He easily elicits laughter on stage. But many know him as a stand-up comedian not because he was born Okechukwu Anthony Onyegbule, but because he gave himself the stage name Okey Bakassi. Still, there are many things people don’t know about how that Onyegbule became Okey Bakassi, how that barracks boy climbed to the mountain top, how that son of a soldier and a nurse ironically combined a soldier’s bravery and a nurse’s compassion to become so merciless when it comes to reeling out jokes on stage.
That was the reason he went out of his way to write about the trajectory of his journey to becoming one of the biggest names not just in the comedy industry but also in the entertainment circuit as well. But the fascinating thing about this man known for his sexual innuendoes and facial expressions on stage is that not only did he tell his story and write about his journey with dexterity, he revealed everything.
Really? Certainly. The Imo State born comedian, who was trained as an agricultural engineer revealed so much in his memoir, The Memoirs of an African Comedian that when his Canada-based spouse read the book she exclaimed, “You revealed too much o.” But the no-holds barred comedian still went on to reveal everything as is his forte on stage.
“I wanted to tell everything. But you need to understand that this book cannot take 50 years of my life. This book cannot take it. So you have to distill and check the things that need to go and the things that would make the cut. So what I decided to do is to take bits and pieces, what I feel people can benefit from. So I did a balance, the good, the bad and the ugly of it. I didn’t want to just look at all the good because as a human being there are areas you would have made some mistakes. So I decided to make sure that I have a book that has a balance. In fact when my wife read the book, in her own words she said, ‘You reveal too much o,’
“If there is any part of your story that you are not proud of and you are too ashamed to tell, that means if you check your present, they are also part of your present. Because I think growth is your ability to overcome some of those things that are trying to hold you down. So if you can’t really talk about them, even now that you have been able to overcome them, what makes you think that people won’t do that to a young person who I also want to look at this book, ” he said recently in a zoom interview with presenters of YourView, an all-female chat show on TVC.
Asked why he wrote the memoir, Okey Bakassi said he wanted to tell his story and document it for future generations. “One thing that our ancestors did wrong is not documenting stories for us. So a lot of African culture, history and tradition were lost as a result of oral tradition. Because once you pass your stories from generation to generation if somebody in that chain dies without passing from generation to generation the story is gone.
“And when you now document your story, its open for interpretation or misinterpretation. So what I decided to do I said to myself, ‘Okay by the time you turn 50 at least you should be able to tell the recollection of your life event from zero to 50.’ So I decided to put it together for my generation after me. So that they won’t be told what their father was like or what their father did or did not do.
“Another thing again, I am hoping that young people who want to embrace show business would look at my story and pick some nuggets, some experience that would help them determine the choices they make. For instance: ‘Am I on course? Have I deviated? Can I do it? How did other people do it?’ So this book is basically about where you want to be and about where you have been and how to help you get to where you are going to. And when you pick it up, when you read it, it’s like me narrating the story.”
The stand-up comedian, who is also an actor, TV presenter and master of ceremony, also said he wanted the book to be a guide for the youths and inspire them. “I don’t want them to see life as an express road. No, it is full of bumps, of potholes. If I removed the potholes from this journey, you would not fully appreciate it. That’s why those other things need to be there so that those who are currently walking that journey would see that you are in the wrong direction. So it is important to capture all of that,” he maintained.
But why did he become a stand-up comedian given that he studied agricultural engineering at the Rivers State University of Technology? He waxed comical, saying that though he had initially wanted to study medicine, he switched to his second choice, agricultural engineering, because he couldn’t make the cut-off mark or medicine, his first choice at the UTME.. Still, while in university he fell in love with the creative arts.
“I wanted to be a medical doctor but my brain could not make the Jamb cut-off mark score. So I simply turned to my second choice, which was engineering. In the course of studying engineering I fell in love with the course because my training gave me some practical background of engineering that I loved and still love till tomorrow.
“All through this my journey of being on campus, I also fell in love with the creative arts. And I realized that the more I tried to be part of it, it makes me so happy. And for me as an individual, happiness is something that I don’t joke with, which is why my mantra today is the pursuit of happiness.
Certainly Okey Bakassi is a merchant of happiness who trade in jokes and whose job is to make people roll with laughter.
“I put happiness over everything else. If money, wealth cannot even bring happiness, then I don’t want to go with money. Let me choose happiness instead. So in the course of doing all these things I realized that I was happy doing it. And doing this thing while earning an income from doing it and also deriving so much happiness from doing it meant that there was no other way to go but showbiz. Which was why I stayed in entertainment till now,” he averred.
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