“I don’t really like comedians on this show… But I love you!” That was the reaction of head judge Simon Cowell as he reached for the golden buzzer, after Kojo Anim’s first audition on the 2019 series of Britain’s Got Talent, propelling Kojo straight into the live semi-finals. Stunned, the 39-year old stand-up comedian from Hackney sank to the floor and held his head in his hands before mouthing “Wow!”
“You were nervous,” said Cowell, “then I could see the audience react to you and you reacting to them.” Cowell went on stage to hug Kojo adding “I get it. You are so funny and so unpredictable, you’ve got the most amazing energy. This is the break you’ve been waiting for. I could not be happier for you, enjoy this!”
That first BGT performance alone has had over 27 million views on YouTube. “I was so nervous,” says Kojo. “The judges genuinely do not know what’s coming next as you walk out. Simon had given two comedians before me absolute hell that day. 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 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.”
Kojo won the judges vote in the third live semi-final of Britain’s leading TV talent show and come fourth in the live final. Now he is preparing for his first ever headline UK tour in 2020. “For me, Britain’s Got Talent wasn’t about winning £250,000, it was a chance to get in front of the judges and to prove to myself that I can perform in front of anybody. My goal was to make it to the final, and now here I am preparing my first solo tour, something I’ve been working towards for 20 years.”
The former BT customer service employee has previously worked with American stand-up stars Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock and was a hit on NBC series Last Comic Standing in America in 2008. For many years, in the UK, Kojo ran a comedy club promoting and encouraging young emerging talent. Then his fiancée Tiff suggested he think about himself for a change.
Raised in Hackney, East London, Kojo was in foster care from age 5 to 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 is about having been a foster child. It’s important for both foster carers and the children to hear that message, that 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.
“My foster mother, Aunty 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 to. 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.”
As a teenager Kojo was selected for a school of excellence with some of England’s best young football players but admits he had a terrible attitude and relying on his talent alone 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.
“So, 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,” Kojo explained. “I had the chance to go to comedy school, 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 queueing 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. It became somewhere people wanted to be.
“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 including the Choice FM Breakfast Show, which is now Capital Xtra. I started writing too, I just didn’t know which way comedy was going to take me, so wanted to cover all the bases.”
Kojo made a low-budget film The Weekend which was picked up by Netflix and spent time in America where he was the first British comedian on Nick Cannon’s Wild N Out TV show. At home, though, his career was stalling.
“I had been going through a bad period, financially and in opportunities. I’d had my son, and there was so much more pressure to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life… I felt 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 and 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.
“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.”
And now Kojo is relishing the prospect of his first UK tour. “Touring nationally is a dream come true. 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 and 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!”
Kojo Anim Presents The Taxi Tour appears at The Lowry, Salford on Thursday 20 February 2020, City Hall, Hull on Tuesday 10 March, Floral Hall, New Brighton on Wednesday 11 March and City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds on Thursday 12 March. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.cuffeandtaylor.com/events/kojo-anim-presents-taxi-tour/