Now I'm Fine

Backed by a large jazz orchestra, writer, composer, and comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo takes us through his life.

Ahamefule J. Oluo (standing), okanomodé (right), and band members from Now I'm Fine at the Public Theater.
Ahamefule J. Oluo (standing), okanomodé (right), and band members from Now I'm Fine at the Public Theater.
(© Kelly O.)

His first name literally translates to "let my name not be forgotten," and yet, it's not easy to remember at first — let alone pronounce. That's the frequent quandary faced by Ahamefule J. Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, musician, and comedian who has brought his show Now I'm Fine to the Public Theater as part of the 2016 Under the Radar Festival. Aham, as he likes to be called, has the perfect solution: "Think of someone named Aham who is a very unreliable fishmonger," he says. "AHAM-MAY-FILLET. Or he may not. He's terrible at his job."

Delivered with razor-sharp timing, lines like this permeate the two-hour work and keep the audience in stitches. But Now I'm Fine isn't really a comedy. A cathartic journey through Oluo's life, Now I'm Fine is an exploration of the power of music and its unique ability to heal those going through periods of darkness.

Oluo was a month old when his father left the country to go back to Nigeria. They didn't communicate until he was 16, and when they did, it was one disappointing phone call that led Oluo into a downward spiral of depression. He recovered, but they did not speak again. His father's death left him as heartbroken as before.

Oluo's journey to where he is today, onstage at the Public, includes coming to terms with his father's disappearance and his white mother's eccentricity, discovering the true meaning of his name (which led to another downward spiral), and battling an illness that seemed straight out of a horror movie: an autoimmune condition that caused his skin to dissolve.

It was music that gave him hope in his darkest hour. So it comes as no surprise that a large, 17-piece jazz orchestra joins Oluo onstage, and he conducts them in between monologues. The tunes, created during the period of his recovery, feature the big, brassy sound of the great James Bond themes. Vocals are performed with a particularly intense ferocity by the singer okanomodé.

Oluo delivers his text with a dry solemnity, which makes his punch lines even funnier and more penetrating. But when he steps onto the bandstand, he cuts loose with reckless abandon, waving his arms and dancing like a man possessed. He is, in a way — and we can't blame him. He is his music, it's in his bones.

At the end, Oluo, okanomodé, and the orchestra perform a piece called "Reverie II," created on a broken old organ right after Oluo returned home from his extended hospital stay. It's a work of true beauty — sweet, simple, and infectious. It's a fitting finale to a memorable performance — as unforgettable as the name Ahamefule J. Oluo.

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Now I’m Fine

Closed: January 17, 2016