BY AKINSETAN AKINRELE
Before Opa Williams conceived ‘Nite of A Thousand Laughs’, there weren’t many comedy shows that were taking place on a regular basis. Driven by the knack to do something different and the zeal to succeed at it, Williams kick started what became Nigeria’s biggest comedy special, featuring the top comedians and entertainers in the country.
Speaking with eelive.ng in a recent interview, Williams said the idea for the show came to him naturally, particularly because of his love for comedy.
“I was telling people in the beginning that I wanted to do something different,” he said.
“At the inception of Nollywood, I told my very good friend, Chico Ejiro, ‘let’s make a mark in Nollywood’. This is not about just shooting films, let’s do something different and great. I wanted to get recognition and needed something that people would not run away from.
“It started when we went out to shoot a movie, and we had some hiccups, so we didn’t know what else to do and we started cracking jokes. Okey Bakassi and Regina Ebere were the ones really cracking those hot jokes, everyone laughed so much that we all forgot our sorrows.”
The movie shoot in question took place at Igbobi Orthopedic Hospital. And it was there that it dawned on him that “if the patients in their sickbed and the doctors were laughing that much, this is something that cut across people’s race, faith and creed. This is something I should do”.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Looking back, Williams credits Okey Bakassi and Regina Ebere for helping Nite of A Thousand Laughs find its feet. But in spite of the potential of the comedy special, it didn’t exactly hit the ground running.
According to Williams, the first ever Nite of A Thousand Laughs which took place at National Arts Theatre was by all means a flop.
Recounting, he said: “People didn’t believe in what I was doing at first. We had less than 68 people who came to watch the show. The cast and crew were more than the audience.
“I did the first one with Chico Ejiro and our late friend called Udensi. Udensi was the marketer for our videos, so Chico and I were doing movies before I told him about Nite of A Thousand Laugh idea and he said, okay. He gave me some money and Udensi was going to market the VHS.
“After the first show that was a huge loss, my friend, Chico Ejiro left and Udensi seized the master tape. He was to use the proceed to compensate for his loss in the investment. By the second edition in 1996, I called Chico, he said, ‘Opa, this is your dream, but take this N30,000, I’m no longer part of this’.”
After the initial struggles, the comedy special found success and eventually produced top comedians like I-Go-Dye, Gordons, I Go Save, Basorge Tariah Jnr., among others.
Articulating his sentiments about the accomplishment of the show, Williams said: “It just merely confers the feeling of an inventor and a pathfinder that I created a platform that discovered many industry giants today, other than that, you cannot stop people from growing.
“You must support them where need be. I don’t feel arrogant or boisterous about that privilege. Well, if there wasn’t me somebody else could have done it, but at the said time, I did it. It’s an honour and privilege to be an initiator of modern comedy business.”
‘SPONSORSHIP NOW A MAJOR HINDRANCE’
In spite of the boom enjoyed by Nite of A Thousand Laughs after it found favour with audiences, the show’s visibility has waned in recent years.
The situation, Williams says, can be attributed to a dearth of sponsorship from corporate brands.
“Nite of a Thousand Laughs is still very much around, it’s just that sponsorship has become a major hindrance and the cost of putting things together has become a lot more expensive,” he said.
“If you look around now, you’d hardly find any independent brand being sponsored by corporate companies.
“Apart from Big Brother Naija being sponsored by a media outfit, check other corporate organisations and what they sponsor. Glo Naija Sings is no more, MTN’s Project Fame is no more, Star Trek, Gulder Ultimate Search are all no more, these programmes were stopped because of the economic downturn.”
Notwithstanding, Williams says plans are underway to take his show international.
He added: “Night of Thousand Laughs is now an international brand, we’ve taken it to Ghana and we’re [going to] Kenya and Uganda by mid-year.”