He is unarguably one of the best comedians in Africa and the world. He has defied all the odds and proven to many that there are many sides to him. Bright Onyekwere Okpocha aka Basketmouth has in the past years thrilled his audience on different levels of comedy experiences. With a knack for telling real life situation jokes, Basketmouth has warmed his way into the hearts of many; even his archrivals and perceived foes. Regarded as arrogant and pompous by many, but generous, giving and friendly to others, Basketmouth tells CHIBUEZE OKEREKE what he believes people don’t know about him, what is different about his new status as a married man and the magic touch that makes his fans love him every other day despite their misconceptions and misjudgments.
How true is the cliché that marriage makes a man more responsible?
It is very true because people’s perception of me before now has changed; my mindset has changed to a large extent. But the truth is, I have always seen myself as a married man. I had responsibilities before now; it’s just that my responsibilities and my marital status are now more official. It is still somehow the same but now it has been formally done in the presence of God. To a large extent, I owe her what I have promised her, so now, I am somewhat indebted.
Despite the many girls that you might have known what would you say singled her out?
Most people look at marriage as more or less a commitment; for me, it is a lifetime institution where once you are in, there is no going out. It is according to what the Bible and the law say. Most times when I meet girls I look beyond the physique. I try to look for those qualities that could make her a wife. There is no already made wife. So for me I look for that potential that looks beyond just the girl and focus more on what makes her a wife material. When I met Elsie, I saw in her the potential of a wife. She had a high sense of humour. She is down-to-heart. She is more or less like my second thought. She complements my decision when I seek her advice. She complements my thoughts. These and so many more I saw in her. We communicate very well and I saw in her a wife and sincerely I know that I did not make the wrong choice.
It is often so easy to make others laugh; is it the same with your wife?
Yes, I make her laugh a lot. Most times she actually tells me how best to tell a joke just so that it appeals to others.
What will you say stands her out among other girls you knew?
It’s not just one thing but one thing I know for sure is that she gives me joy. Truth be told, there are times that you just want to be alone and
you wish that your wife can just drive out and go have fun with her friends. Even when I am able to convince her to go out or when she goes out to see her friends, I notice that the moment she leaves I feel empty and alone. I have dated many girls before I got married and sometimes when they leave, I feel relieved but it was different with Elsie, anytime she is around I feel complete.
But is there really any difference now that you guys are married?
Yea, a lot has changed. Now I don’t own myself any more. There are some things that I just cannot do anymore. I am self destructive. In the house, she is like the pilot; authoritative. For instance, before the marriage, I had power on such things like my car. I could easily tell her which car she could and couldn’t drive, but now I cannot try it. Instead I have to make available other cars if I truly want to lay claim to a particular one or give orders that it shouldn’t be driven. Secondly, I don’t see this place like a home anymore. Apart from the fact that we live here and do things here, this does not feel like a home for me anymore. I need a change, I need something bigger; something we can call a home.
The year 2010 was indeed a great year for you, what is that magic you perform that makes people rush to your show in the manner they do?
First of all, I often tell some of my colleagues not to try to beat me or be like me because you don’t really know where I am going or what I have in mind. I am my own competition and I tell them to be their own competition. I try my best possible to make my next performance the best performance. For me, this is business; like some of my colleagues are wont to say, Basketmouth is not a comedian, he is a businessman. I disagreed most times but after a while I just realized that truly, I am a businessman. I look at what I do as a product. Some of my colleagues sell water in a champagne bottle while others sell champagne in a water bottle. When you sell champagne in a water bottle, it means that you are pricing yourself cheap while on the other hand, if you sell water in a champagne bottle, you might be taking a big risk.
It is either you upgrade the taste of your material or you cut down on the package, so that way what you sell is what the people get.
So what do you do?
I sell champagne in a champagne bottle and that does not make me the chairman. I work on the brand to the extent that it is acceptable. People must like the brand, even if they don’t like the person. I will let them like my jokes even if they think that I am arrogant. No matter the complain people have about Mercedes Benz as a car, they still drive it. Now, a lot of people have been doing comedy shows, they would sell the same thing to the same crowd. This can be frustrating. My instincts told me to kill Basketmouth Uncensored before it kills itself. I did that even though the last show was jam packed. You would just find that gradually, people will stop coming and that would be the end. Before then, I had complaints from people saying that I don’t feature other comedians in my show. By the time I decided to do that, I wanted to do it differently. First, I told myself that no matter the amount, the venue must be classy. What I consider is the crowd. I’d rather go for what makes them comfortable than trying to play safe. I also decided to inject some foreign comedians to spice up the show. It is a risk but it was one worth taking.
So how do you decide on the foreign comedians that can really make Nigerians laugh?
Well, the early part of last year wasn’t that good for me. There was no show so I told my manager to keep my diary open. I asked him to take any foreign gig. So, in most of the shows that I performed during that period, I took my time to check out those comedians that I know can relate with the Nigerian audience. I believe that anyone that can make me laugh can make any Nigerian laugh; because I think like the average Nigerian. It was while studying these comedians that I picked Kevin J and some others. I take the risk of inviting them, mind you; my own philosophy of risk taking is that I hate failure. I put in more than just anything to be okay. That was why we had things like the billboards and that was when I discovered that, what the people wanted was something different. They were tired of seeing the same thing over and over.
So if you are to review the year 2010, what would your conclusion be?
As Basketmouth the comedian, I’d say that I didn’t really do well judging by what came in and what went out. But as Bright Okpocha, running my business, Baron’s World, we did very well, we did extremely well. I got jobs from such corporate companies like GTBank, Virgin Atlantic, Access bank and so many others. I got more jobs from outside the country. Sincerely, I don’t do what I do because of money but because this is the job I do and I need to get paid. So judging by my income, it wasn’t really a good year but by what I achieved, it was my best year because I got to know a lot of people that impacted my life.
How do you manage the business angle of Bright which is more tasking and mix it very well with Basketmouth?
Back in school, I never really knew I was going to be a comedian. I was a show promoter. We brought such big stars like Remedy, Plantashun Boiz and Paul Play Dairo to UNIBEN back then. The very first time I climbed the stage was to rap, comedy I’d say discovered me. So, comedy came and took all my attention from my initial calling; show promoting. Basketmouth is just a comedian but Bright is a businessman that thinks of how to sell the Basketmouth shows and other events.
How do you manage it when your proposal is turned down?
First of all, I have been writing proposals to companies since 1996/1997 and I know that most of these companies have many commitments. When I meet them, I often tell them that I just want my products to be identified with their products. I am always like “I feel that your brand needs a platform and I am just giving you that platform because every product that has fame should have direction” This is what I sell to them. Most of the people that I have sold ideas to, usually say that they have been looking for something to project their brand’s philosophy. I do not go like, “if you sponsor me, I am going to brand the venue with your product”. I get turned down a lot but sincerely I do not feel bad. When I am turned down, I see it as my fault. I go like, “they have the money and this means you have not blown their mind because if they hear an idea that is on point, they will look for that money and sponsor you.” That is the reason why I work more on the product and look for an idea that when they hear about it, I just can’t be ignored.
What do you do with your time when you find yourself not working?
I play scrabble a lot and I also play Whot (card game) with my wife. I play video games which is only tennis. I play scrabble because it helps mentally. These are games that task your brain; they make you think before making any move. Then I like hanging out with friends. But now that I am married and I am not regularly opportuned to do so often again because I now have a curfew. I love travelling as well. These are things that are hard to achieve because of work. But when I am at home, the first thing you catch me doing is watching movies because I am a movie freak, but I watch basically foreign movies.
What is your grouse with Nollywood, why have we not seen you in any movie?
First of all is dialogue; if they can improve on the dialogue in their movies, it will change a lot of things. The speed in which they produce movies is too fast and the time is too short for them to be able to achieve all these because they are not fully funded, unlike American movies that are fully funded. Also, the reason why I have not done any movie is because anytime they come to me, I ask them to give me a script that will blow my mind. If I am to appear in a movie, I would want that movie to be one of the best movies, not necessarily having me as a lead actor.
So based on the funding issue, what do you think of the president’s 200 million dollars package?
If it gets into the right hand and it is well managed, then it will really help. Nigerian entertainers deserve it if only the people in charge will run it perfectly well. It was a great gesture and I applaud President Goodluck Jonathan for that. I do not think there has been any president that has taken time to look in that direction. Again, we do not have a theatre in Nigeria that is functioning properly. If they put N1.5billion into a theatre, it will boost the movie industry in many ways. The National Theater is dead. We need to revive the theater culture to help add more impetus to the entertainment industry.
How do you react to the misconceptions about you as regards your personality?
The last incident I heard was when a guy walked up to me in a bank and after discussing business he told me that before then, he had bad impressions about me based on what people say, “I just said let me just try and see if what people are saying is true” but I proved him wrong. He said he thought I was arrogant and that I always thought that I owned the world. I believe with that experience, I have been able changed one person’s wrong impression of me. The truth is that, I really do not care about what people think as long as God and I are okay. He knows my heart. Let three million people kill themselves, it is between me and God. If I am at peace with God, and genuinely God knows that am not the kind of person they are painting me to be, then all is well and good. If you have more haters i.e people “beefing” you; that means you are a great person. I try as much as possible to make people understand that I am not what they think I am. The same people say that am stingy especially the “Agberos” they say I do not give them money. I think it is a poor man that actually labels someone as arrogant. A lot of people that say that Basketmouth is arrogant only hear it, most people go by what they hear even when they have not seen it.
How true is it that you are temperamental?
People do not really see that part of me. When I was younger I was temperamental. Now, I am seriously working on it. But straight to the answer, I used to be temperamental but I control myself not to let people get to me and most times, I get angry when I am disrespected because I do not disrespect people. Now the reason why you have not seen it as a person or colleague is because you have never seen me when I am under pressure. I am human, so when I am pushed I can only contain for as long as I can. I try as much as possible not to do it in public. However, I agree I can be temperamental.
Customers they say are always right but at what point would you consider a fan going too far?
Sometimes people just come and tap me on the head, can you imagine that? So I tell them not to do that again because it is disrespectful. That is not how you appreciate people. Recently I was a Shoprite; one young boy just came from nowhere and grabbed my hand saying I should follow him to where his friends were standing so they could take pictures with me. I politely told him to let go of my hand and promised to follow him there. But he refused. Taking a closer look at him, I found out he was far younger than me. But what could I do? I just followed him. It was painful and annoying but I just had to play along. First of all I had sacrificed my privacy and secondly I had to be submissive. The one that I think is stupid was when a guy walked up to me and said, “ hey Basketmouth, my girlfriend is over there, she wants to take a picture with you, come lets go and meet her. What! If she is truly a fan, she would come over, not me going to meet her. And I just looked at the guy and thought; so you, a man can actually do this to another man?
What would you say are the benefits and disadvantages of stardom?
The benefits of stardom are limitless; it comes with a lot of favours. It is standard; it has put me in places that in my life I never believed I could be. It has afforded me the opportunity to meet and sit with the president and governors. Then again, the love; when people love you, it energizes you. It’s like a nutrient, a sense of fulfillment that you have actually done well. However, the disadvantages and the losses are limitless as well. I have lost my privacy. I do not keep female friends anymore because of what people might say. My friendship with the opposite sex ends with conversations on phone. Privacy in the sense that I cannot go for a normal early morning jog, or take a stroll with my family without being harassed by some people to drop money.
Do you ever go broke, what do you consider as being broke?
Yes, definitely everybody gets to that point whereby you do not have money. Then again, when I go like there is no fund; it does not necessarily mean that I am out completely. God will not let it get to that point where I go looking left, right and there is no money and nobody to run to. I pray I will never get to that point. I have been in a situation whereby I do not have money, but the good thing is that God has been kind. The reason why I still thank God is that He has not stopped my fuel tank from being full. People owe me money everywhere but nobody has paid even till date. So definitely, I go broke like every other person.
It was so bad that when Micheal Jackson died they toyed with the idea of preserving his brain to see what it could be useful for. If he had trained anyone to be like him, I don’t think they would want to do that. Who are you currently training to step into your shoes?
Presently I have a lot of people around me. Most times I always call Ali Baba’s name in all my interviews because he was more or less like a guardian. God answers prayers in funny ways. There are people that I have been identified with in the past but somehow sometime, we part ways and the reason for this most times is that we tend to be colleagues and not friends. I am not friends with all the comedians and a large number of them at like that. I am friends with very few ones. But one person I see and I know in my heart that I will take it to the next level is Bovi. He is one person that strikes me and that was the reason why we became friends even before we even became colleagues. Buchi, is another person I can go with. I like him because he is spontaneous.
Ladies definitely still come, how do you draw the line?
One thing I do that helps is that you cannot see me in a club. It is impossible. I do not club as often as people think I do; the last time I went clubbing was in early 2000. If you see me in a club, it’s either for someone’s party or for an occasion. It really helps. Everytime I go for shows, while am backstage, I have all these people coming around and its tough but what I do is that immediately am done performing, I disappear. Then most times, when am travelling to a place where there are lots of women I go with my wife who was then my girlfriend. That way, there is no tendency to misbehave because nothing can happen. My prayer to God before I got married is that “abeg help me make I stop to dey drink, make I stop to follow woman”. It’s really tough but God has been answering my prayers.
How was the transition from being a bachelor to a dad?
When my wife gave birth to Jason, we were still two people. But after his birth, I then realized that I am not living my life for myself anymore, I am leaving my life for this boy and the other kids that will come. When I die, I want him to be able to say that “my father was a great man”. So that is why I want to take care of him. I look at both of them (wife and son) and I say to myself that these are the people I am leaving my life for. Now, the hustle is more.
What will you say is the beauty of being a Glo ambassador?
The fact that I am are being identified. The fact that the chairman felt this guy is good enough to represent the brand. It is that confidence he has in me that is overwhelming because it is a risk to use someone whose past you do not know, someone you know little or nothing about to represent your business.
How do you feel when you see yourself on billboards?
Something like “Bright, you don try o” Most times when I am driving with my wife, I tell her “Baby but I have tried o, see where I don reach”.