I AM SURROUNDED BY WOMEN----OKEY BAKASSI
Okey McAnthony Onyebule a.k.a. Okey Bakassi, actor, comedian and entertainer, spoke with Entertainment Cafe about the movie world, entertainment industry and other issues
Q: Why do people call you Okey Bakassi?
A: My colleagues in showbiz gave me that name at a time I did not like it. And you know what happens when you don't like a name and then you react, it gets stuck.
Q: Did you know that Bakassi was the name of a place at that time?
A: Yes, we all know what Bakassi is and where it is.
Q: Are you from the place?
A: No, I am not. At the time the crisis started, I used to crack jokes about it and we had several people in showbiz then. There was the case of the Okey that gave us the Bakassi gist and that was how it started.
Q: How has it been crossing from the movies to stand-up comedy scene?
A: I have always been involved in stage and live performances even right from my days in the university. So, I did not start stand-up comedy in Lagos, I started when I was at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), but in those days, I was not doing it professionally. It was when I got to Lagos that I became active in the business.
Q: How did you get involved in showbiz in spite of your science background?
A: I have always been a showbiz person in school. I was actively involved in drama, I mean stage play. We did not have a Theatre Arts department in my school, but we had a theatre group and I was a member.
Q: Since you love showbiz, why did you study sciences?
A: My ambition was to be a medical doctor but the almighty JAMB did not let that happen, so I had to go for my second choice, which was Engineering. I did not like to do anything related to Arts, rather, I liked playing with numbers, calculations, etc.
Q: Is that why you like money?
A: I think everybody likes money and it is not peculiar to anybody. There's no single being that does not like money.
Q: You started with comedy films and suddenly you became a stand-up comedian, what's the link?
A: As I said earlier, I am a general entertainer. I don't see myself as an actor or comedian because the difference between stand-up comedy and drama is not much. In stand-up comedy, you are alone with the microphone and your audience. Now, if you introduce one more character to it, it becomes drama. Basically, it is being able to schedule myself properly in such a way that when I am acting in movies, I concentrate on it and when I am doing stand-up comedy, I also concentrate on that.
Q: What are the differences between a stand-up comedian, master of ceremony and an actor?
A: An actor is someone who interprets a written script with the aid of a director. Now, a stand-up comedian is someone who performs before a large audience by cracking jokes, just to entertain people, while a master of ceremony directs affairs at ceremonies. He leads an event and his duty is to hold the microphone and follow the line-up of programmes he has been given. He is more or less the moderator of the event. Now, the difference is that while one person does comedy in front of a large audience, an emcee ensures that everything is well co-ordinated and makes sure that everything follows in a laid down procedure. What we have been able to do in Nigeria is to marry the two. So, you find the situation where comedians, who are educated and articulate, have been able to fit in as MCs/comedians because in the course of moderating the programme, you infuse some humour. So, you can see we have taken the business of mastering event to another level in Nigeria.
Q: Don't you think stand-up comedy has now become an all-comers' affair lately?
A: To say recently, I think all of a sudden we were able to create an awareness for the art. But like all arts, it's an all-comers' event. You don't pigeonhole creativity. If a man is a good painter or artist and others follow suit, the sky is wide enough to accommodate everybody. So, you cannot say singing is an all-comers' event as everybody sings. The issue you are now bringing up is professionalism. Don't forget that in Nigeria, we are currently experiencing a high level of unemployment and it is a positive development that people, instead of begging for alms or robbing people, they have decided to go into stand-up comedy. I don't see it as a negative development. My only advice is that once you have made up your mind to come into this kind of business, take it to the next level so that people can feel comfortable to identify with you financially.
Q: Are you satisfied with the level of the profession in Nigeria?
A: No, I am not satisfied with the level of anything in Nigeria as nothing is at the level it should be in the country, be it journalism, acting, medical practice, stand-up comedy, name it. We are below international standard, we don't have conducive working environment, even as much as the practitioners are trying their best possible putting all these in mind, we can do better if the reward system in this country is right. The only aspect of our life which is flourishing is politics and this is sad.
Q: How easy is it to be make people laugh?
A: It is very tough, considering the level of stress that we face in Nigeria, the hardship people experience. Now, to stand in front of a gathering made up of people who have lost their loved ones maybe via a plane crash or another disaster or someone who had just been retrenched from his place of work to crack jokes that will make them laugh, is not an easy task at all. Before you can make people laugh, you need to understand them so as to impact positively on their lives.
Q: How do you get your jokes?
A: I give credit to the Almighty God for that, because your consistency matters a lot. If you are a good observer, you will see comedy in your everyday life, polish them up and share it with your audience.
Q: Who discovered your talent?
A: I wouldn't credit any particular person for that. I started doing it from my days at the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt. Meanwhile, in my university days, we started with yabis comedy and when I came to Lagos, I was part of a TV soap, Fortunes, created by Zeb Ejiro and gradually, we started stand-up comedy.
Q: Why are you not active in the movie industry?
A: I am still very active in movie productions. Just last week, I was on location for a movie entitled Asylum.
Q: Is it a comedy?
A: I'll call it drama with a lot of humour.
Q: Why are you into comedy alone?
A: Funny enough I did not start that way. For instance, if you flash back to the roles I played in the films I did very early in my career like Silent Night, Final Decision and All For Winnie, you will discover that they were not comic roles. I think what changed the whole thing was the success of Pam-Pam. And you know that Nigerian practitioners like stereotyping actors. I want a producer to challenge me someday.
Q: With a love role?
A: Not really, but a bad character.
Q: Are you a bad person?
A: That's not what I am saying, I want a role that will portray the opposite of what I have been known for. For me, it is becoming boring.
Q: How were you able to cope with Nkem Owoh in Pam-Pam?
A: I think that this is where creativity comes in. Nkem is spontaneous just like I am and it is very easy for me coping with people like that.
Q: Which of your professions gave you a breakthrough?
A: Let me say the soap I featured in when I just came to Lagos. That is Fortunes.
Q: What's the highest and least amount you have collected as pay so far?
A: I don't like talking about money, we have done shows for charity and as well charged millions.
Q: But you guys live well now?
A: Thank God for little mercies. But my colleagues and I have tried to conduct ourselves properly. It's not easy, but we are trying, so we need to live comfortably. Even stand-up comedy is more tasking than being a musician.
Q: Do you rehearse before going on stage?
A: We read because that's very important.
Q: What kind of books do you read?
A: Novels and other stand-up comedians' works, newspapers and even the holy books.
Q: But why do you laugh during shows?
A: To me, every act has its modus operandi. I enjoy myself when I am on stage.
Q: Do you take any stimulant before going on stage?
A: I try to psyche myself before going on stage.
Q: Has there been any time you cracked jokes and people didn't laugh?
A: There has never been a time like that and there will never be. If it happens, I will retire.
Q: Why haven't you staged your usual show tagged Laughter Fiesta for two years now?
A: That's because I lost my dad when I was planning the show. He died young in his 60s and it was a sober reflection for the entire family then.
Q: vSo, what should fans be expecting from you now?
A: My show will come up towards the end of the year, but throughout the year, we have be supporting one another.
Q: Do you pay one another?
A: Yes, but it is not like we do to an outsider.
Q: What do you do if you have a show of about N500,000 and one of your brothers in business is also staging a show on the same day?
A: That's why he is your brother. You have to support him. You know, money is not everything in life.
Q: Have you really made money from comedy?
A: We have not made money at all, but we are happier than those who are stupendously rich. For me, I have accomplished my dream.
Q: How do you cope with female fans?
A: I respect them so much because they are very important people. Even in my entire family, I am surrounded by women.
Q: What if they are getting closer than necessary?
A: Then, you'll have to treat the situation politely.
Q: Are you saying you are a saint?
A: No, I am not. If I be saint, I for dey heaven.