What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
This week’s Man Like is MC Lively, an MC, comedian and, surprisingly, a real lawyer. He talks to us about struggling financially when growing up, studying law so he could study rich people and why he switched careers to end up as a comedian.
What was growing up like?
Growing up was both exciting and challenging. I grew up in the small town of Ile Ife. We had to move houses in 2000 because of the violent Ife/Modakeke crisis. I remember being eight years old, lying on the floor, trying to avoid bullets. My father knew he had to move us away from that area, but we didn’t have the resources to.
We had to squat with some family friends for months before we could save enough money to rent our own place.
Wow. Sounds rough. What was your teenage life like in Ife?
We were broke, but it was fun. I had a lot of friends. My parents only provided breakfast and dinner, so we had to figure out lunch by ourselves or starve. My friends and I would set fire to bushes to hunt grasscutters, which we’d share for lunch. It was rough but it was fun.
I was lucky to have grown up in the midst of a loving family. My parents deprived themselves of clothes just so their five kids could get what they needed. My dad is a junior civil servant at the university in Ife where I grew up and his income wasn’t a lot. All income went into our education and feeding, after which there wasn’t much left.
What was an important lesson you learned from him?
He taught me to always do the honest and right thing. Despite having worked in the civil service for years, my dad didn’t progress far because he refused to turn a blind eye to corruption. He’s a freedom fighter type of guy, so he stepped on a lot of toes during his time. Although this had the ripple effect of having his family live on a meagre salary, I’m proud he’s always doing the right thing.
He also taught me something that probably changed the course of my life. He’d say, “If you can, avoid salaried employment. Avoid it at all cost.” This was due to his terrible experience in the civil service. I grew up despising salary work. When I had to choose between practising law and comedy, I didn’t have a hard time choosing comedy.
Wait, you studied law?
LMAO, yes. I’m a lawyer. I studied law at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Getting in wasn’t easy though — I had to write JAMB three times.
I went to a public secondary school — the only one of my siblings to do so. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for private school education for all of my siblings, and I was the unlucky one. In retrospect, going to a public secondary school helped build my character and my knowledge of Yoruba, which are important to my craft.
However, the quality of education I received was below standard, so passing JAMB was a big hurdle. On my third try, I was determined to gain admission so I studied really hard and attended a private lesson. I also listened to motivational speeches which helped me get my mind in the right place. I applied to study law at Obafemi Awolowo University and got in.
Why law though?
I grew up in a small city and had always wanted to leave there to see the world.
Most rich kids studied law, and I knew I would be able to learn a lot from just hanging out with my peers and it would be my first step in getting more exposure. From academics to politics and extracurricular activities to social activities, I was involved in everything. Studying law was tasking, but I loved every minute of it. I was a very serious student.
However, surviving in uni was tough. My parents were still broke, so they could only afford my school fees and a small stipend every month. I was mates with rich kids who could easily afford things so it was somewhat difficult for me. I couldn’t afford to pay for my final year package, so I never even got a yearbook to remember my time in uni. It was depressing, but I’m grateful for the experience I had and the people I met.
It’s okay. I tried my hands at different ventures while in school with my older brother, God rest his soul. Reselling pure water wholesale, organising events, JAMB registrations. These ventures left us in even more debt when they failed. But we were never fazed. We went from business to business to figure out a means of income.
How did you go from all of that to wanting to do comedy?
When I was young, I was terribly shy. I was so shy that I couldn’t ask a girl I liked out in SS 1 until my friends carried me to her. However, I was a lay reader in my catholic church. This really impacted my growth in speaking because I had to read the bible to a large congregation most Sundays. It was here I discovered I wanted to do public speaking. It was really hard for me because I would almost get panic attacks when I had to speak in front of a crowd. I still do.
In my 500-level, I wasn’t very confident in my career path because I wasn’t sure about practising law. I offered my services to my faculty chambers to MC their events, in return for a doughnut and a cup of punch. From there, I scouted social directors of different departments and offered to MC their freshman parties for
N5k. Five of them agreed. I was over the moon.
My first party was a huge flop. Everyone said I did terribly. So for the next party, I took my friend who was an experienced MC along with me and followed his lead. That’s how I improved.
People didn’t understand why someone in 500-level, at the end of his law studies, would want to become an MC. My friends used to banter me and I thought about quitting a couple of times, then law school happened.
What did law school do?
My dad had to borrow money to pay my law school fees and I strongly thought about quitting then. But I decided my five years in school would be wasted if I didn’t go to law school. When I arrived at law school, I started hosting bigger events including the law school dinner, and I was brilliant. It was at this point I realised that if I could make people laugh in law school, the most serious place on earth, I could make anyone in the world laugh. In fact, in my law school yearbook, I put an advert for people to hire me as an MC for events.
During my NYSC in 2017, I knew I had to be as close to Lagos as possible — because Lagos is where it all happens — so I requested to be redeployed from Ughelli, Delta State. I got a job in a law firm in Ibadan that paid
N5,000 a month. I knew that my law degree was worth more than that, so I quit the job after the first month. I experienced a dilemma of whether to continue as a lawyer or to become a full-time comedian.
It was a very rough year because I wasn’t receiving upkeep from my parents anymore. I created a five-year plan for what I wanted to do with my life, and comedy was my Plan A. I stuck to it.
What did you do next?
I started making video skits. Unfortunately, my skits weren’t getting engagements or views. I had to think about what could make my comedy different, and the fact that I was a lawyer was the most obvious thing.
I made a skit wearing the legal profession’s wig and gown, but when I watched it, I knew the Legal Practioner’s Disciplinary Committee was going to debar me if it ever got out, and I didn’t want to waste my six years of work in uni and law school.
LMAO. How did you get around that?
I decided to do it in the trademark white shirt and black pants lawyers are known for. To my surprise, my third skit wearing white-and-black went viral. I didn’t see it coming. I think that’s where my career in comedy really kicked off.
Do you have any regrets about leaving law practice?
None at all. I’m glad I chose comedy. Court proceedings and legal research used to bore me to death, and I just didn’t get the feeling of fulfilment I got from making people laugh. Spending two minutes on stage felt more thrilling to me than even the most exciting court case. There’s a fire that ignites inside me every time I get on stage to make people laugh.
Interesting. So I have a…personal question.
What’s your love life like?
LMAO. Ah. I don’t have anybody o. It’s been quiet on that front, for a while now. There’s just been no one for me.
There just aren’t many people that I vibe with like that. I’m still searching. We dey look up to God say make he help us find person.
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