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Who is Basket Mouth?

My name is Ernest Essien. I'm known as MC Basket Mouth. I'm from Akwa Ibom State. I was born in Port Harcourt but I grew up in Jos and I live in Lagos. I'm a full-blown entertainer. I'm into music, comedy, and I also act and I have a band as a musician. I also package events. I do private business. I'm married to a lady who is also into entertainment. She is an actress but she is more into costuming. Her name is Precious.

How did you come about the name MC Basket Mouth?

I was born in the barracks in Port Harcourt. I started in the barracks with all those yabis, I grew up with it but I didn't know I was going to make money with it (laughter). When I came to Lagos and I saw Ali Baba was doing things on television then (that was in the early 90s) and I was like, look at this guy, comedy can't sell in Nigeria, but how wrong I was.

Back to the question, how did the Basket name come about?

The Basket name thing came when I was to play with a band called Front Liners Band. I was the band leader. We used to play then at Apapa. So sometimes during the break, I would just pick up the micro phone and start cracking jokes. It was there that someone in the crowd said to me that if Fela was alive, he would have caught me, that I talked like Fela. He asked if I was basket mouth. From there, people started calling me basket mouth. That was in the early 90s. I started using the name Basket Mouth as my stage name until 1999/2000.

What inspires your jokes?

Life generally. This is because I have been through thick and thin. I came out from a well endowed family. My father was okay. He was doing fine but along the line he took ill for four years, we lost everything and I came to Lagos to meet an uncle who was supposed to get me into a computer school to back my certificate. I'm an engineer by profession. But when I came, he couldn't do it for me. I started making efforts to survive on my own. My credentials got missing when our family house in Uyo fell. That made it a bit difficult for me to get a job. I started first by working in a restaurant. I used to pound yam. I later worked as a security guard in a park. I also worked as a court bailiff at the Lagos High Court before I went back into entertainment. I started with a band known as Front Liners Band; that was in 1993. Since then I have remained in the entertainment industry. I'm also a comedian and what inspires my jokes is life generally like I said. I see things and I try to see the funny side of them. You see, there are some jokes that will just come to you naturally, that even sometimes, you don't remember them any more. You don't study how to crack jokes because it is a natural thing. Ten of us can come on stage to tell the same joke and it will sound 10 different ways because of the delivery and the presentation. So comedy is something that flows, it is a natural thing, you don't learn it. So I draw my inspiration from life, from love, from joy, from sadness, from death, from anything. Sometimes I plan them, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I can just sit down and it will come and I will just pick up my phone and record it immediately so that I can use it again.

Have you had the experience where you cracked jokes and your audience just sat stiffly without laughing?

Every comedian must pass through that. Sometimes it is either you are dealing with a very stiff crowd or that your delivery at the beginning was poor. And one thing about comedy is that your first joke is as good as your last. If your first joke is not catchy, you will struggle all through the show. That is why you notice that most good comedians will always come with their punch line. The first joke must be something that will attract the attention of the crowd. That is why there are some comedians that are very good in front of the audience but when you put them in front of the television camera, they fumble because there is no audience. If you have the crowd, their reaction will spur you on because if they are laughing, that means you are carrying them along. If they are not laughing that means you need to do more. But when you are before the camera, you won't even know whether the audience is laughing or not. Comedy is not easy honestly.

Don't you think the ugly situation in the country makes your work difficult?

Yes and that is where we really come in because the situation in the country is so bad that people forget to laugh. That makes my work more difficult. And you don't blame the crowd for that. They work so hard and when they are coming back from work, they stay in the traffic the whole day. The stress becomes really too much. So, where we comedians come is in trying to relieve them of that stress. That is why we can be generalistic in our jokes. We can talk about the sufferings of the people, we can talk to the government. Comedians are the very people that can talk to anybody and get away with it. That's the way we can express ourselves and talk about things. We are just trying to take serious things and make it funny in as much as we are still passing across a serious message. But the problem is when you now try to make them laugh, maybe because sometimes people may come home with a bad business deal and you are there telling them jokes of how somebody made chunks of money. That is the problem. Sometimes, you have to read your audience too.

So you do feel happy when you crack jokes and you see your audience laugh?

Oh sure. Even the doctors do say that laughing helps. Laughing will ease you of stress, laughing is another form of exercise that relieves you of a lot of things. For instance, if you go to a lot of offices now, they have my songs on their systems. The day I went to the Nigerian Breweries to collect money, somebody was playing my music on his laptop.

What makes you to laugh?

I also listen to my fellow colleagues and I laugh. You can make me laugh too because I see the fun in everything. There are some things you will do to me they are funny, while to someone else they are not. There are some corporate shows I will go and I release a joke and they will not laugh because their MD is not laughing, nobody will also laugh. For that kind of a show, you have to first and foremost go for the MD and once you can get the MD to laugh, it is there you have a show.