By Ogbonna Amadi Entertainment Editor
Bright Okpochi a.k.a Basketmouth is one the celebrated comedians in the country and the story of his struggle to shrug off poverty well known in the industry. He often makes jokes of his beginning at function.
In this interview Basket who is also the longest surviving Ambassador of telecoms giants GLO, shares the story of how his wife on their first encounter gave him fake telephone numbers to keep him away. He also talked on issues concerning the industry and more. Excerpt
It’s nice to see you again. You look very prosperous.
Thank you. I try my best. We try to dress well so that we can be addressed well
What has dressing well got to do with looking prosperous?
Well, we hustle with time and dedication to the art and with the standard I’m in right now, it’s only proper for me to try as much as possible to take care of myself, keep fit, eat good food and dress well. So that’s why my appearance makes me look prosperous. I’m not going to deny the fact that God has blessed me. But I’m still hustling.
You said something about standard. So how do you define standard?
Standard for me is, take for instance, with the work I’ve done so far in the industry, people have placed me on a particular level and the perception people have about my work differ. Some people say I’m one of the best and it means that I’ve been placed on a high level which I must maintain. I try as much as possible to maintain the standard I’ve worked to achieve because getting there is harder than falling. It’s difficult maintaining the standard but I’m trying.
Somebody somewhere once said you’re among the top 10 wealthiest comedians in Nigeria. How do you react to that?
Well, if you ask me, the definition of wealth is not by the money but by the intellect. If you’re rich in your mind, it’s wealth. I won’t deny that I can take care of my family and beyond that, I can take care of my extended family too.
Including the area boys too?
No, I don’t give my money to area boys
Because I don’t see why I should.
But sometimes they consider you as one of them…
I know. If I’m one of them, it doesn’t mean that they should extort from me. I prefer to give without being forced. As far as I’m concerned, I hustled when I was still on the street, so they should also hustle.
So how do you handle the area boys whenever they come to you?
I just tell them that I don’t have anything for them. I can give to others but not to them. But the thing is that they’ll never stop coming. Trust me, I’ve given them money on several occasions, but I had to stop it because I knew if I continued, I’ll do it for the rest of my life.
Then, it means that I may not have anything saved up for my children. Unfortunately, it has got to the stage that the areas boys are not the ones that come to you for money. Even security men, police and other normal people come too. So I asked myself, should I keep giving them money when they haven’t done anything for me. So going back to your question, if they say that I’m one of the top 10 richest comedians, then I’m grateful. I’m just okay
Looking back at when you started, what do you sometimes wish?
I think I made the right decisions and the steps I took were the right ones. If not, I won’t be where I am today. I don’t wish that I did anything differently because I see God’s direction in my life. I won’t lie to you, it was one move that gave birth to all that is happening in my life today.
Anywhere I went for shows, people always connect me to other places because they could see that I’m good at what I do. There were gigs I did for free, while some I did for as low as N2000, N5000. The truth is that I didn’t get into the industry for the money.
I didn’t even know there was money in the game. I did it because I loved it. I started making people laugh since my secondary school days and It was because I loved doing it. Making people laugh makes me fulfilled. So when I look back to the past, there is nothing I regret doing.
What were the bad experiences on the job?
There was a time that I couldn’t pay my transport fare. And at that time, my parents lived at Ebute-Metta and I had to walk to Unilag for a show. And it wasn’t as if it was confirmed that I would preform but I’d just go there to hustle and see if I’d be given five minutes to perform.
There was a time I used to go to Motherland to perform every last Friday of the month. I used to come into Lagos from school in Benin. We would go to the filling station on Benin Express way and wait for those luxury buses going to Lagos.
And whenever they stop to buy fuel, we’d appeal to the conductor to subsidize the fare for us. So he’d collect about N150 from us. Then, myself and my manager would stand inside the bus all the way from Benin to Lagos. The only time we’d get to sit, is if someone stops at Sagamu or Ore, and that’s if there were nobody sitting on the attachment because they’d have to sit before we could sit.
And whenever we(me and Bayo Adekeye) get into Lagos, it’s not as if we had a dime on us, we’d find our way to action spots. Bayo is married now and lives in Belgium with his family but we’re still close friends.
There was a time when I used to do Humour On High with NTA. We were paid N1000 every week and I had to do it because I couldn’t afford to miss the N1000. So whenever it’s raining and I couldn’t afford a taxi, what I do is to fold the clothes I’ll go on stage with inside a nylon bag, enter the rain on a bike. By the time I get to NTA, the clothes I wore would already be soaked. So I’ll have to enter the rest room and change.
There was also a gig at Ikeja and I was opportune to perform because I was given like fifteen minutes. But after I performed, I couldn’t leave because I was hoping that I was going to be paid. It was later that I got to know that I wouldn’t get any money. So I had to borrow N60 from a rapper at the show and I couldn’t still leave because there was no bus moving. I had to stay at the venue till around six in the morning.
Was there ever a time you almost gave up?
I never gave up because I knew what I wanted to do. The thing that inspired me into comedy was a tape that I watched. It was by Eddie Morphy titled Delirious. I was making some friends laugh and my elder brother’s friend saw me and said he’d give me a tape.
So when he gave me the tape, I watched it and convinced myself that it’s what I want to do. It was that period I saw Ali Baba on Charly Boy Show but then, he wasn’t really cracking jokes, he was doing skits. I couldn’t write jokes as such, I had only stories and didn’t know the rules and how to structure it. So when I watched him, I liked it and knew it was what I wanted.
So for all the pain and struggle, I knew what I was going through was normal. It’s not that I’m a rich kid, I was used to all the struggles. I made my first money in SS.2 and that was when I was playing drums. So the hustling started since my childhood
So when was the turning point?
I had a lot of turning point because everything links to each other. The first one was when I did a show in UNIBEN. It was Ali Baba’s show and I wanted him to watch me perform. The show was produced by Marcus Makay. I wanted to perform for only one reason-for Ali Baba to see me.
But the organizer of the show said I couldn’t perform but I was adamant because that was the only opportunity I had to let someone in the industry see my talent and appreciate me. So at that point, Makay refused. So I talked to some of those bad boys in Uniben to help me out even if they have to threaten him to allow me.
So they talked to him Ali Baba came in. Basorge whom I’d met Basorge during the Fanta party was also there. But when I met him backstage, he didn’t take me seriously.
So those guys talked to Makay and he allowed me to perform. After the show, Ali gave me his card and asked me to call him. I didn’t know his phone was a voice mail. So I was calling all the time and leaving voice mails. I had no choice but to track him down to his office through the address I got from his card.
And when we met, he assured me that he’ll allow me work with him. Later, some people gave me money to put up a show in Uniben so I met him and asked him to be the headliner. He came and I was the MC. During the course of my performance, he stood and gave me a standing ovation. And when he stood, everybody stood up and that more or less was like an endorsement.
So I was asked to come to Lagos and he started taking me to shows.
The first breakthrough was year 2000 when I did Night Of A Thousand Laughs. The second when I did Lagbaja. The third was when I did Hanging Out With The Big Boys. Ali Baba and I were supposed to go to Motherland. But he asked me to meet him at a show held at Fantasyland, put together by Femi Akande.
He was the M.C at the show. When we arrived he asked if I’d like to perform. And I said yes. He gave me the microphone and that was one of my best performance till date.
In the audience were the likes of Ben Bruce, Guy Bruce, Achi Duke and all the big boys in the industry.
And more than 90% of them came to me to acknowledge my work. They collected my number and from there, Femi Akande started using me for all his gigs.
On the other side, Ben Bruce, Augustus, Bola Salako and others, were partnering to put up the Femi Kuti’s show annually.
So one show led to the other and there was an edition of the Femi Kuti’s show that had people from abroad in attendance. And that was how I broke into the foreign market.
The final turning point that gave birth to Basket Mouth in the industry was the Femi Kuti’s show. The final turning point that gave birth to Basket Mouth international was when I went to do a show in Ghana. The tape leaked and someone uploaded it to YouTube and that was it-it exploded.
So how does it feel to perform before an international audience?
I’ve done a lot of research and have traveled just to watch foreign comedians perform before now. I started traveling nine years ago. So I go to weekly comedy clubs to watch them and see what makes then tick. I found out one thing, humour is universal depending on your approach. As long as you’re not cracking jokes about a Warri man, a Benin guy-as long as your jokes are universal, anybody that understands English will laugh to it.
You talked about rules and regulations-what do you mean?
First of all, if a comedian is painting an imaginative picture, he needs to use something realistic. If you are saying a goat or dog said something-we all know that goats don’t talk, so you’ve killed your talk because comedy is about timing.
So how do you react when your jokes are dry?
You’ll never know. If I crack a joke that’s never funny, you’ll never know because I don’t crack jokes as such. One joke leads to the other because I build it. If I finish a joke and nobody laughs, you won’t know because it links to a different story. So if they don’t laugh now, they’ll laugh later no matter what happens.
Fame comes with a lot of things. What has changed about you?
A lot of people said that I’ve changed to a proud person. And whenever I hear that, it makes me laugh because nothing has changed in me. I was telling someone that I sometimes forget I’m a celebrity. Because I was at Eko Hotel and was chewing groundnut and drinking water.
I forget all these things because it’s not me. I was born in Ajegunle and nothing has changed -I still go to the same local restaurant I used to go, I didn’t change my friends. My best friend who is my manager has come a long way with me for like twenty six years now. And everyone I work with have come a long way with me
What about the babes?
They are inevitable and I handle them but I have a plastic face. So most times they say, I don’t look friendly.
I’m sure you have been embarrassed by some of them
No I try not to do such. There are things I’m prepared for and I try not to see them as embarrassments. Especially when I go to the universities-some girls just walk up to you and do all sorts of things. Some walk up to you and touch you and they get all excited about it. So, it’s just a pointer to the fact that they loved what I do
Was it the joke in you that attracted your wife to you?
Well, funny enough when I met my wife, it was on a different ground. I went to Unilag to promote a show and she walked up to me and called my name. I looked at her and winked. Then I noticed her beauty. For the first time, I ran after a girl to toast-I’ve never done it before.
She gave me a fake number(laughs). I now went back to the hostel and stood in front of it through out the next day-I was waiting for her to come out and she did.
So what did you do when she eventually came out?
I asked why she gave me a fake number. She started laughing and I told her to give me her number. She gave it to me, I called her immediately to confirm and that was how we started talking.
So how did you propose to her?
I didn’t propose, it just happened naturally. She already gave birth to our baby before we got married. We already knew we were going to get married even while we were dating because we were comfortable with each other.
So I didn’t really propose but we talked about marriage, the future and other things. The day we got married, I just told her that we should go buy a ring and get married(laughs). She asked if I was serious-I told her yes and that I was tired of being single.
You’re the longest surviving Ambassador of Glo. How were you able to keep the job?
I understand the game and the industry and I’m friendly with the people in the company. I read my contract well and understand what I’m supposed to do and what I shouldn’t do. I try as much as possible to make sure that they are happy with what we signed. I give them my time whenever they call and I give my best. But now, the most important thing is that I maintain my relevance in the industry.
How do you give back to the upcoming comedians because some of them crack dry jokes
A joke is a joke. The only thing I tell them is that it’s not yet time to crack dirty jokes-they have to start with clean jokes for the crowd to accept them. Then later, they may decide to switch. They have to stay clean and be able to perform in front of a corporate platform. And I give them that opportunity by allowing them to perform in my shows.