Ace comedian, Bright Okpocha a.k.a Basketmouth, is today a household name in the country. It was not always so. In this interview with Sandra-Izuu Okafor, he speaks of those days that he begged, struggled and lobbied to get attention.

What led you into comedy?
Actually, I wouldn’t say I walked into comedy. I would rather say comedy picked me up because everything was like a transition, a transformation from when I used to be very naughty, used to ‘yab’ people, and things started changing. It started when I was in primary three, when we used to ‘yab’ each other in class, then it was called wording, and I was the champion. I started changing from ‘your mama be like this or your papa be like that’ and adding a little story and humour to it.

When and how did you get shot into the limelight?
There was one show I did while I was still an undergraduate and I think it was the Most Beautiful Girl in Benin pageant which was sponsored by one beauty product and they were having a bad show, so I was called upon. At that particular time I was performing at a show for medical students called “the Freshers’ Nite” and someone told the sponsors of the Most Beautiful Girl in Benin pageant that there were some artistes performing at the medical students’ show and that they could come and get some of them to come and perform at their show. I was approached and agreed to do it for a paltry sum of four hundred naira. The show was recorded and aired on Campus Circuit, a programme that had just commenced on Africa Independent Television (AIT) and it was repeated like about five or six times. I would say that was my first shot to limelight. Afterwards, I came to Lagos, started performing at the DTD show when they used to have the ‘gig’ at the beach, which was another media hype I got. That was how it started until I eventually met Ali Baba.

Apart from comedy, what else do you do?
I run and own an entertainment outfit called Barons World Entertainment. We package events for banks and for professional companies also. Right now, I am enjoying events packaging better than comedy, not just for the money in it, but because it is more tasking, because sometimes I get to perform at the same ‘gig’ that I’m packaging. This is not about cracking jokes but having to provide the content of the show itself. Whatever they are experiencing, whatever satisfaction they get is not just by the comedy alone, it’s about the musicians you get for them, the quality of the sound and all. So it’s more interesting.

If you were to compare the comedy of yester years to that of today, what would you say?
Ah! It has changed o! It has changed big-time now o! Comedians were not really respected way back then, because they were regarded as clowns. Right now it has changed in the sense that without a comedian at a particular gig, it’s not really complete. People now use comedians to sell their product. Ali Baba was the one that went professional with comedy. He used to actually beg to perform and I also did the same. Back then at Minaj Broadcast International (MBI), I think it was Emmanuel Ogoli’s programme called Hanging Out with the boys which was aired on Saturdays. I used to beg him to put me up for two minutes and I had to finish a joke within that time. Sometimes we struggled, we lobbied to get into shows but now, the tables have turned big time –people now beg us to come and perform at their shows, they even beg us with one million naira. We are not there yet; we are still growing and there’s room for improvement, both for the comedians and the clients. In the long run, I’ll say comedy has changed for the better.

What do you think are some of the problems facing the comedy industry?
There’s really no problem because most comedians are doing very well but the little thing that has been happening and people have been complaining about is, they say we repeat each other’s jokes. Now, the problem with that complaint about the repetition and copying of jokes cannot be resolved very easily. The reason being that we have a lot of young men coming into the industry because they feel it is very lucrative. So, when comedians like myself or Ali Baba or Okey Bakassi crack joke(s), all these upcoming comedians that do not know how to create their own jokes, steal copy from us and start to tell these jokes. At the end of the day, when we now want to tell these joke(s) they would have become stale and sometimes we do not even know that these upcoming comedians have damaged it.

Since your arrival in the industry, what would you say has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is having Basket-Mouth a relevant name in the industry. So far so good, I think if anyone wants to count the best ten comedians in the country, Basket-Mouth will be mentioned. Having Basket-Mouth as a household name has been something I think I have done a good job out of.

Have you paid your fiancée’s pride price, how did you meet her?
I met her at the University of Lagos when I was promoting my first stand-up comedy show; it was called Humour Unlimited With Basket Mouth. I went there to get girls that were going to usher, promote the show and sell tickets for me. I was gisting with a friend of mine, Kayode Peters, when she walked past and she was like, hey Basket-Mouth!! I saw her and for the first time, I have never walked after a lady in my life because I was too shy to do that but I walked after her and she gave me a wrong phone number. I called the number she gave me and a man picked it up but since I was still promoting my show at UNILAG, I got to see her again. I asked her why she gave me a wrong number and she now gave me her real phone number. She wasn’t friendly at all but I refused to take ‘no’ for an answer and eventually my ‘toasting’ now worked. What tripped me was the fact that she gave me a wrong number and it made me love and respect her the more. If she had given me her real number the first time I saw her, it would have been too easy.

Some say you were a cultist in school, is this true?
No, no, no. I was never a cultist.

Do tell us the most embarrassing moment you have experienced so far?
It was a day I didn’t do well at a Rhythm Unplugged. For me it was a bad day, not that the audience were not having a good laugh, but there were some group(s) of people who just came there to kill my career because they were just attacking me while I was performing, they didn’t let me talk. There was a new style I was trying to introduce but I couldn’t get out of character to handle myself, it was pretty bad. Anyway, that’s past but I like referring to it because it helps me make sure that it doesn’t happen again. That is the most embarrassing moment I’ve had since I was born.

What are your hobbies?
Movies –I watch movies a lot o! It’s an addiction, a very bad addiction. My manager and I are actually movie critics. We actually check out the movies most times from, if it has a good review, then we now look out for the movie.

How do you cool off?
I hang out with my friends. We grew up together like Magnus Umeri, Victor Agbare, my elder brother, Dotun Makun, my manager whom I’ve known for (like) eighteen years. Aahh!! Dem plenty, dem plenty!

Briefly tell us about yourself, your educational and family background:
I’m from Abia State, that makes me an Igbo. I attended the University of Benin where I studied Sociology. I’m the second born of six children. I was born in Ajegunle but didn’t live there for long to have a detailed insight of how Ajegunle was.