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Kenyan comedian Njambi McGrath: ‘My farmer parents exhibited their prize bulls and vegetables – Edinburgh doesn’t seem much different’

Njambi McGrath Njambi McGrath
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Njambi McGrath is a Kenyan born, UK-based comedian and writer. She tells Nick Awde why she loves the Edinburgh Fringe

This is your fifth Edinburgh in a row…

Because I love the chaos, the hullabaloo, the joys of achieving a successful show. And the lows are so low – but that’s what makes anything worth doing. There’s the journey from the conception of an idea to getting the material together, nurturing it, culminating with the final product. It is like having a child who reaches maturity every year.

The cost of bringing a show to Edinburgh is bank-breaking. I’m fortunate to have a show in the free festival, which makes it a bit cheaper, otherwise it’s just unaffordable. Getting a room is a lucky-dip.

Short run or long run, what are the pros and cons?

The biggest benefit of doing a full run is that you give everyone the opportunity to see your show and you get as much stage time as possible. A short run means it’s less painful and you can get back to normality quickly, but obviously you get less stage time.

Free or paid for?

I’ve done both and each have their merits. High-profile acts are more likely to get people paying to see their shows, while those same people are less likely to take a chance on an unknown by buying advance tickets. Free shows means people can sample you and they’re more likely to donate afterwards for a show they wouldn’t have paid for in advance.

Kenya is just waking up to comedy – it has really taken off

How does Edinburgh differ from how things work in Kenya?

Kenya is just waking up to comedy – it has really taken off. But there isn’t an established festival as most comedy is TV-based. Theatre in Nairobi and other towns is well established. Many schools have drama clubs for example.

Kenya is in a different place now, there are so many people connecting with entertainment. When I was growing up it wasn’t that big because, at the time, people were just grabbing the fruits of our freedom.

The internet is also a game-changer because everyone can watch plays and shows on their phones. Going to the theatre is the preserve of those who have night transport, which many don’t have access to. Festivals will be a thing, but not just yet.

How does Edinburgh help you make the next step?

My parents were farmers and every year we would go to the biggest agricultural show where farmers would exhibit their prize bulls and largest vegetables for all to marvel at and offer recognition. Edinburgh doesn’t seem much different.

I love that I can show off my skills to people from America, Asia, Australia and other parts of the world without travelling. Doing Edinburgh has pushed me to generate a huge amount of material, proving that I am able to write and produce quality shows year on year.

Is Edinburgh worth the investment?

Definitely. You have to take your goods to the market to find buyers. Plus there’s all the other people you meet from around the world – I’m a people person and I love networking. Because of all this, Edinburgh is the world’s stage.

Njambi McGrath is in African in New York: Almost Famous at Laughing Horse, Counting House, Edinburgh from August 3-24

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