Basketmouth: Laughing Stock Legend

Since the 90s, Nigerian comedian Basketmouth has created the blueprint to humour in Africa. But music has been his first love. He returns to the industry, with more than a new sound.

“My brother, welcome,” the comedian Basketmouth reaches in for a bro hug. The type that starts off with a handshake, before smoothly progressing into a meeting of shoulders and chests. It’s past noon. We’re in a high-rise Lekki apartment, in a sleepy Lagos neighbourhood where secured gates screen human traffic. In contrast, the mood inside is positively chaotic as film production is underway. There are crisscrossed wiring running from the ceiling to the floor. Production assistants hurrying through doors. Camera operators angling for the best shots. And like most things with Basketmouth, many people incessantly calling on him for guidance and direction. It’s been this way all his life as a content creator, but especially since filming for a new show — Papa Benji.

As I wait for him to find some free time for our conversation, I’m directed to sit in a familiar set. 

“I’ve seen this place before,” I told an assistant. 

“Yes. This is where we shoot My Flatmates,” she responds, before dishing some more directions to her colleagues.

“Move that chair here.”

“They are looking for you upstairs. Go and meet them fast.”

“Tell them to wait for me, I’m coming.”

Through it all, Basketmouth calmly takes in the chaos, directing things from his small office in a corner of the building. “Tell that man say I dey come,” he says, collapsing into a chair, and closing his eyes for a brief second. Decked in gray sweatpants and a tight black T-shirt, he gets into the mood for the conversation. A lot is banking on this production, he says. It’s taken him two years of research and world-building to get to this point, where he’s put together the team and the funding for the major project. The stress is getting to him. His eyes feature two large bags denoting sleeplessness. His hair looks more dishevelled than it normally is in press photos. I watch him struggle to decide whether he’ll want to also film our conversation for his archive. “Ehen. Let’s go!” he declares, snapping into character. 

Basketmouth, Born Bright Okpocha, has been in character since the 90s when he abandoned a struggling career in music for comedy and acting. Born into poverty in Lagos, Basketmouth, 42, first discovered his skill in drumming in 1991, before taking up rapping in 1994. “Nobody taught me how to play the drums,” he tells me. “I used to go to a church back then. Christ Evangelical Ministry. I remember. I used to go to the church. The drummer, his name was Oreva, used to sit down, play the drums. And I would sit down and just watch him play the drums. And I was watching him, his movement, his timing. I was going there every day.”

Before long, Basketmouth found an opportunity to become the church’s official drummer. It’s a position he eventually improved on via consistent displays of brilliance, before settling for rap as a more lucrative career. But the lucre lingered. 

Basketmouth formed a group called "Da Psychophats" which had 7 members in 1995.  However, due to a lack of success, they broke up before releasing any material. He went on to form another rap group known as "Da Oddz" with his brother Godwin and Muyiwa Ola-Phillips: they performed a couple of shows but didn't breakthrough as their brand of rap was not accepted in Nigeria.

“I discovered comedy by accident,” Basketmouth tells me, stroking his beard. His small office was packed, filled with production assistants, music execs, and filmmakers who were seated all around, looking to hear his story. “He hardly speaks about himself,” a filmmaker tells me after the conversation. But here he was, leaning into a swivel chair, looking into space, and speaking fast. “I thought that rap music was going to be it for me. And I was on stage performing, doing rap music the day I decided to do comedy,” he says.

Turns out Basketmouth had tried a fated music experiment with a crucial performance, one cold night in Ife. It was a bold move that failed spectacularly and drew the ire of the crowd. Angry that he was being heckled, he asked the DJ to kill the music and engaged the crowd in a cursing contest. He won the night.

“One of the craziest nights of my life. For like 30 minutes, I was with these guys, yabbing everybody. So I was insulting the whole school and I won (laughs). I quarrelled with the whole auditorium that day. It was in 1998 I think. After that point, my friend Eno Ofugara was like 'Bright, don't do rap music for now. Do comedy. That's your strength.' I said yes, I'd do it for now. But music man. Then you know how it is now; I got into comedy and I got stuck,” he says.

After decades of successfully dominating standup comedy in Nigeria, Basketmouth is back in the music industry. His rap skills are gone. His taste for performance too. Instead, he’s found new life exploring the nexus between comedy and music. His latest project, Papa Benji combines his first love and his livelihood together. Two years ago, the comedian had a brilliant idea. He would create a show for the Nigerian masses, using elements from his childhood and personal life. The show would revolve around a local pepper soup lounge, and have characters inspired by his late parents. 

That dream culminated in ‘Papa Benji’, a situational comedy series currently streaming on Youtube. It’s a hit in Nigeria, and features local comedians Broda Shaggi, Buchi, Senator and many more.

Papa Benji is accompanied by a soundtrack album, titled Yabasi. The album—which features 18 artists, expertly shoe-horned into experimental highlife production—represents his second coming into the music industry. Produced exclusively by producer Duktorr Sett, Basketmouth assumes A&R and executive producer duties. In this second coming into the music, he’s got the resources to experiment, mixing Highlife with pacy pop beats. The result is spectacular. Yabasi  album is sonically superior, and offers positivity as a dominant theme. “They just told me that I'm a great A&R person. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what A&R meant till I started working on this album,” he says. Modestly deflecting from accepting praises.

We speak for hours. He laughs through our conversation, finding ways to make himself happy. His humour is unforced, free-flowing, and reflexively available. Has comedy been kind to him? What does it take to make a Nigerian laugh today? How does he navigate political correctness while chasing mirth as a commodity.

Joey Akan —At this stage, you've done everything. Almost everything.

Basketmouth — Not yet (laughs)

But you know what I mean, a figure of speech. What's still in it for you?

Man, I'm still alive, you know. That alone means that I still have to...'cause no matter how it is, Dangote is still working. He's moved from producing salt, sugar, all this stuff. Now it's oil. So it's a journey, you pick one, drop one, pick another. And for me, I've been in the same field, the same art. I didn’t go out of what I do. So what's in it for me? I think it's a success. I just want to keep winning. Yeah, I just want to keep winning, man.

Some people would try to say something deeper like they are trying to reach a new generation. It's very rare to see someone who says they just want to win. 

Let me tell you how it is for me. I was born in Ajegunle, right? We were poor (laughs). Let me use that word. We were very poor. And the process, the journey, like if I tell you how it started - and what kept me going, it wasn’t because of the generation. It was for myself. It was for my family. What made me realise that look, you need to get out of yourself. I was doing comedy back then. I was playing the drums, I was playing the keyboard back then. I was famous when I was like 14 years old as per "the drummer boy." That kid that plays the drum. I was on top of the bottom, so to speak.

You were hood famous.

I was hood famous. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted more. So me wanting to keep winning is me trying to win that desire that I feel inside. The desire to make music, the desire to do standup comedy. And the outcome, the ripple effect is the effect that it has as regards this generation. It's like when you eat and you're trying to get sugar, you eat yam. It's a  process. 

The consequences of what you do. Status. Money. Which of them is most important to you?

In terms of what?

You've done a lot of comedy. I started watching your clips when I was a toddler. Those things you've done, the things you've put into the world. They've brought back a few things to you. Your creative actions have made you Basketmouth. It's also given you money, it has given you status. It's given you the opportunity to, let's say, see the world. Or given you options as a person and improved your existence. I'm just saying, of all these consequences of your actions, which of them matter the most to you?

My name, my brand. That's what's most important. Yes, it's the only thing I have. My identity is what people would know me for. Let me break it down. The name Basketmouth was a name that I decided to go by. The content of Basketmouth is what I created. Then I said 'what name should we go with?' And someone by chance called me ‘Basketmouth,’ after a gig. ‘O boy, you get basket mouth o.’ And I was like, that's a good name. Do you know what? This fits my character. It defines me properly. But then again, Basketmouth is not my name. My name is Bright Okpocha. Do you get? And that's my identity. That's what's on my passport. And that's the reason why..I was young when I picked Basketmouth. But if you look through time, I started mentioning Bright Okpocha and then the titles started coming in — Eze Gburugburu and all those things. 

Now, I want a situation whereby when you hear that name, what comes to your mind are the great things that I did. Which is the reason why, when I see my people going on social media to do certain things, I'm like, ‘are you not worried about your identity? Because these are things they'd bully your kids with. These are tools they would use against your kids. So me protecting my identity, is protecting my kids. Protecting myself, my family and protecting my peace of mind.

So what's most important is my name. My brand name. So how do I make that brand name valued and respected? They are the things that I put out there. For instance now, we all say 'the government no dey try. The government don dey travel out to see all these things, what are they doing in Nigeria?’ We all say that. Once you just travel comot, even small Ghana here, we go say, ‘see their airport. Our government people no dey come here con see?’ Now me, I've said that thing a million times. But at the same time, I travel too and I see the way entertainment is being done out there, and I come back. And if I don’t do something on that particular level, and I'm doing what the Nigerian people supposedly deserve, as per what quality standard has been set. Then that makes me the same as the government. 

Because me too I'm travelling. And I have the resources and I have the knowledge, access to do it and I'm not doing it. And that's the reason why I'm like, ‘you know what? Everything that you put out there, it must be dope. 100%.’ And I'm a creative. So Bright, you have these things. Why not just put it out there and link everything to the brand name? So whether it's for comedy, it's for music, anything. I value the brand name, so the quality has to be there. The money would come. You know why? Because the brand loves value. They don't care about—yeah your name can be big. But if they sign you or do business with you, what value do you bring to their brand? What's in it for them? Nobody wants to throw their money away. If they give you N2 million and you bring N40 million, you're bankable. They'd love you and they'd do business with you. 

So that's the kind of person I am. I've put myself into everything that I do. And that's the same thing with my art. Because once you do am, they'd see you and..like for instance, you see The Secrets of Lulu. It was when I was running the third episode that I got sponsored by GTB. (laughs)

But you kept going...

I kept going because the quality has to be right. It has to fit what they stand for. So when they see it and they like it, they'd come for it. So once the brand name is solid bro, everything comes in easy. So that's for you people, learn! (laughs).

What attracted you to music? To rap culture? 'Cause you had Da Psychopath* and the Oddzz?

With music, I've always been a music person. I've always loved music. I started playing drums. Nobody taught me how to play drums. I used to go to a church back then. Christ Pentecostal Ministry, yes. No, Christ Evangelical Ministry. I remember. I used to go to the church. The drummer, his name was Oreva, used to sit down, play the drums. And I would sit down and just watch him play the drums. And I was watching him, his movement, his timing. I was going there every day. Then I found out they used to do rehearsals on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I'd go there and sit in church and watch him play. For months, I was watching him. Then one day, they were having their rehearsals and he stood up from the drumset and walked to the choir members and they started talking. 

So I went there, picked up the drumstick and I started playing exactly as he was playing. And he stopped and looked at me. He walked up to me. I thought he was going to spank me or something. He was like, 'make your kicks stronger. Kick harder, kick harder.' And he started directing me. Do this and do that. And the next day was a Sunday, and he said 'you're going to play in church'. I was like really? And the interesting thing was that Oreva was about to leave the church to go play somewhere else. So he needed somebody to replace him and that's how it all started.

At this point, I was a big fan of the Wu-Tang. I was a big fan of rap music back then when rap music used to be, you know... (laughs). So I grew up on from the Wu-Tang to days of the new school. Then Busta Rhymes and the rest of them. And as at then, I wanted to start making beats. When I started playing drums, I met a friend of mine, Ogonna. He plays the keyboard, so we started playing for the church. For a different church now. Then I was like ‘dude let's make beats. You can play the keyboard, I can play the drums, I can tell you what I want.' And that's how we started making beats. But beats? It was crap. Because we were using a Yamaha PSR-something to make these beats and this was 1995/96. Then he taught me how to play the keyboard, and that's how it all started. My love for music started then. And then, I've always wanted to blend highlife music and hip-hop music. Because I'm a big fan of Sir Warrior Osadebe and the rest of them. Celestine Ukwu and all those guys. And I was like, ‘I wonder how it's going to be like if I can blend hip-hop music and highlife.’ Because the highlife music is so rhythmic, if you play it with hip-hop it's going to be dope. But it never happened until now.

But you had an idea...

I had an idea. That's how the love for music started. Then, I started with the rap group. We didn’t make the beats then, we started using instrumentals from other rappers. We used that to Blaze Blaza. I don't know. One of those old rap music. And yeah, we started rapping. We opened for Plantashun Boiz one time, many years ago. We performed for Sprite when they were doing Sprite ball. We performed as a rap group. I went as a rapper. My first time I went to Ife, was as a rap artist, the Psychopath. I thought that rap music was going to be it for me. And I was on stage performing, doing rap music the day I decided to do comedy. 

We were performing as a rap group, and they were booing us. It was my idea, it was my fault. I told my guys. I was like you know what? Let's use Fela's ‘everybody run run run’ and blend it with hip hop. And it was cool, but the guys, it was a new sound. They didn’t get it and they booed us. So I was so upset because I thought it was going to be cool. So they started booing us. So when they say everybody run run run "gerrout". So I was like damn, they remixed it (laughs). So there and then I was so upset, I told the DJ to stop the music. I faced the crowd and that was it. One of the craziest nights of my life. For like 30 minutes, I was with these guys, yabbing everybody. So I was insulting the whole school and I won (laughs). I quarrelled with the whole auditorium that day. It was in 1998 I think. 

After that point, my friend Eno Ofugara was like 'Bright, don't do rap music for now. Do comedy. That's your strength.' I said yes, I'd do it for now. But music man. Then you know how it is now; I got into comedy and I got stuck.

When did your comedy move from an ‘for now’ adventure,  to ‘this is my life’? When did you become certain?

This year. It's this year, 2020. I had time! 2020 created a lot of things and destroyed a lot of things. So what happened was, I created a show two years ago, 'Papa Benji'. And it took me two years to put everything together. And in the process of making it, I was like this show is going to be at a beer parlour. It's going to be happening in a beer parlour. So beer parlours have music abi? You need music. So what kind of music are you going to be playing? Are you going to be taking existing songs or are you going to make yours? Why not make yours? Since Papa Benji is an Igbo man. That thing you wanted to do, that blend of Igbo highlife music and hip hop, this is your opportunity. That's how it started. I think I was dreaming, this one came to me in a dream.

You won't believe it. I woke up and I was like ‘I got it.’ That's how it happened and we started working on it. From one song, it became three. From three songs, it became six. From six to nine to ten. Because I now had to make it—I stretched it a little bit. Someone told me, Russel Peters. He said, ‘in arts there's nothing as a finished work.’ Especially in comedy, there's nothing as a finished joke. There's always room for improvement. So I was like, it can’t only apply to comedy. It can apply to anything. And that's the truth. For everything you do, if you sit back and relax—if you've not rushed to do it—there are better ways you could have done it.

So when I was done creating Papa Benji and I thought that this is it. I was like no. It's not done. There's still room. You can stretch this.  You can push it. So I started stretching it and pushed it for as much. I stretched it hard. And then, the next thing, "Yabasi" fell off. And that's how it happened. It took a while. And the interesting thing was that I had only two weeks to produce the album because there was no time. So I was like you're creating ten songs in two weeks. Is that possible?

You started making calls?

I started making phone calls. But we, first of all, made the beat. Made the first beat. Nobody believed it was going to come out well. And yes it did. So after the first beat, we all felt...the guy was like..because he didn’t believe. I was like ‘do this and do this.’ He asked, are you sure? I said, ‘do it don't worry, just do it.’ And he did it. And when everything came together, he didn’t believe it. Duktor Sett, great guy. One of the most brilliant producers out there. When he was done, he was like he didn’t even know what he created. And I listened to the song, I was like, ‘this deserves this voice. This deserves that voice.’ I was like, ‘you know what? Let's make another one.’

That means you assumed A&R duties. 

They just told me that I'm a great A&R person (laughs).

You didn’t know what it was?

I didn’t know. I didn’t know what A&R meant till I started working on this album.

A&R is simply what you're doing. Putting the music together. 

Yes, that's what I did. So I was like, ‘you know what? I'm not even going to feature on this one for this one reason: because people would be expecting me to feature.’ I hate doing what people expect me to do, so I won’t do anything. I'm just going to make the music with the producer and get the guys to jump on it. And get the right distribution company to push it out. 

So Papa Benji is from my own life experience. It's from real people. There's an actual Papa Benji pepper soup joint in Kirikiri town, Kaloso street. I used to go there to drink pepper soup. Till date, the best pepper soup I've ever had. Till date, nobody can beat that pepper soup. So that thing is in my head. That fact is still in my head. And then, my social media space is my community to me. What you put out there, that's you. That's how people would see you. So whatever kind of entertainment you want to give them, it's on you. So I looked around. Most of the things out there...I don't want to say. But there's a lot of crap out there. Because you are what you eat. People think it's about food. No, its information. It's everything. 

So because of my kids, because of the new generation. Because what they are seeing right now is not—common man (laughs). I was like Bright, let your own space be that happy place where people can come and just relax. I'm said, ‘create something that everybody can blend with.’ Papa Benji came up. I said, ‘create a show that has to do with the grassroots. Somewhere like beer parlour. Like pepper soup joint. That's how it was coming. Ha! Papa Benji, yeah! This was two and half years ago. It started from there and then, the story—if you listen to the story—p=Papa Benji used to stay in the kitchen with his Dad. That's how he got the secret recipe. I used to stay in the kitchen with my mum. That's how I learnt how to cook. Now, Papa Benji's parents’ names are my late parents' names. And in the video, you'd see that they look like my parents as well. So I recreated everything again. The names of the characters, and even the characters themselves are people that I know. So I took pieces of different parts of my life and put everything together. That's why there's the music part of me—it's on the project. The acting part of me, then the humour part, the creative part. I just put everything.

Okay, what do you call the soundtrack album?’ Since Papa Benji is there. You just can’t call it "The Papa Banji Soundtrack Album.” And there's this thing that I started when I created Papa Benji. I started using the hashtag #kutukutukutu. It means I'm cooking something. So it took me two years to cook Papa Benji. And there's one vegetable you can't do without when you cook. It's onions. And because of the layers of everything that makes up Papa Benji. And onions have a lot of layers. I was like, 'I think I'm going to name the album onions.’ But I can't call it onions because Papa Benji is an Igbo man'. So I called it "Yabasi". So that's how everything came out. So if I had not stretched it...all I did was stretch it, man.

Don't you feel a bit vulnerable using personal elements of your life to create comedy? 

No, I don't feel vulnerable. I only showed the surface, and it's not even up to 1% of my life that I picked out. Just little parts of it. `Because my parents live only in my memory and pictures I see. What I have of them. I wanted them to live forever, so I immortalized them through the show. So that way, they are just there in front of me. I know how it feels like whenever I see them. I feel better. It's for my own personal vibe. It feeds my soul. 

Then, I wanted to make an album that's like a sound. I wanted to create a sound. So we have about 18 musicians. So I was like, ‘Bright, 18 is a lot. How do you make all of them become one unit?’ It has to do with the sound. The sound has to be one, but still separated. Then again, the story has to be the same. So you have to be able to tell a story, so that way, everybody is on the same path. So that's what we did. That's why, if you listen to the album, (laughs) ... I'm going to brag later. 

You've done a lot of creating in your life. It's the life you chose, creating. Do you ever worry as a top-level creative that you might get to a point and not be able to create?

No, it's impossible. It doesn't work that way.

Where does it all come from?

That's the thing. I don't know. But the thing is, if you stop creating, you stop getting. It's spiritual. I don't know how to explain it. But it's in a part of the bible that God gave two brothers about the same amount of talent. One used his own and multiplied it. And the other one buried his. I'm not going to bury mine. It doesn't stop. 

The more you create the more you attract?

Yeah. The thing is this; with creating content, it starts with you, right? If you're a creative and you're not in the right space, you can't create. Do you understand? Positive attracts positive. So if your inside is not pure, you can't feed from what's around you. It's cosmic. I don't know how to explain it. But to be honest, the way it works for me, if I'm working on something and my mind is focused on that particular thing. As long as I'm focused on that particular project, it just comes. So if there's no focus, if I wasn't focused on anything, I wouldn't have gotten it. It's the mind. The mind is powerful but we just don't know. We don't know how to use it yet. I still don't know how to use mine because for crying out loud, I would have discovered this many years ago.

You apply your mind to comedy. Where does an idea start from for you?

Idea, hmmm. Let's use Papa Benji as a point of reference. I said I wanted to create a show that people can easily connect with. There was an analysis that made me understand that we have about 80%—that the people that have money are just 20% of Nigerians right? And 80% are the ones that are really struggling abi? Which means all I need to do is to entertain those people and leave this 20, because I've been entertaining them for a while. So let me create something for this 80 million people, and create something that would make them happy. Which is the reason why papa Benji has all good vibes. It's all positive. Like I said, you are what you eat. So I'm trying to feed them something positive because all they've been getting have been crap. 

So if the only way I can give them this thing is this angle, yeah. Because I was focused, I said to myself 'Bright, you're going to create something that this amount of people can all like'. That's the basic idea. So because of that, I was focused on that one and everything just started linking. And that's the mistake most people make; I've gotten the idea, great, let me just do it. No, I got this idea over two years ago. But I was like, 'no Bright, it's not the time. Take your time'. And God was favourable because what happened was last year. I told myself, in 2020 I'm not going to leave Nigeria 'cause I've been touring and I was tired of travelling. So I told my wife, I told my friends that you see 2020, I'm not travelling. So the gig I'm doing in London, the one I did in February, I said it was going to be my last gig. But when I said my last gig, I didn’t mean my last gig as a comedian in London. It was my last gig as a promoter. I would come to do private gigs, but I would not do my standup comedy for a while. But what I would be doing would be promotions. Music concerts and all that. I can do other people's comedy shows. But the reason why I decided to do that, I'd explain. 

Just say for instance I put 100% in my promotion and I get 100% as regard sales. The revenue, you understand, translates to 100%. Now, in recent times I started noticing that I have to put 200% to get 100%. Then the next year it was 300%. So I was like, ‘why am I working too hard to fill up these venues?’ I didn’t use to work this hard. Something was wrong, something was off. And the same thing happened in Nigeria. You're promoting and you find out that you have to do a lot of promo to sell out. So it's either the economy is getting messy, because probably, the people that want to come to your gig are the people from the mainland. But now, they have to calculate. When the show ends late—thanks to other promoters that would start their shows at midnight—these guys are stuck. They have to look for hotel rooms. 

So come on, because I wan go show go laugh, I go con dey think of hotel room again? These are things, so I started calculating. I didn’t do any research per say, but I started paying attention. So over time, I was like you know what? This is not working. So last year, I now concluded. I said 'Bright you know what? You are not travelling. You're going to stay grounded. You're going to produce content. And you have to be grounded to produce content. Then you're going to put everything online, because since these guys can't move, entertain them online. Then get brands to fund it. 

So I went to Guinness. I told them 'guys look, I’m bringing out two pieces of content; Sunday Night Laughs and Papa Benji. I want you guys to come on board. This was before the lockdown. Maybe a week before the lockdown. They said they were interested. Two weeks to the lockdown, they asked, ‘can you move it by a week? They were still having meetings and they came back to me. They said, ‘Okay we're good to go.’  And just before they would give me approval, lockdown came. But the good thing is, they gave me the approval six hours before the lockdown (laughs).  So I got my approval to do these things before the lockdown which was the reason why you saw that...So God gave me the vision. (laughs) Because if I had not done it, guy, trust me everything would have been flat. I'd have still done it, but it'd have been self-funded. So everything has been beautiful, man. We are here to kick ass right now with this project. 

You guys don’t have conversations about the business of comedy. How it works. So the public, they don’t understand how you generate value.

I do actually, but I don't do it publicly. But I do it in ways—like right now. I've actually exposed a lot. And I do it intentionally. I let people understand the dynamics, the elements, how I create these things. Then it's left to you. If you study my body of work, all you need to do is listen. If you listen, if you pay attention, you'd know. There's a pattern. I always try as much as possible to let people get an insight of how I do it. It's all I owe them. But I would not give you 100% na (laughs). It's my recipe, so I'd give you the ones that I always apply.

Since you started comedy, what inspires laughter has changed a lot.

Yes.

What were the differences?

Back then - I started like 22-23 years ago - comedy was just pure standup. But back then in Uniben, it wasn’t just stand-up. It was heckling. You also have to yab the crowd, the crowd go yab you back, all those kinds of things. So it was different. But at the end of the day, it was pure standup. And unlike the way it is now, back then if you want to be famous or want to make people hear you in Benin, you go to Benin and do it yourself. If it's in Ghana, you go to Ghana. No social media. And TV stations, you know how it is na. If they see that they showed you on TV, you'd be very happy. We had limited space because it wasn’t 24 hours. So you can imagine squeezing entertainment and everything between 4 pm to midnight. Till TV became 24 hours, and even at that, it was still difficult. But we pulled it through. Then the internet came in and it changed. Then came skits. 1-minute, make someone laugh. And people wanted it like Twitter, on the go. It became faster.

But you adapted to it.

Entirely. 

When skit culture started, it took a while for established comics to join in. 

Who did the first comedy skit in Nigeria? Do you know? So when we talk about skits. When you mention top three—I don't want to say it was me, I might be wrong. But top three, I was one of those first people that started skits. It was myself, I even featured Bovi, that we played the police officers and all that. We did the one with the swimming pool, we did all those ones. So many skits back then. And that was not influenced by anybody within this space. It was influenced by In Living Colour by the Wayans. I think it was the brother Keene Ivory Wayans that was the one that created it. He was the one that influenced it. 

Then Dave Chappell, The Dave Chappell Show, The Chris Rock Show, all those kinds of shows. Those were the things I was watching, and I was like, I'd love to do skits out here. So after a while, I was doing standup comedy, it was distracting me and then it changed. It became a thing and now it became fast. 1-minute. 30 seconds. I couldn’t go with the flow as regards that. Because when I want to create skits, I like the whole production. I don't like quick things. I like it when it's well-produced. So that's the reason why I couldn’t adapt to their speed. 

So with the Secrets of Lulu, it started with 2 minutes 30 seconds, then 3 minutes. Then 4 minutes, then 5, then 6, then 7, then I moved to 15 minutes. Why I did that was because I wanted to see how they could consume Papa Benji. So I was testing them. So they were following and it got to the point where the hits were getting higher. And I was like, these guys can actually watch 15 minutes. Then you can give them Papa Benji.  Then it started. So everything is all planned. I'm a crook (laughs).

Material-wise, do you think it has become progressively harder to make people laugh?

No, I don’t think so. As long as you have good humour, people would laugh. Even if they are feeling too bad and don’t get the joke because of their mood. They'd watch it again when they're lighter. Because in their mind, they know it was funny. That's why sometimes you watch a video but you’re distracted, you're not in the mood. But you'd go back and search for that video, because your mind registered that this thing is funny. So the truth of the matter is, good humour is good humour. As long as the language is universal, everybody understands it. Sometimes you can say, ‘yes it got harder,’ but that's not just because of the humour. If the humour is good, it's good.  But because things got harder in life (laughs). Life got harder, so people no get that time to go comedy shows, go dey laugh. So that's what happened.

There's been a societal censorship of comedy

Oh yeah. A lot.

There's only as much wiggle room as you have.

Yes, it's sad.

Do you think comedy should come with a responsibility?

To a large extent, yes. There are some kind of jokes that you shouldn't touch. But then again that censorship—everybody is entitled right now. It's unfortunate, but it is the world we live in. They don't pay attention to the message. They look for faults. And sometimes they misunderstand your mind. So what I do is that; because of the space that I'm in, I have to be very careful. So when I create content, I share it with the team. ‘Guys, please check. Even before I produce, I share it with them over and over again. And they'd go like 'nah, they'd feel this way'. Okay take this part off. What do you think?' 'Oh they'd feel this way. Take it off'. It kinda drops the quality of the humour. What I do is that, when they've trimmed it to what the consumer can take without any loophole, I'd now take it back and amplify the humour. Not the message, just the humour. So it's a process now, but you have to do it. Because as long as you still have it, you can control it. You can edit it. But once it goes out, it goes out. You can’t take it down. So you have to make sure that there's nothing. 

One thing I always try to tell my guys, you need to understand that everybody would have their own opinion. If you have one million followers and you're a creative. And you put something out there. And 300 people start attacking you. When you pay attention to it and you start responding to it on your platform that has one million people, you've given them...

...an access to your platform.

Thank you.

Given them a larger crowd.

Thank you. 

You've given them a microphone.

Yeah. You've given them a microphone without switching it off (laughs). No, they would now address your own people. So for your own sanity sometimes, guys just do your thing, and just let’s share love. Even if they give you hate, man. I won't lie to you, I'm just trying to...make we laugh. Let's be happy, man. And that's why the songs, if you listen to the album, every song is just positive. It's uplifting. It's an uplifting album. It's just something that if you listen to it, it's going to be hard to skip a track. Because it has a message in it. And it preaches a lot of love in it. 

This new extension of yourself and your creativity. What did you have to learn about yourself during this process?

To be honest, yeah? First of all, I learned that beyond myself and my talent and the way I create things, there are people that are also better. Because I only see myself creating. I don’t see people in their true form. But during the course of making this album, when I saw these guys work, I was like, what the hell. These are amazing. So it was amazing to see these guys work. And the way we used to create songs back then is different from now. I did a song with Wizkid many years ago—like 10 years ago—and he left us there. He came, took his hook and left us there, old school. From 10 years ago with that speed, drag it down to now, the speed is even way faster. So I see these guys create magic in a short time. Illbliss took his verse, one take. I saw Ladipoe write his 16 bars. So I learned a lot when it comes to the Nigerian talent. We're so gifted, but we don’t know yet. I don’t think we know. We don’t appreciate our own. These guys, everybody on that album, I saw them work and all I can say is man, we're blessed.

Another thing I learned is the fact that you can actually get people to do anything as long as you make them comfortable. So what I did, if you listen to the album, there are some beats that you know that this artist is not familiar with. But I made the beat so comfortable for the artist. The artist was comfortable enough to sit on it and carried the song. Carried all the songs. Which means that you can actually do this. So with the next soundtrack that I'm working on, now I've learnt more. I understand more, because this is the first time after 25 years I'm doing it. And if I do it again, I know I'm going to do it better. 

You're considered successful...

Amen. (laughs)

What's one thing you want to take with you at the end of it all?

First of all, I don't think it'd get to the point where I'd say, I want to hang a boot. Talk less of the two (laughs). Even if the shoe tight sef, we go remove the shoe pad (laughs). The thing is, I just want people to understand me. I want people to see what I have. I think I have something very nice to show them. That's why I'm very humble about it. I just want people to listen and watch. We have a lot. And it's not just me. We have a lot of talent, if you just look inwards. 

So I'm just trying to let people see what we have in terms of the album, in terms of the show itself. In terms of how we go about executing everything. It's a different experience and I want to encourage people to do better, because we can actually do better. And this show is unarguably one of the best shows ever. I can brag about that one for sure. This album is my first time, I can't brag about it (laughs). But I am confident, I'm 100% confident that "Yabasi'' is going to do it. It's going to talk to people for me. It's going to be that conduit from my mind to their ears.