Having gotten lost quite a number of times, I finally arrive at my destination, an office along Ngong Road. I am as my crew and I wait for our vehicle to be ushered inside the building. Some kids are seemingly mobbing a dark blue car. At this point, I am just grateful the kids are the poor driver’s biggest problem and not the obstruction we are causing. The security guard categorically tells us that we cannot park our car inside the premises. My team tries to negotiate our way promising to take only a second.

Just as I step out of the car, ready to pull out the big guns (read here beg), a voice behind me adds, “It is just for a couple of minutes. Lighten up.” Incidentally, all this time, I had been obstructing my interviewee for the day, Eric Omondi. Such is his brand power that based on his recommendation, I go from a pariah to a VIP as my team is effortlessly ushered in.

As I look at the comedian, casually clad in a white T-shirt, faded jeans and blue rubber shoes, I realise he’s every bit the man on the street, the man you see on TV: affable, amusing, and amenable. The kids, who were previously mobbing his car, now mob him, literally begging for a ‘selfie’. Of course, he complies.

Even as we settle down for the interview, it is apparent that every one wants a piece of Eric. He grins at me cheekily and confesses that he might have to leave the interview in a couple of minutes. Apparently, he had been double booked, and where we were sitting, was in the middle of his other meeting where show producers kept ‘politely’ interrupting us. This would be the trend for the remainder of the interview as phone calls and text messages kept pouring in.

“When did you first realise that you are a big deal?” I ask.

“I was walking along Jamia Mall, Muindi Mbingu Street, when a random man yelled at me asking if I was the funny guy on the Churchill Live show,” he answers casually.

Ironically, this was not the 29-year-old’s first time on television. His dream had always been to be a news anchor. He was already hosting a kid’s show and had even done a few news stories for NTV.

“A certain editor heard my news pieces and said that he never wanted to hear my voice on air again. Lucky for me, I had already done a few segments on the Churchill Live show and friends and colleagues convinced me that my calling was in entertainment. I decided to take the plunge,” says Eric.

And the plunge certainly paid off as episode after episode he endeared himself to audience’ hearts both on and off screen.

From a village boy to a star

But for Eric, way before the cars, huge corporate endorsement deals and a lime-lit career, comedy was simply a personality trait; a way to have fun with friends and to keep his family entertained as he led an uneventful life in Kisumu County. His father was a police chief inspector and his mother a businesswoman. Life was bliss.

But all this changed when in 2002, his mother suddenly died of tongue cancer.

“When my mom died, everyone literally walked out of the house. My eldest brother quit school and turned to drugs, my younger sister eloped with her husband to Germany, my younger brother moved to Kitale to live with my uncle, and my dad remarried,” he sheds light on his difficult past.

Eric was luckier. It was at this time that he met his foster mother, Evelyn Muchocho with whom he fellowshipped in the same church. She took him in. While discussing about his plans to become a news anchor, Evelyn’s sister, Maxine Muchocho convinced him to apply to Daystar University.

By this time, Eric’s family financial situation had taken a dip and things were about to get worse. Eric’s university budget for the first year alone was Kshs1.6 million. Through a fundraiser, he managed to raise a paltry Kshs 24,000. After only one semester in Daystar, he was kicked out for lack of fees. A year later, in 2004, his father died from hypertension related complications.

But what started as a tragedy soon turned out to be a blessing. That is, according to Eric.

“After my father’s death, I missed a whole year in university for lack of fees. However, I later discovered that I had been elected in absentia into the Daystar Christian Fellowship Committee, which in addition to my then orphan status made me eligible for consideration for a sponsorship as a needy student. I got a full scholarship,” explains Eric.

This would be the game changer in Eric’s life. Exactly a year later while performing a narrative during one of Daystar’s numerous events, he would be discovered by one of Kenya’s most successful comedians, Daniel Ndambuki, the brains behind the comedy hit shows, Churchill Live and Churchill Show.

“The event was organised by a friend who asked me to perform. Churchill was the guest of honour and after watching my performance took my number. Two years later, I was performing in Season one, Episode 13 of the Churchill Live show,” says Eric.

His performances on Churchill Live would later land him lucrative advertising and endorsement deals with corporates such as telecom companies Safaricom, Airtel and online sales company OLX putting him in the big leagues with other names in a relatively short span of time.

Stepping up and stepping out

Eric has performed on the Churchill Show for three seasons. Last year, he made a conscious decision to leave the show.

“One day I walked into an edit suite when editors were putting finishing touches on a show. They were torn over whom to omit because the show was too long. When they picked me over a relatively new comedian who was just as good, I knew it was time to leave and give other people a chance to shine,” says Eric.

Eric put together a team to position himself as a brand. His first show, Eric Omondi Untamed, rolled out in March 2014. The show, which featured some of Eric’s best works, was successful. He has since had two more, with the latest one being last year December. To date he has had shows in Germany, Britain, South Africa, USA and Nigeria.

“Some of my best shows are in foreign countries. I am lucky because Kenya is known for people like US president Barrack Obama, Lupita Nyong’o and athletes from whom I can glean content from,” adds Eric.

Eric affirms that it has not been easy transitioning out of the comfort zone that was the Churchill Show. The first time he had done it, he failed miserably.

“It’s definitely hard leaving something so secure. Now I have to think about the sponsors, locations, among other things, but I have a capable team that does most of the logistics. I concentrate mostly in bringing in the funny bit,” says Eric

So does comedy come as easy to him as it looks?

“Yes and no. People stop me on the street and demand I tell them a joke on the spot so that’s a bit tricky. However, I have a team of writers and I can assure you, we have a lot of fun during our brainstorming sessions. That does not mean we do not do our due diligence. We have to keep abreast with current affairs. Comedy is like milk, you either make tea with it immediately or it expires,” says Eric the philosopher.

To him whom much is given, much is expected

But for Eric, branding is not all about fame and fortune. It is also about giving back.

“To get to where I am today, I believe it is God’s doing. When you are long gone, people remember you through your children. Churchill took me under his wing when no one knew who I was and I do the same for up coming artistes. I incorporate them into my shows and help them network with established artistes in the industry,” he says.

Speaking of children, I ask for his thoughts on the ballooning paparazzi culture in the country that has seen him being accused of breaking numerous girls’ hearts to fathering several children.

“I have invaded people’s homes for several years through their television screens, it is unfair for me to expect my life not to be invaded,” says Eric.

“What of the girls and rumours?” I prod on.

“If I am somebody’s father, then I have not been informed. However, I do look forward to having a family some day – two girls and a boy. Their mother will probably be the disciplinarian of the family. I love kids so much. I’ll spoil them rotten!” says Eric cheekily.

As we wrap up our interview, I ask, rather casually, just how much he’s worth.

Smiling his signature toothy grin, he starts to walk away then turns and simply says: “It pays.”

akello@parents.co.ke

Published in January 2015