Kojo Anim, a name to reckon with in the UK comedy club scene, says he has a new autobiography about to be launched, as we meet up with him in his new base in Los Angeles.
The world of stand-up comedy is not for the faint-hearted. One has to master the ability to perform under high pressure armed with original material, ensuring your audience is laughing every minute the entire duration of your set.
Sadly, the compensation most stand-up comedians receive for many years of their career is barely enough to make ends meet, but for the lucky few who have made it to superstardom such as Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle.
It takes grit, persistence and most importantly, talent, to be able to compete at the highest level of this game and for Kojo Anim, popularly known by his stage moniker, ‘Kojo the Comedian’, this is what he always dreamed of ever since he decided to drop out of university almost three decades ago.
His story was one of overcoming impossible odds. By age five, Anim and his sister had to move into a foster home. Anim recalls the early years as we sit down in a restaurant in the middle of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles for our chat.
As he ponders his move to Hollywood, one sentiment dominates.
“You know I have been self-employed for 25 years? I was thinking about it the other day and I had to pat myself on the back because I have been able to support myself, my family, travel and do everything through just comedy.”
And he is right. Not many comedians make it past their first decade as a professional let alone achieve some of the impressive milestones Anim has under his belt.
And it almost didn’t happen.
Foster care opened Anim up to the promise of a brighter future. The plan at that time was to go to university and then move into sports science because he loved football and if that failed, he would become a teacher. However, a summer in the United States (US) proved to be the catalyst that would set him on an entirely new course.
“I went to the US for a program called Camp America in the summer. My mum was living there at the time so it was an excuse to go there. On the weekend, I got into comedy watching Martin Lawrence on TV and I fell in love with what he was doing. I saw him on stage and he was making people laugh and I knew from then that this is what I wanted to do. I had never laughed more honestly in my life apart from that moment. I felt like my life was about to change,” says Anim.
When he returned to the United Kingdom (UK), Anim was a changed man. He joined a comedy workshop for about two months to hone his skills and then hit the comedy clubs to cut his teeth in the unforgiving world of stand-up. And he has not looked back since.
His journey from that point has been one of many firsts. He was one of the first Africans with his own prime-time radio and TV show in the UK, the first black British comedian to join the cast of MTV’s biggest comedy improv show, Wild ‘N Out, as well as one of the pioneers of the UK weekly comedy club scene.
“In the US, they were doing stand-ups in comedy clubs every Sunday at the Boston Comedy Club and I said ‘why don’t we have this in the UK’? We only had one big show every three months and I said we need something regular every week in the UK.”
The UK versions were held at local night clubs every Sunday and Anim invited some of the biggest up-and-coming comedians at the time like Hart and Chapelle to perform alongside some of the best in the UK. His audience grew rapidly from 90 people to over 300 each night and for the next eight years, Anim dominated the UK comedy scene.
However, things took a turn for the worse. In an industry where relationships are key, a series of unfortunate events including a movie which took nine years to get off the ground, had a negative impact on Anim’s brand on account of the finance for the project falling through and as a result, nobody, including Anim, who was the writer of the project, got paid.
“That business fell apart and that is when I met my son’s mum and that was my hiding place. So, I started posting videos online. She was my escape, my hiding place and the person that helped me get up a little bit. That film really damaged me. But my mum said I should let it go because the size of the loss is the size of the gain. I had to get rid of it and do a lot of therapy to recover,” says Anim.
The setback stifled Anim’s growth and the once-promising comedian fell on hard times. But through it all, he never lost his resilience and persistence. The light at the end of the tunnel came in 2018 when the Britain’s Got Talent team reached out to Anim to participate in the program.
He was suddenly faced with a very tough decision.
“I had only £30 ($40) in my bank when I did the audition. I was thinking ‘how do I get to the show’. I was like ‘I took a risk coming here’. I was on Wild ‘N Out, I had my own radio show on Capital XTRA and I’ve done all these things, why am I on Britain’s Got Talent? People thought I should be a judge. But I realize if you act like you are somewhere you are not, how can people help you?”
He won the coveted Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell on his first audition for the show and that catapulted Anim again back to comedic superstardom.
“That was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been because it was about I can let myself down but I can never let my son down. Never, it’s impossible, so don’t act like you are bigger than the opportunity, I had to humble myself. This was a chance to be the new guy again but with 20 years’ experience and that is what rose me back up to the surface.”
Following his success, he lined up a string of comedy tours across the UK until Covid-19 shut everything down.
Off the back of that momentum, he sits in Hollywood today with a new autobiography about to be launched as well as opening up for Chappelle while waiting patiently to dominate Hollywood and leave his unique mark once again.