Basketmouth is a household name in the Nigerian comedy scene. He is one of Nigeria’s biggest comedy exports and you can follow his work down to the early 2000s. It has however been fascinating to watch him metamorphose into a music producer with two widely acclaimed albums (Yabasi and Horoscopes) in the last two years, his beautiful adventure in TV series acting and production with Papa Benji, My flatmates and Ghana Jollof and his recent foray into Concert production with such big names like Asa and Adekunle on his CV.
Basketmouth discusses stand-up comedy, his many astounding talents, and his story so far in this deeply insightful interview with Onah Nwachukwu.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
You were a part of a music group years ago. How did you make the transition to comedy?
Even as we made music, almost everybody— my childhood friends—in that group was funny, but I didn’t realise that being funny was a talent. I thought that people should be funny because everyone around me at the time was funny, most of them even funnier than I was. So when we formed the group, comedy was still a part of it because when we were rapping, I was still trying to make people laugh. We always take breaks to crack jokes. But the music never got launched in the true sense of it because, at the time, although we were doing shows and university tours, we were an up-and coming rap crew, so we never really got into the music scene until I broke into comedy, of which, it took me another 24 years to go back and do it. Even today, one of the guys, Dominic—his rap name is Item 7—is based in Austria, making his music an aside to his nine-to-five. My brother is doing something similar as well, non-commercial music for now. As for me, my nine-to-five is comedy and TV, and I still make music because it is just my thing.
Asa’s concert was phenomenal. How did you manage to pull it off?
When I decided to do the Asa concert, there was no budget; I didn’t have a dime. I just said I would do it. Ropo—the person who got me the gig) told me how much it would cost, and I said yes, I would do it. I just pulled out 1.5 million (one million, five hundred thousand) naira, made arrangements for the press conference and called Asa. Then I told her management that I could only pay her after the show or at least a day before. That was the only money I dropped throughout because Asa is an easy sell, she’s a great performer, and I think I’m one of the best producers in Nigeria. So the moment we announced the show, tickets started selling, and we used the ticket money to sort several things until sponsors came along.
Kevin Hart and co have their shows on youtube and digital streaming platforms. Will we get there? Why are we not doing that in Nigeria?
Eventually, we will get there. The difference between Nigeria and elsewhere is that we do not have comedy clubs in Nigeria. Every state in America has at least four to five comedy clubs where comedians can walk in and say I want to do a 15-minute set, and that’s how they rehearse their material. Here in Nigeria, there is no stage where you can go and try your new materials. You can only try it on that stage on the day of the event or maybe among some of your friends, but there is no avenue for you to test your jokes, so it is a risk. We do not have writers, agents, or promoters, so a comedian does everything himself; writes jokes, edits, promotes the shows and looks for sponsors. The pressure of being a comedian is really heavy. There was a time when Chris Rock wanted to go back to doing tours; he started by playing at comedy clubs in different states. Now we don’t have the opportunity to be on streaming platforms except YouTube, and we know the returns.
I’m flying out to South Africa in March for the National Comedy Festival; we don’t have those in Nigeria. Despite having about 220 million people, Nigeria only has one comedy club. The country is not designed right now to support stand-up comedy. A musician can make music right now and make money from a record label, streaming, show and all, but comedians can only make money from gigs they are getting paid. This is one of the reasons I told myself, ‘Bright, you cannot be just a comedian anymore; you have to diversify and spread yourself everywhere possible.
As you mentioned, with the development of comedy in South Africa, we’ve seen South African comedians with Netflix specials. Why aren’t you on Netflix?
I have been offered a special on Netflix; I told them I needed more time. So when they called me, and we had a zoom meeting, they said they wanted to see my set, what I was working with, I was like, ‘guys, I’m not writing right now. I am not ready.’ I could have come up with something for them, but if I am going to do my special on Netflix or any other streaming platform, it has to be an art, a massive piece, the best from anything anybody has done. I have been in the game for 24 years, so my special shouldn’t be easy. It was after I did my show in London that I knew I was ready. Because there was a time I actually lost interest in comedy, I picked interest in movies, TV, and music. Because I have been doing it for so long and have reached the point in my career where I can’t go beyond in this country, I decided to start touring with Russel Peters. It was a great experience. Imagine performing in front of 20 thousand people. That was when I began enjoying comedy again. I realised that I needed to be challenged more. Doing corporate gigs and weddings isn’t my thing; I am a stand-up comedian. So I decided not to do anything on this platform (stand-up comedy) except I was ready.
Does this mean you will be doing a major show soon?
I’m doing my one-man stand-up comedy show in Lagos after about four to six years, as I was not too fond of the last one in 2019. The new show was initially scheduled for the 5th of March, 2023, but Eko Hotel is booked on that date. We will announce a new date later.
Are we ever going to see you pick up the mic and rap on a song or stage?
I just want to make music, I don’t want to perform it on stage, and that’s why I stayed away from Yabasi. When I released Yabasi, I did not feature in any of the songs in that album. Why? Because I didn’t fit into the album into any of the tracks, I didn’t want to force myself. But when I did Horoscopes, there were a few songs that, when I heard the beat, I felt I could do, which was what I did. I do not create music with someone in mind. I make music, and the music tells me who will fit into it and not the other way around.
Now, in terms of actively rapping or making music, I will be cautious because I don’t want that switch to be too quick. But I will be doing some features like there is a song that Ill Bliss is working on, he’s got Peruzzi on it, and I’m on that song as well. That might be my first major appearance on any song, so I’m going to grow into it but not too fast, slowly, so that I do not throw people off. But am I coming on stage to rap? I am still determining. I’m shy [laughs].
Read the full interview on www.thewilddowntown.com