NOTABLE comedian and actor, Okey Bakassi is one whose grass to grace story will be credited to pure hard work and determination. The stand-up comedian, who moved into Lagos with just N750 and high hopes has transformed into a force to reckon with in the Nigerian entertainment circle in 29 years. In this interview with SAMPSON UNAMKA, the comedy merchant shares his journey of decades in the entertainment industry, his acting career, political aspirations, and many more.
COMEDY has taken a different shape, we now have Instagram comedians, do you see them taking over stand-up comedy?
One thing about comedy is that there are various aspects to it, we have those who are very good when it comes to sitcoms, there are those very good when it comes to stand up comedy, there are those who are in their element when you feature them in their comedy-drama, you understand then there is a new era social media skit comedians. What experience has shown so far is that while some of them can do very well when it comes to skits, if you put them in front of a camera for bigger productions they don’t deliver as much as they do with their skits. Some of them are finding it very difficult to transition to stand-up comedy. So when you say taking over it now depends on taking over what?
They may be excelling where they are right now, it is not a guarantee that they can take it beyond that point but some of them are versatile enough to be able to transition from one aspect of it to the other. One thing about this business is that you get to the top, sometimes you plateau or you begin to come down you understand. For every career, it gets to that point when you bow out. I am happy that they are bringing new attention to the comedy business, it is very good for everyone because if the business does not expand then it is not good for all of us so I like the fact that they are bringing something fresh and challenging to those of us who have been around for a while.
Does that mean that the skit-making comedy industry can stand alone?
What they have shown so far is that those of them who have excelled there are making a decent living from it, they are doing well doing it and so they are creating their own small corner of the hood and it is good you know they have opened up another avenue because before now everybody is trying to crowd the comedy scene even those that were not doing very well but right now people now feel like if I can’t do very well here, I can as well go to this other aspect that I can excel and it is good for the business it is diversity, it is variety. But at the end of the day what happens to every business is that the pretenders will gradually fade away and those who have actual substance will survive. When I started stand-up comedy we were also many but today I don’t know how many people from my generation are still doing it. Nothing is challenging anything. The beautiful thing about comedy, especially stand-up comedy is that it’s a solo business, it is not a team sport, you stand alone, you do your thing if you’re good you’re good, you’ll be there. If you are not good, time will tell you to bow out. So nobody is holding your destiny, your destiny is in your own hands.
What have you been up to?
I have been up to quite a lot, I try not to overwork myself, I am not that young anymore. You know I have a radio show that has been running for more than four years now. I do my Flatmates on African Magic in addition to that I still do regular gigs like events.
Would it be correct to say you’re boxed because Flatmates seems to be the only production you have been involved in for a while?
The thing is next year will be 30 years of being in the entertainment industry. I started in 1993, and I have been around till now, and still pretty much very relevant be it acting or stand-up comedy you understand, it is a lot of time. So when you get to that age in any career, you must prioritise the things that you do, you don’t rush after everything like a newcomer no I’m no longer that desperate so when those movie roles come, I have the experience to properly evaluate what I want if the movie will not take the career one step higher than where it is at the moment and will not make the bank account as large as I would like it then what is the point. So you get to that point where you look at it in terms of what value proposition does every offer bring to me? If it is not reasonable enough I sidestep it so I can channel my energy to the ones that will be more rewarding.
What did you start with comedy or movies?
Generally, I started with stand-up comedy okay. But professionally I think it was acting. As an amateur, I was doing Stand up comedy. Then when I went professional I think the first one was the series ‘Fortune’ on NTA which was acting and when Nollywood started evolving and it looked like people were going to pigeonhole me I went back again and started stand up comedy so that way my brother nobody can hold you down.
Afrobeat Hall of Fame was held recently to honour some people who pioneered the movement, shouldn’t that happen in the comedy industry?
For sure, some of us are even talking about it already. It is only proper because if you don’t document your own history, the future will not remember you properly. We have to put some of these things in place so that young people see things to aspire to and sometime in the history of this whole thing that we are doing we can also look back at all those who have made contributions, we must find a way to document all these things.
How have you been able to assist up-and-coming comedians one way or the other, like your social responsibility?
For me social responsibility is not just assisting upcoming comedians, it is a bit larger than that. There are a couple of things that we have done but when it comes to mentoring people, I don’t just mentor comedians alone, I mentor young people generally in fact one area that I am passionate about is relationships, not even comedy, because a lot of people are talented but can’t build relationships and relationship is everything. In every business, if you cannot create networks, bond with people it is a problem, and this generation the next big problem they are going to face is the ability to bond because social media and technology is a bit isolating. Once you can work from home and do everything from home, the lesser you see people the more your social skills begin to diminish which is why people can chat all they want but when they meet in real life they cant relate so we the OG’s(Original Guys) we have to start teaching people the analog way to be able to communicate and relate with people one on one so that is what I have been doing with some young people.
Are comedians doing standup that is amazing in the stand-up comedy space?
Some in the space that are amazing are no more upcoming they are big names, somebody like Acapella, I Love the level of intelligence he brings to the things that he does you know of course I won’t count Basketmouth and Bovi and all these people, you know these guys are OG’s now but Acapella is a breath of fresh air you know to watch. I am talking about stand-up comedy. Yeah, I am not talking about skits. Skits are not one area that I really pay attention to that much so I wouldn’t really…
Why don’t you pay attention?
When I mean I don’t pay attention is that for me, the skit is acting wannabe you understand. It is not as serious as acting, it is not as serious as stand up comedy, it is just somewhere in between and some of them are not that creative. Basically what some of them are doing is they take some of the jokes that we tell during stand up’s and they turn them into drama.
2023 is by the corner, are you going back into politics?
I have always been interested in politics and continued to be interested in politics because I think every adult must be interested in politics. You must show an interest in how you are being led or how you are being governed. So for me politics is a part of life whether I am going to play partisan politics or run for office, for now, it is not on the horizon but you don’t rule out any possibility you know sometimes in life you say you don’t want to do this and then an opening shows itself and you take advantage of it and you are there so but for now, it is not something that I am worrying myself about.
Does any of your kids show interest in the arts?
One thing I can say in my house is that based on my personal experience my wife and I try to do, is that from an early age we have exposed our children to all aspects of life, entertainment, sports, academics and everything. The whole idea is that as they grow up they gravitate towards where their passion is so for example from beginning some of them have been involved in sports, athletics they go for piano lessons, dance class, singing classes so we did all that for them then as some got older my first is in the university, in her second year, she’s decided to go do neuroscience, she said she wants to be a science lecturer that they are no too many women lecturing science in universities and she wants to be one of them so that is what she has chosen to do and we respect that, she is working hard towards that.
My second is interested in writing and she plays musical instruments as well so maybe who knows she may decide to go into the entertainment industry but I think right now she wants to study psychology. So I don’t know where she wants to go with all that mixture but all we do is we let them involve, my son is interested in computers, he is a very great sportsman, he plays soccer very well, he plays little league in both soccer and basketball and he still wants to do sciences so what we do is we just open up that whole avenue for them to just find expression and we hope that with time they find whatever their calling is because I studied engineering and I ended up being in showbiz nobody could have predicted that.
Almost 30 years in the industry, is it safe to say the industry has favoured you?
What I would say is God has been good to me that is the way I will rather put it and I have found favor in the industry so I can’t complain. I think I must also give myself credit for the way I have managed myself and my career. Because some people got bigger opportunities than I have had and they didn’t use them well. So, I must also give myself credit as a young man who came to Lagos with N750 you know and nowhere to sleep to be able to get to this point in my life where I have kids in the university and I’m okay.
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