The story of comedy in Nigeria will probably not be complete without the name of Victor Osuagwu, one of the many products of the University of Port Harcourt, doing well in the entertainment industry. He explains how he found succour in comic roles in this interview with VERIFIED NEWS.
Did comedy come because you could not find a job?
At the age of seven, I had already started acting in the church. Even in the primary school, we used to act some drama sketches, but honestly I was not looking at it as a career, and I did not know I would get to this point doing this. I was doing it in the form of entertainment.
Your background may have influenced this?
My mother was an entertainer. All other members of my family were into this, but I am the only one who took it to this level. As a child, I used to play with them. I was also watching my mother. In fact, I inherited it from her.
What kind of performance was your mother doing?
In the church my mother was active in their drama, often called ‘concert’ in their time. I used to watch her play roles during drama programmes in church usually organised by the Women Association. For me I did it as a child in the church, in the school and in our community.
Was this responsible for the decision to study Theatre Arts?
In the secondary school, I was a member of the drama society and debating society. Although I did not know how to play football, I became the centre of attraction because each time our team went for a competition; the fan club would need people like me to create entertainment while the match was on.
At what point did you decide to study Theatre Arts?
I actually wanted to study Architecture. But one day somebody asked me if I knew I could do Theatre Arts and do it very well.
Do you remember the person who told you that?
I remember the man, but I can’t remember his exact name now. Then, I did not know what Theatre Arts was. We only knew Law, Engineering and Medicine. But I made inquiries and they said Theatre Arts will teach one how to make people laugh. They told me that after that I would become like Zebrudaya. You know Zebrudaya was the hottest thing on TV then. I started thinking of studying Theatre Arts from then. But when I sat for my first ‘JAMB’, it did not go well. Someone however told me that the University of Port Harcourt offers a programme in Theatre Arts, which allows one to get into the degree programme after you have done well in the internal examination, something like a diploma programme. I did well there and was admitted for the degree programme.
Why does University of Port Harcourt have many alumni in the entertainment industry?
The department is unique. It does not teach you theories but drills you on the rudiments of the job. You must be made to practice it, not just reading it. We all knew. Our relationship then was cordial. But we did not know where we were going. But there was an eye opener for us. While we were in school, someone like Bob Manuel Udokwu was already making headway in Checkmate. Then Mildred Iweka (she lives in US now) was also popular on TV then. There was also Bimbo Manuel. All of them inspired us, and we could not help craving to be like them. At that time too, Ejike Asiegbu was involved in the New Masquerade as well as Ken Saro Wiwa’s Basi and Company.
After your education what else happened?
I came to Lagos. That was where I got my first role, Evil Passion 2. That was in 1994. There was NUPENG strike that year and some of us, who were in school then had to move to Lagos to see how we could make ends meet. When I came down, I met Sidney Diala. He told us about an audition with JBM Productions. They own Evil Passion, directed by Zeb Ejiro and Chris Obi Rapu. I went for the auditions with Julius Agwu, Ejike Asiegbu, Hilda Dokubo and Francis Duru. After the audition, I got my first role.
Was it a comic role?
I played the role of a house boy, something my people call ‘Otimkpu’. It was a good experience.
Do you still remember how much you were paid then?
It was not bad, because money then had value. Then you could earn N10,000 for such roles and that was big money then. What I was paid was good, and when I got back to school, people knew I had ‘arrived’.
Your wedding caused uproar because you used a lorry to convey your wife. Was she not embarrassed by that?
She knows I will never mean evil for her. I actually went to church with a couple of luxury cars but when the lorry came, it parked somewhere close. As a member of the Boys Brigade, they came to honour me, so people thought the lorry was to convey the Boys Brigade members. It was comedy and the lorry rode in a convoy to where I had the traditional marriage rites. I wanted to take the entertainment off the screen to the streets for the everyday fan to see.
Do you do comedy with your family?
It depends on what I do. What are those things that I do? I draw lines, but I also try to make the family happy. In fact, I create joy in the family. But in reality everyone in my house understands the game and there is really no dull moment at home.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her when she was in the secondary school. I was in the university then. We had a long relationship before we got married. She is from a royal lineage in Choba, the town where the University of Port Harcourt is located. I used to come there to visit a friend who lived there and that was how we met. The first time I saw her I told her I wanted to marry her, but that I was willing to allow her grow, and finish her schooling. She attended Uniport too.
Could you be found doing any role that is not comedy?
Why not? That is why I am an actor. There is no role I cannot do.
Which of your colleagues in comedy makes you laugh the most?
They all make me laugh. You see they are all unique in their own rights and the truth is that you cannot substitute one for the other. We call ourselves mumu. We have all carved a niche for ourselves based on attitude and that attitude is unique. I laugh whenever I watch them.
Do you fancy this idea of actors hanging around Government Houses?
There is nothing wrong in government supporting actors who are on a courtesy visit. Government officials do pay courtesy visits too; and if they give you money I think it is in order.
When actors are invited to attend events do they get paid for that?
I don’t know how to put it. It’s like buying and selling. Somebody who invited you knows he should make provision for your welfare and things like that. That does not mean that the actor has gone to beg for money.