The man who put even optimists in the shade | Naz Onuzo profiles AY Makun, Y!/YNaija Person of the Year 2016 popular vote winner

Between his sold-out comedy shows, his blockbuster film and his popular sitcom, it’s probably clear to all YNaija readers why AY was voted YNaija Person of the Year 2016. However, since my job is to tell you what you already know, let’s hope I do it justice.

So where to start. How about the time that AY and I were at a wedding together and he almost got a pair of hostesses fired because he agreed to take selfies with them while they were on duty. The hostesses were caught by the event planner and she wasn’t finding it funny. However, I did notice the event planner sneak a sideways glance at AY on her way back from dealing with her girls, as if she too was tempted to whip out a phone and selfie.

That story makes it seem like AY and I are bestos, though that was maybe the third time I’d met him off the set of the Wedding Party – the film we worked on together earlier this year. Each time I did meet him I was struck by the dichotomy of how quiet he was off stage and how large he became on it.

It was the same way we met for the first time on the set of the Wedding Party. He walked on set very unassuming, very quiet. You wouldn’t know that he had just completed a sold out show outside Lagos and that we’ve had to rearrange our entire schedule just to ensure that we were able to keep him in the picture. I think he even apologized for the inconvenience – as if we would not have moved it just to keep him in it anyway.

AY the comedian is well known but AY the movie star is a newer phenomenon invention. To my knowledge, AY first tried his hand on film as the comic relief in Omoni’s 2014 mid-sized hit Being Mrs. Elliot. However later that year he had something more in store for us – his lead role in the film 30 Days in Atlanta.

30 Days in Atlanta was released on October 31, 2014, by February 28, 2015 it was the highest grossing film in Nigeria cinema history. Prior to this film there was a Nollywood box office champion (Ije) and a Hollywood box office champion (Avengers). By the time AY was done, there was a box office champion and it was him. Prior to 30 Days in Atlanta, conventional wisdom was that Nollywood films had a ceiling of around N60m at the Nigerian box office, while Hollywood films could make between N100m to N150m. The N160m and more gross shattered the Nollywood ceiling to bits and proved that whatever Hollywood could do Nollywood could do better.

Once AY reached that milestone, one started hearing him referred to as the Kevin Hart of Nigeria, given his dominance of both the silver screen and the standup stage. While I disdain easy Hollywood comparisons, it seems that somehow there may be truth to this one.

So 2016 rolls around and we start hearing rumblings of a sequel. The rumour mill starts running over time. Conventional wisdom takes a position. After all, AY was the beneficiary of a weak Hollywood film slate and the slate is strong this time. After all, AY had all of Nollywood in the film and the cast is not as big this time. After all, AY got five months in the cinema and he will only get two now. And after all the “after all” we decided that A Trip to Jamaica would do well and earn somewhere around the N70m to N85m earned by Wives on Strike and Fifty. The optimistic amongst us said the most it would do is N100m.

When the marketing for the film started, the gist level increased. There were now comparisons of the posters. Apparently, the poster of AY and Ramsey naked with only newspapers protecting their modesty was iconic and the poster for A Trip to Jamaica was more conventional. AY announced the football match as a key cornerstone of the marketing. Initially I was confused to be honest. I didn’t understand why a football match was being used to market the film? Will cinema goers care about a football match featuring Kanu, JJ, Yobo et al. Then I got feedback from the people that went, and I understood – AY approached the release of the film like an event. Think about it if you heard that Kanu, JJ et al came out in support of a film, you are going to think that film is a big deal.

This I realized is one of AY’s core strengths, the ability to make everything he does seem like an event. Another person I met this year who does this very well is Mo Abudu – but that is a random aside.

Back to AY and the release of A Trip to Jamaica. The anticipation was high leading into the release weekend. We honestly didn’t know what the number was. Were the people predicting N70m right or those saying N85m? We were expecting a big weekend regardless as it was a four day weekend due to a public holiday.

I had a check in call sometime around 5pm on the Friday of release and I was told that the 2pm shows were sold out. As the weekend progressed I started hearing tales of N10 million days. We then heard about a record breaking N35m three day weekend. A N40m+ holiday weekend. A N60m+ opening week. Even the optimists had been put in the shade.

The opening week was a big deal also because Nigerian films usually make between 4x to 5x their opening weekend gross. This meant that with the N35m A Trip to Jamaica made, AY was on course for a N140m box office at a minimum or a N175m if it hit the top end of the range. A potential for N175m meant that AY had done it again and the record was in play. I ran into him before he broke the record and I asked him what he thought about it. He obviously downplayed breaking the record, saying that he was pleased that the audience embraced the film and that if the record happened it would be nice.

Well, it was nice, because at the end of November 2016, AY and FilmOne his distributor had a press conference to announce that A Trip to Jamaica was now the top grossing cinema film of all time. It surpassed in 7 weeks what 30 days did in 13 weeks. It was a true groundbreaking feat. AY has established himself as the King of Nollywood cinema. He has proved that he is as big a draw as the biggest of superhero movies. He has done it again to prove that it was not a fluke.

As I mentioned above, the thing AY has proved above all else is that there is one cinema market. Our audiences may prefer Hollywood in general, AY has proved that people will come out in similar numbers for Nollywood. Not just for the prestige films – the Half of A Yellow Suns, the Ije’s, the October 1’s, but for the regular Nollywood comedies and dramedies. AY wasn’t the first, but he has been a significant contributor to the increased acceptance of Nollywood by the cinema audiences.

One of the things I like most about AY is his willingness to collaborate. He worked with Omoni on Being Mrs. Elliot, he brought some of Nollywood’s star names to play in both of his films and he worked with us on the Wedding Party ensemble. While he has been the driver of his success, he brought us along and invited us to share in it.

2016 has been a tough year for Nigeria. The first time we as a nation has have been in a recession in over a decade. Entertainment has been one of the few bright spots in this recession. Our films, music, and comedy have entertained millions of Nigerians and help them manage through these troubled times. Through his comedy shows and his film AY has been one of the brightest stars of the entertainment firmament, and that is why he was voted the YNaija Person of the Year 2016.

 


The overall winner will be announced after assessment by the editors of Y!/YNaija.com on Friday, December 30. The popular vote will be taken into consideration but that will not be the deciding factor.

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