He is one of the leading Kenyan entertainment artistes. A master of many arts, FELIX ODIWUOR (Jalang'o) talks to PETER ODUOR about his life by day, a flight he shared with the president, why he can't joke about death, and the pressures of being an entertainer in Kenya.
You are a multi-talented individual; a director, an actor, a comedian and a radio show host. How do you merge all these and do all of them at the same time?
All the things I do are related somehow. They are all in one line of work. From 4am to 10am, I am on air at Radio Maisha. From 10am, I start running Arena Media, a marketing company where I am the team leader. This goes on until the end of the day, unless there is a job to handle, like an event. I don't sleep. I have a boardroom, not a bedroom in my house.
Most actors secretly think that they can make good directors. Does acting share any commonalities with directing?
That is what they think. After acting for a long time, most actors think they can direct. Acting and directing are two different things but they complement each other. When the show is good, it is the actors who are praised, but if the show is poor, everyone will want to know who the director was.
Comedians are known to be relaxed, easy and carefree people. Is that the kind of person you are?
I'm an easy person. In the entertainment industry, however, there is pressure every day. Public opinion, re-inventing yourself, staying relevant and the biggest of them all is the competition, especially here in Kenya where there are new faces popping up on the screens every other time. You have to be alert as an entertainer.
The character you played in Papa Shirandula is almost human. Are your drawn to that kind of comedy, the kind that many people can easily relate to?
I left the Papa Shirandula cast five years ago, but even after I left, most people still thought I was in it. The best comedy is real. Laugh at yourself and relate to what you are doing. People will relate to it too. That is my kind of comedy.
As a comedian, is there anything, something, which you simply can't make fun of?
I can't joke about death. People think that death is something you can laugh about. I think death is too personal for anyone to joke over. You can't joke about death; regardless of your audience.
Earlier on in the year, (during the period when KQ launched its Dreamliner) you travelled with many dignitaries and other notable individuals in the Triple 7-200 flight. Among these people was the president. How was the flight?
The flight was fine. We joked about the disappeared Malaysian MH 370 plane (at the time, it was fresh and there were hopes it would be located). That plane was the same model as the Triple 7-200 that we were in. People joked about what would happen if it disappeared; Kenya would mourn for ten years.
And why would that be so?
The travellers in the plane. The President, the First Lady, a couple of Cabinet secretaries, top East African Breweries Ltd management, Humphrey Khayange and, of course, Jalang'o...heheh...
How did the President come to be in that flight?
The President didn't use his normal plane. The flight we took was the last one leaving London for Nairobi that day. We spent eight hours during the flight. It was a privilege to fly in the same plane as the President. Why he didn't use his plane is beyond me.
Where were you from?
I was in the Tusker Twende Kazi promotion team. The President and the First Lady must have been going to the London Marathon.
Ugandan poet and writer, Okot P' Bitek wrote an essay, 'Artist, the Ruler'. It is said that you overshadowed President Uhuru Kenyatta during the trip. Left people thinking you were the president. What really happened in that plane?
You can't overshadow the President. In fact, he was in a different section, first class, while I and most of the other people were in a different section. But we interacted at some point.
What kind of a man is President Kenyatta in an informal setting?
He is a good listener. That I can say confidently. He also loves chatting. He even tried to crack a few jokes here and there but, of course, his jokes were not as good as Jalang'o's ...
Do you see your work as capable of accomplishing more than just entertainment?
Entertainment is my life. I don't know what else to do or what else I can do. I started entertaining when I was young and will continue until I am buried in my green suit and leopard shirt. I am an entertainer; that is the big picture for me.
What is it with the green suit, is it that important to you?
The suit and leopard shirt are part of my entertaining image. If I lost that suit, I'd buy airtime on KTN prime time to request whoever has it to bring it back.
What would you be wearing when making this advert asking for your green suit back?
I would be naked, because my suit is lost.... heheh...
Do you have a family?
Yes, I do. Three brothers, two sisters and my lovely three-year-old daughter, and finally my mother.
You were among the organisers of the Luo Festival. What was special about the event?
That is the only festival where everyone was a VIP. Oh, and the parking spaces were according to the car you drive so all Toyotas were to park at Uchumi near Lang'ata Road, the cars got better as you came in.