The story of comedy in Nigeria can never be complete without a chapter deservedly devoted to Basketmouth. Christened Bright Okpocha at birth by his parents, the Isiukwuato, Abia State born entertainment practitioner who is in his 30’s towers above many in his sector. One of the leading lights of comedy, the enormously blessed rib cracker flaunted his lovely family, good fortune and ever-rising fame in this unputdownable interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE. Other pertinent issues were also dissected by him, but we shall leave you to discover those…
What is your definition of comedy?
For me, comedy is a way of life. Comedy is the way I breathe, the way I think, because everything I do right now, the end product is what will make someone laugh. So, comedy is life, comedy is health and comedy at the same time is relaxing.
What makes a good comedian?
A good comedian is someone that can feed from his environment that can make a joke from even the saddest moment. A good comedian is someone that is very, very active with his timing, confident and feeds from his audience. This is the most important one – a good comedian is someone that can be extremely spontaneous on stage. You have to be able to free your mind, see the crowd. Most times they will tell you that when you get on stage, do not look at the crowd; but not in comedy. In comedy, you have to see your crowd and be able to pick things from them and create jokes on the spot. That’s what makes a good comedian, apart from the fact that you really need to be assessed by the appearance and not only the content and most people don’t understand that. A good comedian is someone that is funny, that is enlightened, intelligent, someone that is perceived to have class, because you cannot sell water in the champagne bottle neither can you champagne in the water bottle. You have to sell champagne in the champagne bottle and water in the water bottle. That is my own analogy.
What is the biggest mistake that most comedians make?
Being someone else. You do not have to be someone else. Most of them grew up studying another comedian and that’s the biggest mistake you can ever make. Do not study the next comedian. Learn from him, but do not try to be like him, because there can never be two Ali Babas, two Klint De Drunks. You have to create your own style, create your own materials, and create your own approach to your own brand. So, a good comedian is someone that is unique. You have to be unique; you have to have your own name, your own brand and your own style. So, a good comedian is not someone that is just funny. Being funny doesn’t make you a good comedian. Yes, you can be funny, but you need to stand out. Standing out is key. You need to be remembered. A good comedian is someone that cracks jokes that people live in. That way, you crack a joke, but they are living your joke. So, whenever they do the thing that you said on stage, they remember you. So, you live in their minds and they live in your mind. It’s sexual (Laughs).
What distinguishes Basketmouth from the other comedians?
Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the fans that can tell that. But the truth is, I try as much as possible to be myself, I try as much as possible to be my own competition, I fight myself, I try to beat my own record, I do not try to beat the next man’s record, I try as much as possible to be very natural on stage and at the same time I try as much as possible be very, very open-hearted when I’m on stage. That way, whenever I’m performing, you will know that I’m just living my life; that it’s natural, it’s me. Most people say that…I’ve heard people say Basketmouth, I like your jokes, I like your performance because you are natural. And maybe that’s one of the things that distinguishes me from all these other guys. But the truth is, I do not work hard to be different, I just work hard to be myself.
What is the greatest thing that comedy has done for you?
Comedy has taught me a lot, because laughter is something that we all need. When I was younger, I thought everyone was funny because all my friends, everybody in my family was funny and I didn’t know that being funny was a talent, being funny was a gift and when I found out, I realized that what I had was a gift and when you have a gift, you have to use it and use it well. Now, what I’ve learnt from comedy is the fact that I need to be free-hearted every time because people expect me to be funny. I’ve learnt to be always a little bit freer with my environment, with the people around me and it’s key.
What has comedy not done for you?
Oh! There’s nothing! There’s nothing, man! Comedy has done everything for me. Comedy has given me a reason to be a better person, a reason to work hard, because making people laugh is my dream; it’s an accomplishment for me, and comedy has given me a reason to do all these things. Comedy has given me a career, comedy has put food on my table at the same time. So, comedy is my life, comedy is what I do, and comedy is me. I didn’t choose to be a comedian, comedy chose me and that’s the reason I cannot disengage myself from comedy. It’s done everything. It’s done every single thing that I want. It’s even done more things than it’s done for a banker (Laughs).
What do you like most about being a comedian?
I won’t just say being a comedian, but being recognized as more or less like a celebrity. It gives me access to a lot of things. It helps me go by some stuff. I’m sorry to say this, but when there’s a long queue, the manager of the bank will say come to my office, take a cup of tea (Laughs) and let my people get the money for you. Comedy has made me more liberal, because I’m a very shy person. I like keeping to myself, but being a comedian and being out there in the public, being a public figure has given me that opportunity to be able to learn more about myself. I won’t lie to you, comedy has done too much for me. It’s everything I can ever wish for. I’ve always wanted to be a comedian; I never wanted to be famous, I didn’t know that fame will come with this. I thought it was only money (Laughing). But not like I actually got into the game for the money, anyway. I got into the game for the love, I got into the game for the passion, but I didn’t know that fame was going to come with it and that fame, trust me, every celebrity, every artiste, every famous person will say the same thing. It opens doors and that’s the truth.
What don’t you like about being a comedian?
Everybody thinks that every day is a joke. For me, they think that okay, I’m the funny person that they see on stage; they don’t know that I live the same life that they live. That sometimes I can be depressed, I can be sad, I can be angered, I can be going through stress or whatever. They just assume that oh, this guy is always funny, oh, come, come…and they say the wrong stuff or do the wrong things and I just have to act it out and be what they want me to be.
When you crack a joke and people don’t seem to get the joke, how do you feel?
Honestly, I’ve learnt over the years that I do not have to crack jokes any more, I just have to tell stories and then I put the jokes inside my stories. So, that means if I tell a joke inside a story line and it doesn’t work, nobody will know that I’ve dropped a joke. I can skip that one and go the next one. So, it’s a trick. I call it the monkey bar. You know monkeys, when they want to swing, they hold on to one bar and until they grab the next bar, they do not leave the other hand. So, it’s the monkey bar trick. I’m holding my story line, then I drop the joke; if it doesn’t work, I stick to my story line. If it works, I leave the story line, go to the joke and just like that, it flows.
What is the easiest way to come about jokes?
You have to be free-hearted. For me, whenever I want to get jokes, I just have to be free-hearted, I have to be wild in my thoughts because you can’t be a comedian and be normal. People see things or tragic situations, but I look at it from a different perspective. I have to see beyond human eyes. It’s hard; but trust me, I always try as much as possible to see beyond the human eyes and that’s key, that’s the most important thing; that’s the only way you can actually get materials. You have to feed from the crowd, feed from your environment and all.
What is the hardest aspect of stardom?
Whaaoh! This is gonna be a long one (Laughs). Now, the thing about being a star, being a celebrity or living that life is the fact that you cannot live your life any more, you are not yourself again, you are now for the public. You cut your hair, they argue it; some people will like it, some people won’t like it. The fact that you can’t satisfy everyone any more. Every decision you take, it’s not your decision. You have to take a decision that every one, or more or less, that a higher percentage of your followership will like, because whatever decision you take will either make you or break you and the thing is, most people don’t understand that celebrities are human. If not for the fact that I’m famous or that I’m Basketmouth, I am that kind of guy that will still go to a local Buka, eat my amala and things, sit down by the road side bar, drink my beer with my people and eat my bush meat. I will like to go to Tejuosho Market (in Lagos) and buy some stuff (Laughs), buy my Okirika and go home. That’s my life, that’s how I grew up, that’s me, that’s what I know. I’ve lived more that way in the number of years I’ve lived in this life. But people don’t understand this. So, right now, I’m more or less living an artificial life, but not 100 percent. I’m living my life for the people. It’s not a rumour any more that I’m a little bit temperamental and all. I’m human. That’s my flaw. But most people don’t get to understand that, okay, this guy is human. When they say some stuff to me and I react in a funny way, they will go like, oh boy, this guy, wetin dey worry am sef? But you keep forgetting that you just said the wrong thing and I reacted as a human being would react. So, 90 percent of the time, I pretend not to be offended by what they say because they made me, I live my life for them, because if it were not for these people, I will not be Basketmouth, which is the reason I must respect their feeling, respect their perception, respect their dream for me and on my behalf. So, this is hard. This is me living someone else’s dream, this is me living someone else’s expectation; so it’s really hard to be living this life. Trust me!
Why did you change your looks?
Change is the only constant thing in life, to start with. But I got bored. And if you noticed, if you monitor my lifestyle, you will realise that I don’t do the same thing for too long. Like when I did Basketmouth Uncensored, it was for a particular point in time. I stopped it; then I did Lords of the Ribs, I stopped it; did Africa’s Kings of Comedy, stopped it; did Nigeria’s Kings of Comedy, went back to Africa’s Kings of Comedy. That’s me. Before, I used to wear baggy jeans, now I wear tight jeans. Very soon I will start wearing shorts. I just like changing. Now, with my hair, dreadlock was my symbol, it was trademark and I honestly wanted to cut it off. Not because I wanted to change my looks perse, but I honestly wanted a little bit of air entering my brain (Laughs). I wanted to have that skin-cut feel again, but I couldn’t just do it instantly. I had to do a different style; something youthful at the same time. Because trust me, the industry, entertainment is in the hands of youths, so I had to do something that they would also like, in as much as I’m trying to get rid of it.
How much of a family man are you?
100 percent family man! I live two lives. When I’m on stage, I’m Basketmouth, when I’m at home, I’m Bright, the husband, father and I give 100 percent to fatherhood, I give 100 percent to marriage, I give 100 percent to everything that concerns the family and trust me, I’m a 100 percent family man. In fact, if I were doing a reality show, it would sell.
You are constantly busy, how do you create time for your family?
What I do is, most times, when I’m out of the country or out of Lagos State and I come back, I cancel as many appointments as I can in Lagos and I do not leave my house. That’s why you won’t get to hear oh, Basketmouth was here, he was there! I stay indoors, I stay with the kids, I stay with my wife. Whenever I’m in town, I give them my time and I probably take one day to knock business off. But I try as much as possible to give them every part of me.
Let’s meet your family, tell us about your family…
Yeah, I’ve got a wife. My wife’s name is Elsie. And I’ve got two kids – Janelle Ngozi Okpocha and Jason Chigozie Okpocha. The J came from my wife. She loves alphabet J. Jesus Christ! She’s very ‘churcheous’.
What would you say has been sustaining your young marriage? Celebrity marriages crash almost everyday…
Ah! Mine is going to last forever. And I can tell you that for sure, because of the kind of relationship I have with my wife. We dated for about 7 years, we fought, we’ve seen our ‘shit’ (Laughs). We’ve seen ourselves 100 percent. She’s the only person that actually understands me, she’s the only one that can tame me, she’s the only one that can make me go hyper, she’s like my best friend and that’s one thing that has sustained us. She understands me and I understand her. And the thing is, most people don’t understand this – a happy wife is a happy home. Even when she’s the one that is at fault and she’s a little bit embarrassed by what she’s done, I try not to put it in her face, I respect her feelings and I try as much as possible to own up to some of her faults to make her feel good. You know women, they love to be pampered. So, in as much as she’s learnt her lesson, but when the whole drama is over, I now call her and say baby, that thing you did, it was very wrong o! But I don’t make it public, I don’t put it in her face, I make the situation calm down and I try as much as possible to make her as comfortable as she can be. My wife is someone that is not materialistic and she doesn’t want to get into the kind of life that I live. She appreciates a lot and that’s one of the things that will keep us going. Because truly, once you bring your family out in the public, you are prone to a lot of damage, because I’m experienced, she is not. My kids are not experienced. They will make mistakes and people will pick on it. So, as long as my family issues are not outside, what we do inside stays inside, what I do outside stays outside, it helps. And my wife is the kind of person that respects my ‘hustle’, she understands me 100 percent, we understand ourselves and trust me, that’s one of the things. Understanding, friendship, love and all. That’s what is keeping us.
You make other people happy, who makes you happy or who makes you happy?
The first thing that makes me happy is my family – my kids, my wife and the love I get from the fans. I don’t have to actually laugh to be happy. The appreciation that they have for my work, when they go like oh, Basketmouth, I love your jokes, that gives me happiness; Basketmouth, your performance last night was beautiful, that gives me happiness. So, happiness is a constant thing. Even the criticisms and the critics, they make me happy. Because if they don’t really like me, they won’t criticize me. So, even critics make me happy. They criticize me because they love me and also want me to be better. Apart from the fact that my family makes me happy, the fact that I’ve got love from my mum, from my brothers and sisters also makes me happy.
You’ve told too many jokes, which of your jokes do you like best and why?
I have a particular one, I have to be honest – There are few that I like, because they are like my classics. But the one I remember always is ‘There are two things involved…’ That’s like my classic. That’s the one, especially when I’m outside the country, that most people want to hear. ‘Oh, oh, two things are involved…’ And that’s one of my best materials ever.
NB: First published December 2013