questions about his life and work, and how Britain’s Got Talent propelled him from Hackney all the way to… Croydon.
HOW HAS LIFE BEEN SINCE THE FINAL OF BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT?
“Life is great – it’s all kicking off since the show, I mean… I’m going on a UK tour! I went up to the last week of the Edinburgh Festival, to do some shows, spread the word and mingle, which was brilliant, and I’ve had a sold-out try-out show in London too. So it’s all coming together ready for the tour.”
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
“I was raised in Hackney, east London. My parents are from Ghana, and they got into a bit of trouble, so, from the age of five, I was in foster care until about 16.
“I had an amazing experience of foster care. My foster family were from Guyana and Grenada, and I was with them the whole time. I was never moved around, which is brilliant, and a big part of what I want to share about having been a foster child – it’s important for both foster carers and the children to hear that message; foster care is not always a temporary thing.
“Some children don’t need to be in care forever, some do need long term. But consistency is what’s important, if that’s possible. And if they can get an injection of their culture, then it’s also OK for them to be with foster parents of another race, if they’re getting that background and input too. It helps ground you.”
ARE YOU STILL CLOSE TO YOUR FOSTER FAMILY?
“My foster mother, Auntie Sandra, she’s the main person in my life that I had a strong relationship with, and I still see her regularly now. She’s the first person I tell anything. My parents are in and out; we have good times and bad, but that’s all in a good place at the moment too. We’re all happy.
“With being a dad now, it’s important for me that those things are ironed out, for Roman’s sake. I’m big on energy, and I don’t want negative energy in his life. He is my priority, for him to be a happy boy – and he is.”
WHEN DID YOU REALISE YOU WERE FUNNY?
“I’d always been entertaining my family and friends. I was witty and quick with a response; in school, if I got in trouble, it was what I said not what I had done. I had an answer for everything.
“Comedy happened almost by accident. My first love was always football, but I had terrible discipline as a footballer. I was selected for a school of excellence with some of the best young players in England, on a course to study and play football. I was selected, but I had a terrible attitude about being on time and relied on being very talented. But it didn’t work out.
“I learned a big lesson in hindsight, and it turned out to be a blessing. Missing that opportunity to change my life, the pain I felt when it ended, that kept me disciplined when I found comedy. I would never let an opportunity ever slip through my hands again. I have so much respect for every opportunity that comes my way now.
“I realised I was a natural with comedy, but that I was going to work hard, find solutions and make no excuses.”
HOW DID YOU TURN THAT NATURAL ABILITY INTO A CAREER?
“So, yes, I’ve been doing comedy 20 years, and now I’m the newcomer – thanks to BGT. 20 years in a nutshell…
“I was doing talent shows at university, and had the chance to go to comedy school, so borrowed £150 from my Auntie Sandra – I’ve more than paid her back now. After that, I did a lot of university comedy gigs and built up a fan base.
“From that, I was able to set up Kojo’s Comedy Fun House, which ran every Sunday for eight years, with 300 people queuing up outside each week, packing it to the rafters and coming along week after week. I came from a partying background, so would invite celebrities to the comedy shows, as well as hosting exciting new comedians and DJs, so it became somewhere people wanted to be.
“What really made it big though was when David Chapelle was in town and heard about the club. I called someone who had seen him and got them to put him on the phone. He just came down and performed. ‘Going viral’ wasn’t even a thing at the time, but that’s kind of what happened. It was the first show he’d done after going away following his big success so everyone was talking about it, it was huge on YouTube and was a real international moment to see him back on stage.
“People started talking about the Fun House and I was hearing from American comedians over in the UK who wanted to come down. I was just a young comedian wanting to express myself there, and all this came from that small place.”
YOU’VE ALSO WORKED IN TV, MADE A FILM, DONE RADIO…
“On the back of the Fun House, MTV Base got in touch, wanting to film the Fresh Prince Of Hackney, a take on the Will Smith show – when he was kind of fostered by his relatives in the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. That was my first national exposure, and led to radio bookings – I did the Choice FM Breakfast Show, which is now Capital Xtra.
“I started writing too, I just didn’t know which was comedy was going to take me, so wanted to cover all the bases.
“I made a film called The Weekend on an absolute shoe-string budget and with a lot of new talents involved. And it got picked up by Netflix.”
WHAT MADE YOU AUDITION FOR BGT?
“I had been going through a bad period financially and in opportunities. I’d had my son, and that made it so much more pressurised to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life… I was feeling like I’d been placed in the ‘has-been’ box so far as a comedy career was concerned.
“I was approached by BGT, they’d seen some videos online – although I didn’t actually know it was BGT at the time. I was told the producers had loved the videos and they were dying to get me on the show, so I decided ‘Why not?’
“I’d always said it wasn’t for me, I didn’t think it was credible. But, when I discussed it with my fiancée, she said the fact they’d had to find me as an ‘unknown’ meant they didn’t know me – so I had nothing to lose.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE PREPARING FOR THAT FIRST AUDITION?
“I didn’t just plan for the first audition, I planned my acts for every round from the first audition to the final. I had 20 years of material, so why not? I just had to decide which way round to use it, and to get my head straight about what was to come.
“As I gradually went through each phase, I realised what the opportunity was actually going to mean to me. OK, it’s ‘Britain’s’ Got Talent – but I didn’t realise the world would be watching online, ‘Got Talent’ is a global thing.
“I know people in the comedy industry were saying ‘Why is he doing it?’, but people across the country didn’t know me. I had to be able to look at my son and know I had taken the chance, taken that massive leap of faith.
“I was so nervous. The judges genuinely do not know what’s coming next as you walk out; it’s a conveyor belt of talent.
“Simon had given two comedians on before me absolute hell that day. My plan was that I wanted Amanda Holden and David Walliams’ approval. Alesha Dixon had seen me at gigs, so I hoped she’d be on side. I’d actually written Simon Cowell off, as I knew I only needed three of them to back me.
“It was the very first day of filming, and – to add to the madness – Simon had never pressed his golden buzzer on Day One. So when it happened, everyone was so shocked; day one and a comedian!
“The reaction was so gratifying. It told me ‘I can do this’. I had proven myself and removed the doubt about myself. After that, I knew I was good enough.”
HOW’S IT BEEN SINCE THE SHOW?
“Absolutely life-changing. My dad was in Ghana and it came up on the news. I didn’t leave the house for four days after the golden buzzer audition was on TV; I had so many messages on my phone and everywhere I went, people we giving me their love and support. All the work during those 20 years had been gearing up to it, and that’s made it all a bit easier to cope with.
“It’s crazy, and has all been at the same time as adjusting to life as a first-time dad. Roman’s oblivious to it, but we’re capturing it all on our phones and it’s amazing that he’s been on the journey with us.
“Roman’s also been life-changing. He’s allowed me to be selfish, and people told me how much harder I’d want to work after becoming a parent… You’re making decisions for your child and not just for you.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL AHEAD OF THE TOUR?
“Touring nationally is a dream come true and the hard work is happening. We are working on the material, there’s definitely going to be a look at fatherhood – looking at what goes through a man’s mind as a new dad, as well as asking some kind of serious questions, like ‘Will I end up looking like my parents, will my child end up in the same situation as me?’
“I’m looking forward to touring, going to places I’ve never been to – like Swindon, Malvern, New Brighton, places in Wales I can’t even spell…
“In January, I will be 40. I told my fiancée Tiff, I believe the best years of my life will be my 40s – and it’s definitely looking that way. Let’s have it!”
This interview was provided by promoters Cuffe & Taylor. Kojo Anim plays the Ashcroft Theatre on February 28. Click here to book tickets
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