Breakout Comedian: The unparalleled rise of Ola Dada

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      The Breakouts are presented in partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

      It often happens like this: someone stumbles into an open mic night at a comedy room and gives it a try, for shits. They get hooked and then they’re consumed.

      Such as it was for Ola Dada in 2017. Barely a year into living in Vancouver, the accounting student and bank employee was roaming downtown with some friends. They stumbled into a comedy show in the basement of what used to be Goldie’s Pizza on Pender Street. Dada’s friends persuaded him to get on stage, which he did, despite never even having thought about doing standup before.

      He killed it. As he was leaving, showrunner Suzy Rawsome invited him back the following week. When he returned, she asked him how long he’d been doing comedy.

      “I was like, ‘Since the last time I was here,’” Dada recalls. “She was like, ‘WHAT?’”

      His standup career took off quickly from there, aided in part by Rawsome, who mentored him and helped him navigate the local scene. But even if his initial experience with comedy mirrors countless other comics, Dada’s rise is almost unheard of. Comics often toil in obscurity for years, sometimes decades, before they can make a full-time career out of it. If they ever do.

      But Dada—who was born in Nigeria and raised in Fort McMurray—quit his full-time job at the bank in 2018, just one year after that first gig. Even through the pandemic, he found a way to work, tasking corporate gigs via Zoom, honing his chops virtually so that when he returned to the stage in real life, he found he’d improved significantly.

      Since then he has performed on CBC, was featured at Just for Laughs, and has toured across the country. On February 22, he’ll headline Just For Laughs’ diversity showcase, Blackout Comedy, at the Portside Pub. In March, he’ll release his first comedy special on YouTube.

      But the highlight for him so far was his appearance on Canada’s Got Talent in 2022, performing for judges Howie Mandel, Kardinal Offishall, and Jason Priestley, among others, and making it to the semifinals before getting eliminated.

      “It still feels like a dream sometimes,” Dada says. “I’m not gonna lie to you, every once in a while I go on my Instagram just to go look at that—just to make sure it was real.”