NOTABLE comedian and actor, Okey Bakassi is one whose grass to grace story will be credited to pure hard work and determination. The stand-up comedian, who moved into Lagos with just N750 and high hopes has transformed into a force to reckon with in the Nigerian entertainment circle in 29 years. In this interview with SAMPSON UNAMKA, the comedy merchant shares his journey of decades in the entertainment industry, his acting career, political aspirations, and many more.
COMEDY has taken a different shape, we now have Instagram comedians, do you see them taking over stand-up comedy?
One thing about comedy is that there are various aspects to it, we have those who are very good when it comes to sitcoms, there are those very good when it comes to stand up comedy, there are those who are in their element when you feature them in their comedy-drama, you understand then there are the new era social media skit comedians. What experience has shown so far is that while some of them can do very well when it comes to skits, if you put them in front of a camera for bigger productions they don’t deliver as much as they do with their skits. Some of them are finding it very difficult to transition to stand-up comedy. So when you say taking over it now depends on take over what? They may be excelling where they are right now, it is not a guarantee that they can take it beyond that point but some of them are versatile enough to be able to transition from one aspect of it to the other. One thing about this business is that you get to the top, sometimes you plateau or you begin to come down you understand. For every career, it gets to that point when you bow out. I am happy that they are bringing new attention to the comedy business, it is very good for everyone because if the business does not expand then it is not good for all of us so I like the fact that they are bringing something fresh and challenging to those of us who have been around for a while.
Does that mean that the skit-making comedy industry can stand alone?
What they have shown so far is that those of them who have excelled there are making a decent living from it, they are doing well doing it and so they are creating their own small corner of the hood and it is good you know they have opened up another avenue because before now everybody is trying to crowd the comedy scene even those that were not doing very well but right now people now feel like if I can’t do very well here, I can as well go to this other aspect that I can excel and it is good for the business it is diversity, it is variety. But at the end of the day what happens to every business is that the pretenders will gradually fade away and those who have actual substance will survive. When I started stand-up comedy we were also many but today I don’t know how many people from my generation are still doing it. Nothing is challenging anything. The beautiful thing about comedy, especially stand-up comedy is that it’s a solo business, it is not a team sport, you stand alone, you do your thing if you’re good you’re good, you’ll be there. If you are not good, time will tell you to bow out. So nobody is holding your destiny, your destiny is in your own hands.
What have you been up to?
I have been up to quite a lot, I try not to overwork myself, I am not that young anymore. You know I have a radio show that has been running for more than four years now. I do my Flatmates on African Magic in addition to that I still do regular gigs like events.
Would it be correct to say you’re boxed because Flatmates seems to be the only production you have been involved in for a while?
The thing is next year will be 30 years of being in the entertainment industry. I started in 1993, and I have been around till now, and still pretty much very relevant be it acting or stand-up comedy you understand, it is a lot of time. So when you get to that age in any career, you must prioritise the things that you do, you don’t rush after everything like a newcomer no I’m no longer that desperate so when those movie roles come, I have the experience to properly evaluate what I want if the movie will not take the career one step higher than where it is at the moment and will not make the bank account as large as I would like it then what is the point. So you get to that point where you look at it in terms of what value proposition does every offer bring to me? If it is not reasonable enough I sidestep it so I can channel my energy to the ones that will be more rewarding.
What did you start with comedy or movies?
Generally, I started with stand-up comedy okay. But professionally I think it was acting. As an amateur, I was doing Stand up comedy. Then when I went professional I think the first one was the series ‘Fortune’ on NTA which was acting and when Nollywood started evolving and it looked like people were going to pigeonhole me I went back again and started stand up comedy so that way my brother nobody can hold you down.
Afrobeat Hall of Fame was held recently to honour some people who pioneered the movement, shouldn’t that happen in the comedy industry?