A memoir is like a book without a real ending.
It is like a sneeze held in abeyance, a bomb that does not become because a memoir is really no more than a series of accounts from a life still making its orbit.
Okey Bakassi’s poignant and compelling memoir is the third book by a comedian that I have had the pleasure of working on and engaging with at very close quarters.
First was Julius Agwu’s biography which I co-edited with my partner, Peju Akande. Next came Ali Baba’s and now Okey Bakassi’s “The Memoir of an African Comedian.”
I did not write this one but I have been an active participant in its creation.
A casual consideration of the books by these three comedians will reveal that their books have a common thread running through them. This is not surprising since they are all birds of the same feather, united by the very fact of their profession as comedians.
But what I speak of is not the frisson of comedy rippling through the pages. What I want to comment on is something I wish to refer to as “the Lagos stories” of these three men who came from provincial locales and made Lagos home.
Lagos is a major character in all three books and Okey Bakassi may well be the first to define Lagos in such poetic language which nonetheless leaves a chill. He calls the city of Lagos a place of “predation and strife”.
Okey Bakassi’s first digs was a small flat in Ketu which somehow managed to turn into a submarine whenever it rained. His subsequent accommodation led to such unusual strife that he almost committed murder.
But despise not the days of small beginnings, warns the Holy book. Today, Okey Bakassi is among the top tier of Nigerian comedians as anchor of The Other News Show on Channels television, making him Nigeria’s Trevor Noah, if you will.
Okey’s story of lack and homelessness in Lagos juxtaposed against his subsequent stories of success speak eloquently of resilience and tenacity and that which I like to call a high Adversity Quotient
Okey Bakassi is Okey Bakassi because of the kindness of strangers and his quick understanding that a show biz personality requires a tripod on which to stand and become a giant. He cites the three legs of that tripod as Family, Fans and Financiers. Sounding like a comedian primer, Okey Bakassi’s memoir breaks down what can make or mar a comedian’s rise.
Anyone familiar with Okey Bakassi’s performances will tell you that he does not depend on punch lines. What he does is tell stories while his facial expressions and voice modulations help to elicit laughter. Okey Bakassi is a potty mouth and his sexual innuendos are worthy of a full book of their own.
But what has kept him relevant is his versatility and ability to forget injury. Younger comedians and those interested in show business would do well to pay particular attention to Chapter 9 – The Business of Comedy. Okey Bakassi’s encounters with Tony One Week and Opa Williams make for cautionary tales. So, also is his misadventure in politics.
Many years ago, long before Okey Bakassi got married to his Canada based spouse who incidentally was his younger sister’s friend and his high school crush, he was something of a ladies man and a staple of the tabloids. This was long before Instagram and Snapchat. I remember the first party I attended at Sheraton. I was editor of Hints magazine then. Okey Bakassi and his then girl friend had rented two rooms with an adjoining door and invited the cream of Lagos celebrities.
“The Memoirs of an African Comedian” is an honest exploration of Okechukwu Anthony Onyegbule’s journey from a barracks boy to becoming Okey Bakassi, one of Nigeria’s most popular comedians. It is a story of love woven out of lack, of resilience forged in the smithy of adversity and a man whose gifts have taken him before kings.
But it is just a memoir, an unfinished story. We hope to read another.