Apparently, veteran comedian Daniel Ndambuki alias Churchill said no to requests by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to attend his [email protected] show last weekend.

The celebrated Kenyan funnyman celebrated turning 40 in style in a highly publicised show at KICC on Friday that featured performances from a number of Kenyan comedians who have passed under the veteran’s wing.

Speaking to Nairobi News, Churchill, who has been doing comedy for the last 15 years, said that the political foes wanted to attend the show but he turned down their requests.

“Uhunye (Uhuru) wanted to attend but I asked him not to and explained why. The same case was with Rao (Raila)” Churchill said.

“With the situation still volatile in the country and as things seems to be, my event won’t be an ideal place for them because they will steal my moment,” Churchill explained.

The CEO of Laugh Industry also sat down with the Nation for a candid interview. Below are the excerpts.

In what significant ways has the comedy scene in Kenya changed from when you started out to date?

I got into the entertainment industry in 1999. At the time, Kenyan audiences only knew about theatre. I started doing comedy in 2002.

Then, few people took comedy seriously, and would frown when you said you were a comedian.

They would  ask: “What else do you do?” This perception about comedy not being a career only changed recently; now, Kenyans have fully embraced comedy. The growth of vernacular radio stations has also led to the growth of comedy in local languages, which is a sign of better things to come.

You have nurtured many talents, including Eric Omondi. What does this mean to you?

It gives me great delight to see comics who have passed through my hands establish themselves into bigger brands than myself by exploring niches I could not explore.

This is every teacher’s greatest joy. I am a proud mentor.

Is there a misconception about comedy in Kenya that you would like to see change?

Kenyans compare comedy with music, yet these are two totally different careers. While musicians have the privilege of performing their songs over and over to their audiences, comedians cannot afford to tell the same joke twice, we have to continuously craft new ones. Comedy is not a joke, it is very hard work, and comedians should be appreciated for the work they put in.

What are you like off stage?

I am very boring in person. I am also a loner. Believe it or not, I am introverted, and sometimes when not working, I drive far away from the city to just be alone. Sometimes I sleep in the car. This helps me to rejuvenate and reinvent myself. The people around me are very humorous though, I hang out with them and just listen to their jokes.

Many young people would want to make a career out of comedy. What advice would you give them?

If you feel you are talented in this area, go for it and keep practicing to hone your gift. You must also be disciplined and consistent. Together, these create a brand.

It is the brand that is rewarded through endorsements. With this outfit, you will keep growing from one stage of your comedy career to the other, the same way a butterfly transforms.

Trevor Noah, for instance, did not start big, he had to consistently work his way up. Comedy is a tough journey that demands industry.

Comedians attend auditions for up to six months, during which they are taught how to package and deliver their jokes.

One must be able to develop a striking character that creates a strong impression. You must also be able to demarcate between your real life and your character’s life. You must know what to share, where to share it and when to share it.

What are some of your important milestones as a comic?

I have witnessed the growth of comedy from an area that was unrecognised 15 years ago to become not only a full-fledged career for professionals, but also one of the most lucrative careers in Kenya.

This evening, I will be celebrating my fortieth birthday at an event, Churchill @ 40 at the KICC, where I will recount my journey in comedy. This is an achievement I am proud of.

Comedy in Kenya is mostly anchored on social stereotypes. Is this the most effective way to tell jokes?

That’s who we are, and this is not about to change. Jokes make sense only when they are tailored around experiences that people can relate to. This same tool is used by other comedians elsewhere in the world because audiences easily connect with such experiences.

How have you managed to stay relevant on the comedy scene for so long?

Redesigning and constantly asking myself what I want to offer to my audience next has given me staying power.

Creating new ideas and exciting experiences with memorable moments for my audience is what has kept me going through the years.

For any brand to succeed, you must create a culture around it. Experiences such as the Safaricom Jazz Festival and Koroga Festival have become a culture among Kenyans because of the creativity and consistency behind them.

This is made possible by partnering with strategic brands that share your vision. I have also strived to create a brand that is accepted countrywide.

What is the future of comedy in Kenya?

We will be very far in terms of reach and quality of our jokes five years from now. The Laugh Industry, in particular, is working to bring international comedians to Kenya.

We also have an exchange programme that enables our comedians to travel abroad, where they learn from other comedians new ways of crafting and dispensing humour.

Through these programmes, our comedians will be able to tell jokes that resonate with an international audience. We are making very good progress as an industry.

What else do you do besides comedy?

I organise children’s events. Spending time to talk with young people and sharing my experiences with them is something I especially enjoy.

What would you be doing if you were not a comedian?

I would be a youth pastor, providing spiritual guidance to young people. I studied theology and specialised in matters of the youth at Word of Life. I have worked as a youth counsellor before.

What delights do you have in store for your audience before the year is out?

On December 11 this year, we will hold the “Laugh Festival” an African comedy event that will bring in artists such as Basketmouth from Nigeria, Salvador and Cotilda from Uganda and Arthur from Rwanda. On New Year’s Eve, we will have the “Last Laugh” at Kitengela.