By Fred Iwenjora
Opako Williams better known to many as Opa Williams who wants to be described as a Mass Communicator studied Business Administration at the University of London. He later went to grab an MBA from Miami University. He has also gone ahead to pick a PhD in comparative arts from Wesdon Methodist University.
But he has always played big in the movie industry as one of its favorite producers. Aside from producing many movies, his name has become synonymous with comedy that many see him as the father of Nigerian comedy. Reason? His regular show Night of a thousand laughs has endured in the past 23 years creating laughter across Africa and not only in Nigeria where he started and making many stars out of many people who may not have found anything else to do in a world that. He talks a little about his inspiration and how he feels when called father of Nigerian comedy.
By Fred Iwenjora
You have produced many in Nollywood. Tell us about some of your films?
My first film was Deadly Affairs. Later Onome came and a host of others including Sergeant Okoro etc and not too long ago, Three wise men which showed on cinemas across Nigeria and won the AMAA award as Best Africa Comedy movie. We are also set to release another film Few Days in the nearest future so I can say it has been a journey.
But you have always been involved in serious themed movies like Onome, Sergeant Okoro etc that there is wonder in your comedy connections.
When I say comedy, it does not mean that they are not serious issues. In fact comedy is a serious business. There is a way I could tell someone that his father is dead and he laughs only to cry later. There is also a way I will say that and the person will break down and start weeping immediately. I see comedy as a vehicle to drive home serious matters.
What inspired you to create Nite of a Thousand Laughs?
Night of a Thousand Laughs is an idea that just came on its own as I was looking for other means complementary to the other parts of me. On this path, I regularly met with people who could effortlessly make others laugh with what they say or do. I reasoned that it would be worthwhile to gather people in a convivial atmosphere to laugh together and when I started this it was a rollercoaster bus.
How do you feel when called father of Nigerian comedy industry?
I will readily answer but I have not been called yet. But I can say that it has been 23 years since we started Nite Of a Thousand Laughs, the comedy concept that has created the comedy movement and we are still waxing. It has no doubt been a long journey opening opportunities for some who would otherwise not be doing anything as work. I recall the very first show in October 1995 at the National Theater; It was not a successful show. Even the second was bad that two of my friends whom I convinced to invest backed off.
What kept you going even when your two partners had backed off due to the teething problems?
When you have a child who is sick, do you leave child to die? You naturally try to give healing and care. You carry her to the best doctors to heal the child because it is your your responsibility. I had the full audacity of belief that it was going to work. I could feel and touch this fact spiritually that it was a great idea that God gave me. Once I had this spiritual belief, God took control. I was convinced that since we all tend to give all our attention to anyone who could crack us up humourously, I could sell comedy. I told myself that since it could sell privately, it would also sell in a big concert. My friends whom I had convinced to invest did not see what I was seeing so backed out midway. It was actually my dream and vision. I only convinced them to join me in actualizing it. I stayed on with the dream after they left.
How did they feel when Night of a thousand Laughs turned out successful?
I have been congratulated by them. One told me with a ting of regret that he did not see what I was seeing at the time. In life we make our decisions but they are all spiritual. You must have heard of a man who was convinced by Steve Jobs to invest in the famous IT company Apple; But he withdrew his investment after a few years of not making money. You could imagine how he must be feeling now that Steve Job made Apple world famous.
Do you sometime imagine where the comedy stars you have made over the years would have been working if they were not discovered by you to join an industry?
Sometimes, I do try to ask myself such question. Honestly I do not also know. Only God knows where top Nigerian comedians would have been if not ever discovered. I know some of them would have been involved in the other regular professions like teachers, accountants and doctors or even other funny things. Some would have been fraudsters and involved with Yahoo yahoo. Okey Bakassi for sure would have been working in one farm as an Agricultural engineer, hahahahah.
Now let us assess the Nigerian comedy industry.
There was no comedy industry before we started Nite of a Thousand Laughs. I do not know if there is any one to prove me wrong on this statement. But since then, Nigerians have come to see and respect many people who make others laugh. Comedians have become celebrities in Nigeria and living well off the profession in an industry that is bubbling. They have also benefited from the many platforms available to them to do so. Several other comedy shows have also sprang up because we gave them hope. An industry has been built which I am very proud of. Nite of a thousand laughs has been taken across Nigeria and is currently across West Africa and East Africa. As you know the comedy templates are different from country to country. However, laughter is universal. What changes is spending patterns and new world cultural expectations . Currently, Nite of a thousand laughs is in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
Many are saying there is a glut of comedians, do you agree?
I really do not know about that. It is like saying there are several footballers in the world or that a player scores goals from one spot. Comedy has become an industry and so there must be so many players; some of which get spectacular while others fade.
On dry and repetitive jokes….
Why will a musician repeat the songs in his album at any forum while a comedian is expected to manufacture one per minute? Creativity and talent make this possible. The energy of creativity seems the deepest than any other energy. People create jokes out of nothing so the talent is what propels the wit creator. I implore the audience to give comedians the benefit of doubt in case they repeat jokes.
What do you look out for in your comedians?
I look out for originality, spontaneity, creativity, power of talk delivery. I look at the comedy star as a footballer who could carry the crowd along as well as score the goals. Originality becomes a big work as I also look out for someone who would creatively turn some old joke into a fresh hilarious matter
Do you see a future in the business in Nigeria?
Yes. I believe that there is a future in all of everything. Once there is life there is a future. There is a future for soccer, future for music and future for comedy. Real future.
What do you make of your latest film, ‘Three Wise Men?’
When I realized that I had been carried away with Laughs, I decided to try my hands in another movie project after many years. I have always had the full understanding that comedy and sex sell. Stories about women sell more. People want to laugh whether they are sad or happy. The movie Three Wise Men is a reflection of life. The kind of life we live, the decisions we make and our relationship with God. The film is about three men who retired from active service and while planning for what to do with their retirement benefit got it all wrong. It is about three men who take life as it comes, forsaking God in a way. The movie is directed by Pat Oghre Imobhio who has been with me for a long time and really understands my creative feelings and expectations. I think she did a great job directing the movie.