Interview with Njambi McGrath: author, stand-up comedian, presenter and political commentator

"In order to get noticed, one must take their wares to market. Leading industry movers and shakers congregate at this world famous  market and I believe I have something of interest to sell to the world."

Interview with Njambi McGrath: author, stand-up comedian, presenter and political commentator

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I am Njambi McGrath author, stand-up comedian, presenter and political commentator.

How would you describe your show?

Ash smeared faces, muffed defiant laughter masked by mud plastered walls, lit by dim embers is not a typical comedy club, but there is something about adversity that calls for satire. After all oppression, injustice and bad governance are the perfect recipe for resistance and mirth! Populist leaders, mass deportations of blacks and deforestation as well as rampant spread of virulent diseases, one would be forgiven in thinking my grandmother lived in 2022’s Britain instead of 1940’s colonial Kenya. In my new stand up hour, ‘Black Black’, I explores striking similarities of identity politics amid growing emboldened racism alongside the special relationship I had with my grandmother.

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

In order to get noticed, one must take their wares to market. Leading industry movers and shakers congregate at this world famous  market and I believe I have something of interest to sell to the world.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

Edinburgh festival is the biggest in the world and brings the world’s industry. It’s the place where you can literally showcase yourself to the world.

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I worked and still do in childbirth education. I felt the attendants needed light relief with the tough topics being discussed. I made the class fun and people said it was memorable. One of my clients suggested that I try stand up and the rest is history. My inspiration is my unique family history. My family were caught up in a period of Kenyan history least spoken about. It’s fascinating, shocking and sad. But history is always repeating.

Has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?

Definitely. I was brought up in post-colonial Kenya at a time where people shunned their Kenyan identity for British. After 60 years of being flogged to abandon our ways I came along as the British had succeeded in stripping our identity. It’s only when I lost my father and had a near breakdown, I began researching my family history, documented in my memoir Through The Leopard’s Gaze. It’s only then I recognised how warped my upbringing was.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

There were still remnants of culture and one of the thing that I learnt was sisal basket weaving which is something women and girls did from time immemorial. I learnt how to strip bark and make ropes for skipping as well as clay modelling from the river, which is something Gikuyu children undertook for centuries. I participated in interschool cultural dances although my own tribal dances died out due to being outlawed by the British colonial government. 

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

I would sing. I love singing. Sadly I sing like a donkey who accidentally dipped its tail in hot porridge. Actually I was kicked out of the choir at the age of 4. 

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now?

NopeBeing a comedian and a writer is always a solitary job but Covid meant I wasn’t alone in the house which was nice but frustrating at times as I couldn’t concentrate as much.

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Frustrating, amazing, confusing, bizarre and memorable.

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’?

Well, cancel culture has always existed in one form or another. If you stood at the village square clowning, you may entertain people and if that clowning became abusive you will be cancelled. We are noticing it now because people have spoken out about the marginalisation of their groups and highlighted their plight.

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

Ella Fitzgerald. I have been a great fun of her music since my Uni days and I would love to pretend I was jamming with her. Even if I can’t sing.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Think very carefully, be very well prepared and save a lot of money.

When and where can people see your show?

Title of Show: Njambi McGrath: Black Black

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard – Baby Grand 

Time: 5:50pm

Dates: 3rd - 28th August (except 15th August)

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

  • @NjambiMcGrath Twitter
  • @TheHotAfrican Insta
  • Njambi McGrath Comedy FB

Njambi McGrath’s new stand-up show ‘Black Black’ will be at the Pleasance Courtyard Baby Grand at 5.50pm for the month of August for tickets go to www.edfringe.com 

Header Image Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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