Esther Kahuho no longer markets herself as a stand-up comedian. She doesn’t need to since, over the past three months since she started performing at Kenya Cultural Centre, we’ve come to know her more as the ‘man-made woman’ and ‘Madam President’.
But the term stand-up comedian doesn’t really apply to Esther anyway since she rarely stands up long enough to look like the typical chatty comedian. She’s chatty all right, but she also performs like a hyper-caffeinated comedian whose level of energy is stratospheric. From the moment she steps out on stage, she’s on the move, telling stories as she dashes from one end of the platform to the other.
What’s astounding is that she has appeared the last three months, including last Saturday night, giving three different versions of ‘the man-made woman’. It was mainly out of curiosity that I went to see her for a third time. I’d wondered whether she had anything new to tell me.
Turns out, she did. Esther’s a hilarious storyteller, mixing English and Swahili, and staying close to life experiences that us locals can easily relate to. The last time we met her (in May), she told stories about dating Kenyan men that sounded credible but also crazy, especially as she is so demonstrative in explaining whatever’s gone on in her life.
Previously, I’d noted that one reason for her success is her ability to reel off stories that come straight from her life experience. But seriously, do they really? This woman clearly has a fertile imagination and every tale and anecdote that she tells could be made up for our benefit. Who knows!
Questioning the historicity or fantasy of her stories derives directly from what she shared last weekend as she told stories about trying to get a job and struggling with interviews and her lack of credentials and qualifications.
She claimed she loved her first job, working in a bar (as opposed to a lounge) in Kangemi. But when her daughter came home with a school assignment, asking her to write about what her mother did for a living, Esther realized she needed to get a real nine-to-five job. She went for a range of interviews, but the only one that panned out was insurance.
That’s when she lifted the curtain on her secret trick. The secret to success, she said, was confidence, confidence as distinguished from lies! That’s when the serious fun began. She reminded us of the politician who’s having problems with people challenging his academic qualifications which he had claimed ‘with confidence’ were credentials he had earned. Yet was he speaking with confidence or was he lying?
This was the only time she got political in her monologue. She recalled another politician who’d told stories with confidence about the Head of State, but weren’t his stories a pack of lies?
She didn’t confirm one way or the other. But she did describe how she got her insurance job without credentials. It was by conniving boldly, confidently crafting a credible story, but which ultimately got figured out. She didn’t get the sack, but she was demoted.
So, possibly all three monologues by Esther (one shared every month since April) are wonderful fictions that she and her director, Dennis Ndenga, fabricated to keep her audience with her and on their toes.
What is certainly true about Esther is that she may pretend to be confident, but on Saturday night, she also shared self-reflective moments when she showed her personal insecurities. It was while waiting her turn for a job interview in which she knew she was in over her head.
She’d fly off into a corner and muse about the misfortune of not being good enough to do this work. And don’t we all have those kinds of moments when we admit our insecurities to ourselves and wonder what can we do next? How can we go on?
Esther revealed another secret of her success after that. Inadvertently, it also answered a question I’d had from the outset: why would such a dynamic woman call herself “man-made”? Well, the answer has to do with her dad.
He’s the one who saw the girl’s artistic talents which came mainly out of her mouth. So, Dad’s the man and we her audience are evidence of her credible and hilarious gift of the gab!