Mr. Patrick Opako Williams can rightly be described as the grand father of the comedy business in Nigeria. As the creator of the popular Nite of A Thousand Laughs, nearly all the comedians, both big and small, young and old, at one time or the other, have passed either through him or his platform. Initially into movie making, and also one of the pioneers of Nollywood, classic movies like Onome, Deadly Passion, Sergeant Okoro and so on also came from him. A native of Isoko in Delta State, the 53 year-old father and grand father really opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, at his office in Surulere, Lagos. For the first time, he talked about how he narrowly escaped paralysis, his interactions with the comedians and love for comedy, why he stepped aside from movie making, his organization, Virgin and more. Much more. Enjoy…
So, what has been happening to Mr. Patrick Opako Williams?
(Laughs) – What’s been happening to me? Well, I went through my health challenges, I came back, and I think the worst has passed. Now, I’m recuperating and in a country like Nigeria, in our clime, you can’t recuperate and stay and go to health spas otherwise they will bury you there. So, now, we are back on the field and we are still doing what we are doing.
Would you like to tell us about the health challenge? What exactly happened?
Sometimes in 2012, in the course of my exercise; you know I used to do exercises a lot; go to the stadium (National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos), do like 12 kilometres every morning, then go to the gym, use the machines. So, along the line, one of the machines I was using slacked, I hit my spine on the iron. You know, it’s a thing you pull in, you pull back. So, I ‘nacked’ my spine on the iron, which cracked my L4, L5. You might not understand what L5 means, but those who know, know. Then, my L7 almost cracked also, which is the base. Luckily for me, I would have been paralyzed, but it only compressed my nerve. Let me say the nerve was the one that was holding it. I went to see the doctor here, the doctor didn’t see anything wrong. I think they were looking for internal bleeding. But after like 3,6 months, I couldn’t move my legs. Before you knew it, it was one operation or the other. So, I thank God. I had to quickly go to India, do the first surgery, which lasted like 7,8 hours. Did the second one. But I thank God things are working out; now I can walk a bit. That’s it. So, that’s my health story. In fact, I’m telling it for the first time. You know, when I was there, I heard a lot of things – Opa has liver problem, kidney problem, HIV, heart this, that. It wasn’t that. My spine cracked, but miraculously, I was not paralyzed.
Your romance with comedy, how did it start?
Well, it started out of the need for me to do something different. You know we were in the forefront of Nollywood. And at that point, doors were being opened for Nollywood. I wouldn’t say charlatans; but people who needed other sources of income started coming into it, both trained and untrained and it was getting to an all-comers’ business and I needed to do something different. But something that is all-encompassing, something that the whole family can enjoy, because the whole family enjoys Nollywood. I thought that to go into something different might just be worthwhile. Also, I wanted to build something out of nothing. Since we built Nollywood out of nothing, I wanted to do something again out of nothing and that was how Nite of A Thousand Laughs came in. You will remember that before Nite of A Thousand Laughs, there was nothing like comedy (shows) in Nigeria. Comedians were appendages to events, but now events are appendages to comedy. That’s how it came about.
What kind of people are comedians? You deal with them closely.
Comedians are intelligent people; spontaneous people. People who can dilute the hardest rock. What I mean by dilute the hardest rock are people who can look at situations and say no, I think this could be different. People who look at life from the lighter mode; serious people, but they are subtly serious.
Who is the best comedian that you have dealt with and why? At least, you’ve dealt with practically all the comedians…
(Laughs) That will be very subjective for me. Do you know why? Most of them are from my platforms. I think the best comedian, I will say, is Ali Baba. Not that he is the funniest. Don’t get me wrong. But he is the most articulate, the most visionary. The one that sees the vision of comedy, the one that builds comedy. We provide the platforms, but he provides some of the guidance. Not to himself. Less selfish person. Very articulate, knows what it is, knows that it is an industry. So, I think he is the best. But he is not the funniest. The most articulate, the most imaginative person.
Who is the worst comedian that you have dealt with and why?
(Laughs again) –Mr. Arinze, Mr. Azuh…Em…(Thinks)… I think the worst is yet to come. Yes! I think so.
You get to hear jokes practically every day and every hour. Which is the most memorable joke that you have heard? The deepest, the most fecund, the funniest…You live practically inside jokes, and from who?
My most memorable joke? Em…Well, my most memorable joke, I think was at one of those comedy challenges I did. It’s not very funny, but very intelligent for me at that time, and I still have it in mind. It was a guy who cracked a joke about driving license and his wife. Something about telling the wife to leave, the wife said she’s not going to leave. So, he went and acquired a driving license, which was a divorce paper and now said madam, since you say I no fit drive, I don get driving license, oya, comot for my house. I mean, it doesn’t sound funny now, but when he said it then, it was…
Who said this?
I can’t remember his name now, but one of those boys…
Who is your funniest Nigerian comedian?
I think my funniest Nigerian comedian would be Gandoki. Yeah! When I say funniest; literally, my own indices of saying who’s the best, the funniest, the worst might not be other people’s indices. But because I’ve dealt with them severally and I respect them in their stupidity, so, for me, Gandoki. What I mean by Gandoki is the funniest is this: Gandoki is one boy that you will take a cab with from here to Warri and back, Gandoki will talk for the whole of that trip. As he’s talking, maybe it’s a tree we see, he will use that tree. Maybe they are selling plantain chips, he will start telling about how they fry it. Yes!
What do you like best about dealing with comedians?
The family atmosphere around comedians. You know, we are like a family. They are not like musicians, they are not like any other entertainers, they are not like you journalists (General laughter). There’s this family setting around them. Comedians can decide to leave this place now and go to a place and they all camp in one room and stay. Same comedians will go to some place and one person will bring money and rent an apartment for everybody to stay. They are people without inhibitions, they are people without lines.
So, what do you dislike about comedians?
Scatteredness! Most of them don’t really understand that this is business. Most of them don’t understand that another comedian is coming who is going to take over your table, your chair. Majority of them are less organized. But nowadays, thank God, some of them are taking it much much seriously. Yes!
What is the biggest mistake that any comedian can make?
The biggest mistake comedians make is over-rating themselves and at a point believing that oh, I have arrived and okay, nobody is funnier than me. Then, the other one is not investing on themselves.
You’ve been in this business now for over 20 years, what would you say has kept you going?
The grace of God. His blessings, His mercies, His glory. That’s it!
In your showbiz sector, most people attain success, but they are not able to sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
They get it wrong because they get ballooned. They grow big, forgetting that ballon is just an empty air.
You hear about this big comedian today and tomorrow you don’t hear about him again. Where do they also get that wrong?
I think the thing is you must understand that talent alone is not enough. You can make people laugh today, you can make your household laugh, but can you make the whole society laugh? Now, if you can make the whole society laugh, then you must be trained in it and that’s why we go to school to brush our edges, to sharpen our edges. So, most of them assume that oh, I am funny. You are funny, but are you witty? Are you spontaneous, can you cut across, can you read what makes a pregnant woman happy? You know this old joke on NTA and the monkey? Somebody said who can make this monkey laugh, cry and go back to its cage? So, you must be able to make the monkey cry, make him laugh and make him run back to its cage. But most comedians are not like that. I can call names, but then I don’t want to be biased. At a time, you had some comedians who were up, up there. After a while, they just went down because their talents ran out.
Comedy has done a lot for you, what has it not done for you?
Heeei! Comedy! Comedy has done a lot of me, what has comedy not done for me? God has done a lot for me, what has God not done for me? That’s the answer to that question (General laughter)…
Okay, what has God not done for you?
I don’t know! You know, in His grace, He has provided me His sufficiency. Everything I get now is by His grace…So, I think God has done much for me than I even expect, beyond my expectations. In my health, in my family, in my business. I mean, you know me…I don’t know how many years you’ve known me. But I’m sure some of the guys that you knew me with are no more in the same industry; not necessarily limelight. But I’ve been in this for like 20 – something years and I’m still there. So, what has God not done for me? I had the worst ailment or sickness one could get, but God made me to walk and not to crawl. And I’m sure there’s more that God is still gonna do for me.
You started out producing movies, but along the line you veered into comedy and stuff like that. What led to that?
I think it’s when your mind is cool, when your mind is broadened, when your knife is sharpened, that it can cut anything. There are some knives that can only cut vegetables, there are also some knives you can sharpen to cut bones. So, sometimes you sharpen your knife to cut anything. I think my mind is sharpened enough to know my space, to know that my space is limitless. Yes!
As one of the pioneers of Nollywood, what would you say is the biggest challenge confronting it at the moment?
I think the biggest challenge confronting Nollywood is…Nollywood started without structures. Nollywood started with like, okay, let’s do it to make a living, let’s make some money. Some of us came into it with some passion. So, structures were not built. Today, cinemas are up there, today CDs are still selling low, piracy still abound. But the structures are not there. When I say structure now, it’s not the bricks and the walls. I’m talking about the statutory requirements. Today, we don’t have piracy soldiers, we don’t have piracy police. Today, if you check the piracy law, actually, if you pirate my movie, you can pay…I think the fine is less than N5000 per title. Let’s say I pirated 30 Days in Atlanta for example, I will say AY, shut up, abeg, take me to court, it’s N5000. How many N5000 do you want? So, the structures are not defined and the ones that are there have not been rebuilt. It’s not about giving Nollywood practitioners millions and millions of intervention money. No! That money that you are going to bring to intervene, use it to build structures. Because if you build cinemas, if I get a copy of whatever you are showing at the cinema, I will pirate it and if I pirate it, there’s nothing you can do. I’ve had a piracy case since 2006. It’s still in court till today. Somebody pirated my Nite of A Thousand Laughs, we are still in court. So, the thing is the structure – legal structures need to be built, the defensive structures need to be built, the apprehensive structures need to be built, so that you know that if you pirate somebody’s job, it’s like you’ve stolen. Because if you pirate my work, you’ve stolen my life.
Alright! Why did you stop making movies?
I’ve not stopped making movies…
When last did you shoot a movie?
The last time I shot a movie was in 2010. It’s called After Today. But I’m going to shoot a movie soon, The 3 Wise Men.
Which of the movies that you produced gives you the greatest joy and why?
Ah! (Laughs). You are always asking these tight questions, but I will answer them. Em…what’s the movie that has given me the greatest joy? Sergeant Okoro!
(Interruption) – Featuring the late Sam Loco Efe…
Yes. Featuring Sam Loco! I’ve had people commend me for it. I have been to a police station where police men were actually talking about Sergeant Okoro. And to me, it wasn’t about love, it was about life after serving your country. How the country uses and dumps you.
Tell us about the Virgin Organisation. What exactly do you do here?
What do we do? We create consumer interactive platforms. We provide you with interfacing platforms for your consumers. Like Nite of A Thousand Laughs, where you can interact. We do events, we do contents, we source the platforms where you can advertise your products, we also do individual events for companies. We just started a new event now which is a family fiesta, because we realized that people actually…I mean, when was the last time you actually took your children out? And your children were enjoying and you were also enjoying? It’s like you going to a wedding ceremony or children’s birthday. The children are having fun, the adults are somewhere bored. So, we are bringing another platform where the family can actually go out, where the father, the mother, the parents are enjoying, then we have games for them and we also have games for the children.
Other than Nite of A Thousand Laughs, you also have some television programmes, can you tell us about them?
Yes, I have Abelejayan. It’s a Yoruba programme about deceit, back-bitting. It’s a Yoruba TV series. And we have Living Next To You, which is mirroring women for who they are. It’s a family thing, using a father and a daughter to project the family.
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
When I’m not working, I think I’m working (Laughs). Recently, I’ve started some ministerial work in the church…
Which church is this?
Foursquare Gospel Church. Overtime, I just realized that it’s not by power, not by might, but by the spirit. So, you must align yourself with the spirit.
At the end of your earthly journey, what would you want people to say about you or remember you for?
That guy! I will like to be remembered as that guy that brought something for people to do, that guy that gave people a little space. I want to be remembered as that guy who shared his space.
You’ve made a lot of stars and you are still making more. Who among the big stars still remembers that you contributed to his or her growth? The one that still comes around to know how you are doing and all that…
Amnesia is natural (Laughing). I don’t wanna mention names, but I think I enjoy some level of respect from the comedians, from the actors…
(Interruption) – Can you be specific? Name one actor, one actress and one comedian?
One actor? Saint Obi will see me on the road and say this is the man that gave me my first break and for me, people have amnesia. He did a show and I was there and he said this is the guy that actually discovered me and everybody was like this man! And Kate Henshaw! Basketmouth! Very respectful and humble. I will say Basketmouth, and a whole lot of them. You said one or two and I’ve mentioned one or two. Yeah!
You grew up in Ajegunle, Lagos, but went to school in America. How would you say you got your turn around? What singular decision did you take that turned around your life?
I think after the youth service, you will know that okay, you want to blow this space. So, I got to a position I said I wanted to blow this space. My turn around was when I started doing my own thing on television…
Which was your first programme on television?
It was Cuisine International, which was a cookery programme. Yeah! That was my turn around. You know, creativity is like pregnancy. You conceive the idea and you born the idea, you deliver the idea…
So, what has kept you going all these years?
I think it’s the grace of God. Basically, His grace is so sufficient.
What are the things that excite you now, what are those things that make you happy?
What excites me is when I see joy, people are happy, it excites me. When I see people happy, when I see a new idea, different from all these, when I see people thinking outside the box, it excites me. And when I see like my events or my programmes or my conceived creativity being outputted. That’s my excitement.
What’s your philosophy of life?
Fair is fair.
Which singular individual has touched your life the most and why?
Quincy Jones! Right from when I was in secondary school, he has been my mentor. And I have been following him. The guy is 80 – something now. He’s somebody I’ve read, I’ve studied over and over. So, he has touched me and I’ve followed him. He has TV programmes, he has musical shows, he produces music, he’s an entrepreneur, he has a neuro problem, which I had eventually (Laughing). So, sometimes it’s not good to follow somebody bumper to bumper.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you say is the best way to make it in showbiz?
I think to make it in showbiz, you must understand the show and the business. But most importantly, the business. Because sometimes you get carried away by the show, but the show doesn’t pay for the business. It’s the other way. So, you must make sure that the business pays for the show.
What is the costliest mistake that anybody can make in showbiz?
The costliest mistake is to assume that the show will be permanent; thinking that all things will continue to be equal, like they say in Economics.
Finally, what makes a good businessman?
It’s being able to understand the business you are doing, the ethics of your business, the factors that militate against your business and also the opportunities there. A good businessman must regularly be doing a SWOT analysis of his business. Regularly! Because the business environment is dynamic, it keeps changing. SWOT, for those who may not know, stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It’s very, very important that you always do that.
NB: First published March 2015