Ben Mugambi has made a name for himself as a mimic, comedian and radio presenter with Muuga FM. While he can mimic a host of Kenyan politicians, Mugambi is popular for his imitation of Meru governor Kiraitu Murungi.
His prowess has seen him feature in the satirical comedy show, XYZ.
How did you get into comedy?
I started acting as a small boy at Machikine village in South Imenti. In my village and at Machikine Primary School, I made fun aping elders, teachers and my parents. Students loved how I could perfectly speak and walk like the teachers. Later, I acted in local TV shows, including the popular XYZ series, where I did well mimicking prominent leaders such as Kiraitu Murungi, Raila Odinga, Deputy President William Ruto and many others.
Why did you resign as an accountant to go into comedy?
The accounts department in a government ministry was too formal for me because my default setting is to make fun. I crack jokes and don’t hold grudges. So, when an opportunity to go into radio opened up, I grabbed it. I joined Mwanontii at Meru FM in Nairobi, but we later switched to Muuga FM, also in Nairobi. Our job is to provide entertainment and educative content to Merus and those who understand the language. On the show, I’m the comedian and my co-host Mwanontii is a gifted orator, who has contributed to my development in radio as well. Comedy pays. But you have to do your research and not disappoint your audience.
How did you develop your talent?
Unlike today, it was hard to make a breakthrough in comedy when I was just starting out. It never crossed my mind that comedy would one day be my career. I just loved making people laugh. Each day at 3 am in school, I would jump out of bed and in the principal’s voice order everybody to wake up for morning studies. This at least made waking that early not such a chore for the students. Often, the principal was surprised to find us ready and headed for the classrooms.
How did your antics help you escape bullying?
At Kanyekine High School, which I joined in 1994, I had a soft landing and was not bullied because my would-be tormentors loved my jokes. Only a very cold-hearted person would pick on someone who makes them laugh. I was never bullied because I provided the much-needed entertainment for would-be bullies. Not even teachers, or the principal, whom we nicknamed ‘Beast’ because he was a stern disciplinarian, punished me. I had mastered his walking style and speech. I was ‘headmaster mdogo’!
Did your parents support your talent in comedy?
My mother supported me a lot. She was also a comedian of sorts because she used to make her friends and other villagers laugh their heads off with funny stories and facial expressions. After high school, my friends and I did shows at local churches. My Mother used to pay to watch me act. By then, we didn’t have a radio at home so my mother used to borrow one from a neighbour so that I could listen to children’s programmes. I owe her a lot. My father also loved the fact I made everybody happy.
How did you acquire the moniker, Mgongoo Kingwete?
My radio listeners know me by the name Mgongoo Kingwete. Mgongoo because I was nicknamed after Mgongoo Mtule, a popular comedian in the cast of Vituko, which aired on KBC. The young people in the village said I behaved just like him, so they named me after him and it stuck. Kingetwe because every morning, I pray on air for different groups facing challenges in life. Many fans love the prayer sessions because it gives them a good motivational start. It is my way of starting the breakfast show, which I co-host with Kamlick Mwongera Mwanontii.
You made a name in Meru by mimicking Governor Kiraitu. How did this happen?
Kiraitu is from my area and I had a lot of time watching him at churches, schools and campaigns. Though he talked about weighty issues, he used very light language. He delivered serious messages in a casual way, like a joke. I learned to walk like him and talk like him. I used to organise meetings, attended by children, and address them as Kiraitu would. His main message has always been to urge residents to work hard on their farms and the jobs they have because he will not be available to assist lazy people. Much later, I started getting calls to entertain people at his meetings. At a fee of course.
Apart from Kiraitu, who else can you mimic?
I love mimicking Kiraitu because he is very good at delivering his points through riddles, proverbs and even songs. Being a member of the music and drama clubs in school, I perfected the art of copying him over the years. No doubt, he is my favourite character. But I can also mimic Raila, Ruto, Francis Atwoli, Paul Muite, Peter Munya, Bishop Lawi Imathiu and many others.
What advice would you offer to parents with talented children?
There are many young people who have the talent to be great comedians but are discouraged by their parents. They need to understand that there is great potential in comedy. Comedy has evolved in Kenya and is paying well. We have to nurture talent. I have formed an agency to assist the youth reach their potential in comedy.