He is a radio and TV presenter; stand-up comedian, a sportsman, thespian and most importantly a father. LARRY ASEGO shares his world of possibilities with PETER MUIRURI
Who is Larry Asego?
Larry Asego is many things but I will just mention a few. I am a Kenyan born in 1980 in a family of one father, two mothers and ten siblings. I am a sportsman, theatre lover, French teacher, radio and TV presenter, student and a father. But the short version is that I love life.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Kocholia Hospital located somewhere near Busia. My father was a trucker and used to travel quite a bit in the region.
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My mother, on the other hand, was working for the Kenya Prison Department in Busia. She tells me that I almost died during birth, though she has never told me the exact cause of the mishap. All she told me was that she ran for almost a kilometre to the hospital. She remains my hero.
That single act of bravery during my most vulnerable period in my life has made me have a lot of respect for women. That is why I volunteered to assist women organisations such as Wrap and Covaw from a very tender age.
You grew and schooled in Kibera. How was life like in one of Africa’s largest slum?
My dad relocated to Nairobi when I was still young. We settled in Kibera where I was enrolled at Olympic Primary School, arguably Nairobi’s poorest school. Mum later became a teacher at the same school. She was a disciplinarian by day and a mother after school. That, of course, did not stop me from being a cheeky and mischievous boy.
I loved drawing a cartoon of my teacher who will remain unnamed. One time, I also placed a packet of milk on her seat and without her checking, she sat on it. No one dared to expose the culprit. Well, now she knows who did it. I cleared Class Eight in 1994 before joining Highway Secondary School, again commuting daily from Kibera.
Life in Kibera was (and I still believe is) fun. Actually, I think it is the best neighbourhood in the city. Every community in Kenya is represented in Kibera.
Every resident here must make things work in what I call the microfinance economy. You can live in Kibera and make it in life if you are determined. I went on to study French at Alliance Française and later a Bachelor of Education in French and Linguistics at the University of Nairobi.
How did you get into radio?
After high school, I had a stint at Alliance Française, where I met groups such as Heartstrings Kenya. I started to act with people such as Churchill and Jalang’o. In 2008, Kiss 100 wanted to hire a presenter and Jalang’o and I went in for an interview. The station went on to hire the two us at the same time and the rest, as they say is history.
Contrary to what many think, radio is hard work. It involves a lot of research before your presentation. It’s make or break once you go on air.
Fortunately, I have a supportive team of experienced radio journalists such as Caroline Mutoko, Kalekye Mumo and, of course, Maina Kageni. They have offered constructive criticism from time to time making me a better presenter by the day.
And your foray into television...?
It had always been my desire to have my own stand up show that was different from what was already there. Most of the shows had several artistes on the set.
I wanted a show that would actually run for two hours with me as the sole presenter. However, everyone I talked to said such a move was too ambitious — that no one had ever done such a thing.
Yet, therein lay my strategy. The fact that no one had done it before in Kenya meant it was time someone tried it. That person was me.
I prepared the initial episodes for more than a year and a half to come up with something that would keep people on their seats for a couple of hours.
The script was initially intended for the stage not TV. However, it turned out well the moment it hit the TV screen as the Hot Seat. Entertaining a Kenyan audience for two hours is not a laughing matter. The reception I have received so far, shows that Kenyans are ready for such a show.
Of course, it is through TV that I have come to host one of my favourite shows, the Guinness Football Challenge together with Flavia Tumusiime. It has enabled me to meet some greatest football players of African descent such as Rigobert Song, Kalusha Bwalya and Marcel Desailly.
You are also a sportsman. Tell us about it.
I come from a sporting family. A number of my siblings are well known sportsmen and women. You probably know Lavin, who is still in the national rugby team. I played rugby too, culminating in having surgery on both of my knees. I am not giving up sports though. I was the football, hockey and rugby captain in secondary school.
You have a sports charity. What does it do?
I have always wanted to do something that would bring Kenyans from all walks of life together. In 2009, I started a charity known as We Got Balls. It is a simple outfit. I just sourced the balls and handed them over to young teams.
Football is perhaps the only sport that unites regardless of one’s race, tribe or nationality. It is the only way a team from India can meet a Pakistan one, or Iraq and Iran. Locally, tribes are put aside when cheering the national team Harambee Stars.
Together with a few friends, we thought it wise to visit the entire country giving balls to young people in an effort to forge national unity.
A case in point is Dandora where we found a coach who is supporting three young teams. Apparently, he is a reformed criminal and there is no reason why we cannot support him.
Of course, some take us too seriously. When we went there recently, we found almost the whole neighbourhood waiting for us with poems and some food. An expectant mother even named her kid after me.
I also work with Safara Trust, a group doing brilliant work in Garissa in printing and selling T-shirts and mugs to raise some cash.
The thing is that some people think you can only do good if you are looking for a political seat. I do good for the sake of doing good.
Is that why you are also in the jigger campaign?
Oh yes. I decided to join Jalang’o who has been involved in the jigger campaign with Stanley Kamau of Ahadi Kenya.
It is a pity that 50 years after independence, some people, even in the city, cannot walk because of jiggers. It is quite a process that involves not just removing the jiggers, but also a follow up on the individuals to check on their well-being.
What next for Larry Asego?
I would like to start my own production company for local movies. You can see the heat that was generated by Nairobi Half Life.
We can do more given the immense talents Kenya has. With my knowledge of French, I need to talk to the new president for a diplomatic (laughs...) posting in France. Those are among the few things remaining in my bucket list before I die.