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No laughing matter: Intrigues that marked Othuol Othuol's death, send off

By Mkala Mwaghesha | October 30th 2020
The late Ben Maurice Onyango aka Othuol Othuol in a past performance. [Courtesy]

“Othuol was not operated on. He passed on before the operation happened. So where is the money that was collected for the operation, and where did it all go, considering how high his send-off bill was?” a comedian seeking anonymity posed the question to Pulse, in trying to point us to the crux of the matter.

This was last, week as the funeral arrangements for the late comedian, real name Ben Maurice Onyango, were being finalised. The comedian was raising the query after Comedians in Kenya Society Chairman Ken Waudo was quoted as saying, “Plans are underway to inter his body at his ancestral home in Ndere, Alego, Siaya County scheduled for 24th October 2020, and we are looking at Othuol funeral budget ranging between Sh700,000 to Sh1 million.”

We reached out to Ken, the man in the middle of it all.

“We are really mad about the shared screenshots because they are not true,” he says, referring to numerous screenshots said to capture different conversations that involved the late comedian.

“There was some money that was raised when he was sick… about Sh100,000. We paid for his MRI and some of it went to pay his rent and buy food and other stuff for his house, and by the time he passed, we had already paid for the second MRI as the doctors had suggested,” said Ken, who is the director of Churchill Show.

“Mind you, from the time he has been sick to his death, we have kept on receiving contributions, and we had about Sh47,000 by the time of his passing that we used to clear bills at Kenyatta National Hospital, hire an ambulance and take Othuol to Chiromo mortuary.”

Ken explained that they raised about Sh560,000 at a fundraising event at the National Theatre and that more monies kept coming in, which facilitated the burial ceremony.

“We can account for every bob.”

Comedians have come under intense scrutiny, especially after Othuol’s sickness became mainstream news. Claims of negligence and underpayment from showrunners, peer pressure and substance abuse amongst the ranks, and a non-supportive fraternity, especially in times of sickness were rife, comedians taking sides to lambast or stand with the accused.

Some comedians, who became household names after appearing on Churchill Live have disappeared in obscurity after short stints in the hugely popular show, only to reappear sick, or suffering from substance abuse.

Zeddy, who also passed through the show, went against the grain, making claims against Churchill and the showrunners, as manipulative and not caring for the welfare of the comedians, especially budding talent.

Some, like Jalang’o, were accused of not helping Othuol in his time of need, a claim which led to Captain Otoyo making a case in support of comedians, explaining on radio that Othuol was fully supported from the time he was diagnosed with TB a year or so ago, and that the late made things difficult by  stopping his medication and going back to alcohol.

Othuol succumbed to a brain tumour on October 11th at the Kenyatta National Hospital, an operation he was to undergo was delayed by a doctors’ strike that struck the capital city. More unfortunate events were to follow, as his only uncle, his father’s brother, collapsed and died upon being informed of Othuol’s passing.

“They are burying him this weekend,” explained Ken.

At the sides of Othuol’s burial, an angry Churchill was captured publicly schooling a group of comedians on why they needed to invest in themselves and stop relying on bloggers.

“Don’t wake up every morning and you’re telling them what you are eating, what you are wearing, you have a life. Stop calling people your family because the moment you stop cracking jokes, they stop being your family. Leave the bloggers, they earn money through your stories,” Churchill said, singling out Zeddy.

Actor, comedian, and singer Aliwah, who appears on the revamped Vioja Mahakamani agrees, saying many do things to please people who are not part of their daily lives.

“It is an industry that unfortunately, has no good structures and mentors to advice talents on how to plan their future,” he said.

Churchill’s advice, however, was not convincing to others.

“That tongue lashing by Churchill was useless since he was feasting too,” controversial blogger Robert Alai posted on his Facebook page, captioning a photo of the comedians having a hearty feast at Jalang’o’s homestead. “He should have called them to a private session and gave them the talk instead of pretending that he thinks differently.”

A country laughing at its comedians’ expense

The sorry state of the comedy industry has been well documented. The country has lost many talents to depression, long-term sickness, and substance abuse. Many celebrated comedians have died depressed, frustrated by their inability to monetise their talents in a society that is quick to praise them and laugh at their expense, but not happy enough to see them prosper and head into their twilight with satisfied souls.

This week, we have lost Mzee Makanyaga, real name Mohamed Tajiri, who was part of the Vitimbi cast, among other popular programmes that made KCB a bit palatable. He passed on at 85, at his Pumwani home.

Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan tweeted, ‘Mourning the loss of the renown comedian Mohamed Tajiri – Mzee Makanyaga – who left us yesterday (Tuesday). The last of that extraordinary talented generation out of Kamukunji, which included Mama Toffi, Mzee Pembe & Athumani Kipanga at the venerable VOK. My condolences to the family.’

His death follows that of veteran actor Mzee Kihara, who appeared on Vitimbi and Jungu Kuu. He passed on in July, the same month that Joseph Musyoki Kivindu, better known as Kasee, died from poisoning. Kasee appeared on the Churchill Show.

“The stress of maintaining a certain lifestyle has driven many into depression and drug abuse, especially when shows or events run dry,” explained Aliwah, on why most comedians resort to the bottle.

But are we as a society really appreciative of our heroes, especially those whom we run to when we are stressed or when seeking a bit of a light moment to make life more meaningful?

“I don’t think we appreciate our actors, comedians and the likes,” Ken Waudo boldly said. “It’s an attitude that was picked on even after we gained independence as a country. We looked at entertainers as people we can easily get wherever there is entertainment to be done. Just people you can call easily call to do something.”

According to Ken, we don’t look at entertainers as people with family and other needs, even when recognising them with state commendations.

“It’s a ‘by the way’ relationship. By the way we need an MC. By the way we need to be entertained. By the way where is the entertainment coming from?” he posed.

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