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NEWS

Oh, Hail The Comedy Queen

Meet our June IKON: Eunice Wanjiru

BY Joan Thatiah

Jun 01, 2021, 09:52 AM

Meet  Eunice Wanjiru, aka Mammito, a comedian, entertainer, producer, and our June 2021 IKON. Mammito has become synonymous with African stand-up comedy, conquering every stage that she stands on and at only 27. But before all this, before she became a star, Eunice was a regular Nairobi girl desperate to carve out a little space for herself having grown up in Kibra.

She has beaten the odds but she never forgot where she came from and with her KICA initiative in Kibra, she's empowering little Kenyan girls. This is exactly why her name came first when YAZA was choosing its first-ever Kenyan IKON.

"Laughter is medicine," she likes to say.

It’s a Friday mid-morning when I take this interview. I meet her on set where her team is shooting sponsored content for a local brewery. Some of it is scripted and some of it isn’t but the moment she steps into camera view, she has everyone in the room smiling.

“These days, every day is shoot day. After Covid-19 happened and everything shut down, social media became my stage,” she tells me later.

Her efforts have worked seeing as she is Africa’s most-followed female comedian on Instagram with over 1 million followers.
Eunice Mammito
After they are done with the shoot, it is interesting to watch Mammito slip out of character. Almost visibly shake off that witty, loud, hilarious, and sometimes silly persona into a more serious, soft-spoken, and pensive one.
“I’m Eunice Wanjiru and my journey to here has been long and winding,” she starts.
She had quite a rough start in life. Her mother had her when she was only 15 years old and the two of them went on to build a life in the sprawling Kibra slum, Africa’s largest slum. This, she shares, is why she feels honoured to be a YAZA IKON.

"By sharing my journey, I want every little girl out there with odds stacked so high she can't quite see the light that for as long as you don't stop dreaming anything is possible," she says.

So what was it like growing up in Kibra?

“People ask me this all the time and I don’t know what to say. There was poverty all around, we ate plain boiled maize for some of our meals, lived in a tight space, and had to buy water in a jerrycan every day and pay Ksh 10 to use the pit latrine or the bathroom but that was my normal for all of my childhood. That was what home looked like,” she says.

While they lived here until she was 18, her mother, a self-taught tailor, made sure that Eunice knew there was a different kind of life beyond the slum.

“I never spent any school holidays at home. My mother would make arrangements for me to spend holidays with more affluent uncles and aunties so that I could see there was a different kind of life outside the slums,” she recalls.
Her mother thought she was sending her out to the world to learn important life lessons but what she didn’t know was that Eunice was learning most of the life lessons she needed right at home.

“I watched her stay up until 3am on many nights, bent over her machine sewing and patching clothes up in candlelight. She is a strong woman. She is my inspiration. Her determination to survive and thrive against a mountain of odds is what gets me up in the morning on those days when I would rather not write or shoot,” she says.

Falling In Love With Comedy

Was she a funny child?

“I was a curious child and got into a lot of trouble for it. My mother would come home after a long day at work to find me on the roof or on top of a tree, or having damaged something in the house trying to see what was inside and of course I would get an ass whopping.”

One time, on the way to the market, she absent-mindedly ate a fifty shilling note meant to buy super and she thought she had dropped it somewhere. This was until she went home and her mother saw the shiny security thread from the note stuck on her teeth. 
 “My mother tells me that if she knew where all that curiosity was leading, she would have whopped me less,” she chuckles.
Often, in the slums, she saw community workers walking around wearing clean clothes and white overcoats, asking questions and trying to find solutions to slum dwellers’ problems. Little Eunice wanted to be one of them. To bring change to the slums was the ultimate dream. Acting and theatre, however, was how she survived crime and the teenage pregnancy menace that is still devouring girls in the slums.
Eunice Mammito
“One of our neighbours formed a theater group where teenagers interested in acting, dancing or doing skits could practice. It was called Teens In Kibra. We would spend our days rehearsing and then in the evenings, we would take over the streets with street theater. We would come out to the streets and perform skits. On Sundays, we would go to churches in neighbouring estates. Acting was an outlet,” she says.

When she finished her form four at PCEA Silanga Secondary school in Kibra, just as she had planned, her grandmother enrolled her into Mount Kenya University for a Community Development and Social work diploma course. As fate would have, she joined the drama club at the University. This was where the character Mammitto was born.

“I loved acting but I felt better when I told jokes and people laughed so during school functions, I would ask for a chance to perform stand-up comedy,” she says.

A Long Road To Home

When you look at Eunice today, you see the big stages, the love from her fans, and sometimes, the glamour. Few celebrities will give you a peek behind the curtains. Eunice is eager to talk about the less glamorous times. 
 “What you may see as an overnight success today is actually years of hard work, uncertainty, and sacrifice,” she says.
She was first introduced to Kenya on the Churchill Show comedy stage in 2016. What most don’t know is that she had auditioned for this moment, every Tuesday unsuccessfully, for 18 months straight.

“In 2015, I was in my final year of college and at this point, I knew I wanted to pursue comedy. My family was reluctant because in those days, comedy was not a thing people did for a living in Kenya. I remember my grandmother worrying that she didn’t have enough money to get me on a television screen. I spent my free time chasing auditions. Every Tuesday I would take a matatu to Carnivore Grounds for the Churchill Show auditions and each time I was not good enough. This went on for a year. In 2015, I got my gig moment on stage,” she recalls.

Finally, she was on the big stage, the spotlight trained on her and she had her jokes all planned out but there was one problem – the audience was not laughing.
Eunice Mammito
“My section didn’t even air on TV. It was edited out and I was put back on relegation forcing me to audition for a further six months. When I got a second chance on the show, the audience loved me this time,” she smiles.

Learning And Thriving

Eunice is a stand-up comedian deriving her content from observation peppered with political satire and quick wit. Some days, she will stumble on a joke complete with the punch line but more often, working for her means hours of writing, rewriting, and practicing. As a rookie comedian, she spent a lot of time around older, more experienced comedians, watching them and learning from them.
“Comedy isn’t one of those things where you use your femininity to get an edge. No one cares how pretty you are. If you are not funny, you need to move along. The only secret is working on your comedy to get better,” she says.
“I learnt a lot from the more experienced comedians like YY, Sleepy David, and Eddie Butita. Daniel Ndambuki was especially vital in growing me, giving us pet talks before every show and sometimes stepping in to act as a father figure.”

Through 2017, the Churchill Show took them on tour around Kenya and Eunice’s world opened.

“I began wanting more out of my comedy. I saw that how much I made was limited to how many of the shows I featured in being aired. I began doing short skits and posting them on my Facebook in 2017. People loved them. Then, I began getting endorsements from brands, making money in my own right away from the show.”
Eunice Mammito
A proud moment was 2019 when she jumped on a plane to South Africa on impulse to sample comedy on that side of Africa.

“The SA comedy scene is bigger and more vibrant. I was there for a whole month, I learned, made many friends, and was even able to do a mini-tour of sorts through Zambia, Botswana, and Eswatini,” she recalls.

Like for so many around the world, 2020 was going to be her year. She had just set up a management team, was thriving in the digital space and had begun working with big brands. Then the Covid-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt.

“Now that there were no stages, I fully embraced the digital space. For the last year and a half, I share daily content on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok. It’s been a tough year and a half for artists but somehow, constant content has kept me relevant. I shoot every day. I have no off days. If something begins trending, I will jump on it. Doesn’t matter what time of day it is.”

The greatest fear for a performing artist is of becoming irrelevant. Eunice shares that it’s always there, gnawing at her. This fear is what keeps her vulnerable, what has her drawing her art from deep within her.
She admits after some prodding that she is dating fellow comedian Eddie Butita. The word she uses to describe him is enterprising. Together they founded Stage Presence Media (SPM) a company that does artist management.

“He’s always had this big dream. We make a good team. I’m the one that gets excited and carried away by good ideas while he is the grounded one, the one who sits me down and tells me that we need a plan first,” she chuckles. 

About the company, she says “We are working with other artists teaching them to sell their art without relying on the bigger brands and making sure they know how to spend their money wisely. We’ve had enough of artists making it big and then being broke just months later because they couldn’t handle their finances.”

 “Looking back, what are you most grateful for?” I want to know. 

 “The fact that I have toilets in my house,” she jokes. 
“Seriously though, I’m grateful that I am in a space where I can be of impact, where little African girls can look up at me. It’s an absolute honor.”
When she lived in Kibra Slums, many times, she saw people come bearing gifts for the slum children. Most of the time, they would take pictures of themselves handing out gifts and then leave, never to return. Even after her career took off and her mother and two younger siblings moved out, she knew she would never forget where she came from. She also knew she would never be that woman bringing a box of sanitary pads for photo OPs.
Eunice Mammito
She wanted to teach the youth here how to fish rather than to just hand out fish and click photos. In 2017, she founded KICA Initiative in Kibra to help artists.

“We have a studio where those interested can go and record, we have mentorship sessions where more experienced artists handhold the young ones. One day, I will put up a fully-fledged arts center in Kibra.”

“A single strong woman raised me the best way she could and now, I am doing everything I can to empower girls and boys in Kibra.”

Photo Credits

Location : K1 Club House     
Fashion stylist: Lady Mandy
Photographer: Bravin Odhiambo
Makeup Artist: Denis Karuri
Silver Cocktail Dress: At Hanifa By Hanifa
Black Tux: Laviera By Design
Accessories: Zanta Adeyde
Hair: Verose By Verushka
Lime Yellow Drapery: Lady Mandy
Head Wrap: Lady Mandy