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I hated church so much, blamed God for my troubles: Comedian Njoro
Comedian Njoro George Njoroge attempted suicide three times. He opens up to The Nairobian about his life, fake friends and why comedians are sad in their private lives
Please take us through your childhood…
I was born and raised in Orlando slums in Nakuru. I am a second child in a family of five. Life was really hard for us. I remember rent was around Sh300 but it was still hard to raise. My father was a construction worker while my mother sold vegetables. I learned a lot especially how to survive anywhere.
How was school?
I schooled in Nakuru - both primary and secondary school. I went to Moi Secondary School and later joined a college where I studied for a diploma in mass communication. I loved football and played for London FC in Nakuru and later, Railway FC. Surprisingly I never did entertainment in school. I took part in a church choral only once. However, there was something about me that got people really amused, not because I intended to make people laugh, but I’d say things and they would burst out in laughter. The same happened while in college.
How did you get into comedy?
While in college people said I shouldn’t let this talent go to waste. One lady, Mercy gave me fare to go for auditions at Churchill Show. I’d go and fail and go again. The first time I was given a chance to perform, I forgot everything on stage. The producers were so furious getting another chance was very hard. The next time Mercy gave me fare I contemplated whether to eat chips with the Sh100 or go for the auditions. I went and was given a second chance. It was an Open Mic. I didn’t even know I was on TV. It’s only when I returned to Nakuru that neighbours started screaming my name that they saw me on TV.
What did your parents say about this?
My parents knew I wanted to work in a media house. So, they thought it was a job for the course I had studied. They supported me a lot. So coming from the slums I got inspired by the way people appreciated me, people even named themselves after me.
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How is a stand-up comedian paid?
It depends. Some work on contract, while others are paid per appearance. But most artists get more from endorsements. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there were no gigs. That meant I couldn’t earn.
Is it true you have been battling depression?
Yes. For months now. My own expectations frustrated me - financial expectations, the future also seemed unclear. I was worried about everything. I had financial problems and bills to pay. People have set standards for anyone seen on TV. The pressure from fans also contributed as they don’t expect you to lead the life you are living even though that is the reality.
I hear you attempted and survived suicide three times?
The first time I poisoned myself, but found myself in hospital. Teacher Wanjiku saved me. She is my neighbour. The second time my wife saved me. The third time I wanted to throw myself inside a car at the Limuru escapement. I parked the car by the roadside, said my prayers but when I tried to start the engine the car wouldn’t start. I went out to check and realised a guy with a lorry had hooked my car to his. He told me: “I am a big fan of yours and I won’t let you do what you want to do.” I tried to argue but he wouldn’t relent. This guy then followed me with his truck until Naivasha. That’s how I escaped.
Did you get professional help?
Yes. I have been away for two months for therapy sessions. Before that, I was on drugs, taking antidepressants. I was going through counseling also. If I didn’t seek professional help, I would probably be dead by now because I had lost myself completely. Depression is a disease. Before I went for rehabilitation, I was in a really bad state. You would not wish to see me.
Did you ever think of seeking help from the church?
No. I hated anything to do with church. At this point, you are blaming everything on God, questioning God. I would say to myself that God is everywhere and He sees everything I am going through. So, I blamed God for not coming through for me.
Are you are completely healed now?
No. The doctor did his part. They are still doing a follow-up on me. If I relapse, I might go missing again. I just need time to get myself back. I need to come back to life.
If you were called for a stand-up comedy show would you ace it?
Mbaya sana! (laughs). Even while in rehabilitation, I made jokes and I had all the time to write new material. I can still perform very well.
Why are comedians sad in private?
We make people laugh and people don’t make us laugh! The truth is that we normally forget ourselves. There’s also too much pressure, especially if you’re on TV. We suffer but we don’t say it. We are afraid to share our problems because people have set standards for us, they don’t think we can lack anything and don’t expect us to.
Tell us something we don’t know about you...
I am a father of four children. I married at 22. Life was good with the kids but the financial problems made it hard. When I was in depression, sadly, I never thought about them. I didn’t worry about leaving them behind. That’s the thing about depression, you do not think, you do not care. One time, I just walked onto the road in front of speeding cars and I didn’t care.
Is there unity among creatives? Comedian Othuol, for instance, died appealing for financial help...
There is no unity, especially among comedians. You will be surprised that most feel happy when you have a problem because some see it as a competition. I will not fool myself and call people “bro” in this industry. Your are only a bro on social media but there is no brotherhood in real life. There is so much pretense in this industry.
What do you do besides comedy?
Right now I am not doing anything. I however have a diploma in mass communication.
Your father has been battling stomach cancer. How is he now?
He is at home and has finished his chemotherapy. Friends have been helping with the bills. A certain woman paid for my dad’s medical expense using her NHIF cover, so this made it easy. We are surviving on God’s mercies because I am not doing anything at the moment.
What have you learned about people in times of need?
Be very careful with friends…you lose friends when things get tough. The people who stick around are strangers. In my case, Esther Muchemi, the CEO of Samchi Group, stepped up and helped. I’ve never met this lady. Few people came out to support me, I can’t mention them all.