What you need to know:
- Eric Omonid's life has been about looking for opportunities to grow his brand and earn top dollar.
- The celebrated comedian's recent gig project, Wife Material, was a hit that attracted viewership and debate.
Working as a full-time comedian and getting paid handsomely for it is more than just clowning around. It is a tough job, one that requires a constant flow of creativity, especially when most of your content is targeted at the demanding and vocal online audience.
For the last decade, 36-year-old Eric Otieno Omondi alias “Erico” has been trying to perfect – and going beyond – comedy to widen his range of content. The recent gig project, Wife Material, was a hit that attracted viewership and debate.
It hasn’t been easy for him – something the millions of his online followers and fans may not realise.
“It’s not easy to make people laugh. I can set my clock for five minutes and ask you or anyone else to crack us up. How many can do that?” Eric asks.
It is a Sunday morning and I have just caught up with the funny man at the Mo Sounds warehouse studios in Syokimau, Machakos County.
He is busy shooting a new project whose details he does not want to reveal for now.
Getting Eric to sit down for an uninterrupted interview is not easy. There is always something or someone vying for his attention. If it’s not his mobile phone buzzing every couple of minutes, then it is a member of his crew asking for something – a prop, a clarification or anything.
Then there is the amiable Eric himself, always itching to move around the set to inspect things.
I somehow manage to pin him down inside his luxurious Range Rover where he has retreated to pick up another call.
Throughout his comedy journey, he has struggled and fought many battles in the Kenyan comedy industry on his way to establish an empire.
Eric may be his own man now, attracting fans from across the world online but one such struggle he feels obliged to talk about is the tag slapped on him by bloggers and the mainstream media when he made the risky decision to quit Churchill Show – a platform that helped launch his career.
“When I decided to leave the show, it took me three years to wash away the “former Churchill Show comedian” tag. Many didn’t believe I would make it on my own.
Some people, including those who worked at the show, asked me to go back but I had a vision. I was stubborn, I had outgrown the show and wanted to go out and establish the Eric-the-comedian brand,” he says with a cheeky smile.
His exit from the show was meticulously planned as he took his own long and difficult path filled with risks.
“When I was leaving, my name was already huge. I landed a one-year endorsement deal with the OLX app that had just launched. I also had a little savings to see me through. But to prove my doubters and critics wrong, I staged my first solo stand-up comedy, Eric Omondi Untamed: A one-man, one-hour stand-up comedy. This had never been witnessed before in Kenya,” he says.
The transition period also featured a TV show that collapsed and prompted critics to write him off – prematurely, it seems.
Things got even better for the comedian as more money kept flowing in. Ever since, he has been signing mega deals with companies and corporates that seek to popularise their goods, services or brands.
About five years ago, Eric was among the top earning emcees in the country, charging not less than Sh150,000 to host events or weddings.
He doesn’t take up such jobs anymore because he feels he has outgrown them and that they no longer add value to his brand.
“I haven’t been an emcee for some time now because of a number of factors. One is because of my busy schedule. The brand has tremendously grown. Lots of huge projects are always lined up for me to undertake and they demand time. As such, I can’t compromise (my brand) — unless one is willing to pay Sh500,000 or more,” he says.
He received his first Sh1 million from telecommunications giant Airtel through its “Ni Kuhama” campaign nine years ago. Two years later, Eric was featured in the Young Rich documentary where he revealed he was worth Sh30 million at the time. Much has changed since then.
Last year was one to forget for many, especially in the entertainment industry, given the vagaries of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Eric says he has not been badly affected. Instead, he has been busy creating funny skits for his online audience, most of which were endorsements of products and services.
When things appeared to ease up last November, he opened the gates to his Bigtyme Entertainment studios in Nairobi.
“I have always wanted to have a big studio for commercial shoots and video recording. This, to me, was a dream-come-true,” he says.
The studio sits on a one-acre piece of leased land in Lavington. The expansive studio boasts of the Mama Kayai Park set up for commercial and video shoots as well as hosting mini events.
The park is named in honour of veteran Vitimbi actress Mary Kavere. There is also the Mzee Ojwang Studio that is part of four production studios. This is named after another Vitimbi actor, now deceased, whose real name was Benson Wanjau.
Six vintage cars are on site to be used in video shoots, although only two of the classic cars are operational.
The comedian is currently in talks with the Wilson Airport management regarding the purchase of a grounded plane that he intends to drag to his facility and transform into another studio.
“Our intention is to offer the best in quality when it comes to commercial videos, short films, documentaries and host events,” Eric says about the studio and points out that it employs 15.
Since its launch, the studio has received over 100 music demos from artistes.
However, the first complete project to be released by the studio was the controversial show Wife Material that sent the social media into a frenzy.
The twists and plots got a majority confused with many thinking the well-choreographed and scripted drama was true.
The comedian tricked his fans into thinking that he was seriously looking for a wife to marry by placing an advert on social media, attracting many prospective brides who sent in videos. He even invested money into staging a glamorous wedding ceremony.
“I was hanging out with a few friends of mine who jokingly told me that I needed to marry because I was not getting any younger. Then the idea clicked in my head and I said to them, ‘I will get married but will have to find a wife online and the fans will choose from the 10 selected wives.’ We had to make the show believable and that meant seeking the services of a wedding planner and finding a perfect venue which was Green Park. It was a real but fake wedding that had us invest over Sh1 million to make it appear real,” he says.
The investment was worth the hassle as Eric says he made “good money” out of the show with the wedding video trending at number one on YouTube in the country for five consecutive days.
However, he adds that the success wasn’t without its drawbacks as most corporate brands withdrew endorsement deals.
“Most felt that I had gone overboard and wasn’t necessarily representing the brands and so they terminated the deals with me. It hurts losing money but sometimes you make money by losing some,” says Eric.
Band BeCa and Shakila
For musicians’ duo Carol Kamweru and Becky Sangolo of Band BeCa and 19-year-old socialite Shakila, appearing on the controversial Wife Material show was for clout-chasing to further their “careers” in showbiz.
Says Carol: “We got in the Wife Material for clout and to be honest, that has really helped our social media numbers and brand grow. Now, most people know about Band BeCa and our music unlike before.”
“This is something we carefully thought about and even our parents were involved. They knew of the whole plot; that it had to appear real and they supported us even when the backlash came,” she says.
But clout wasn’t everything they got. They earned some money for the roles they played in the show.
However, the duo remains reluctant in divulging details of how much they made, as was the case with Shakila who added zeal to the show.
“Is that really necessarily? Of course, nothing comes for free but the main purpose was to entertain my fans which I believe I did,” says the controversial woman who approached Eric to be featured on the show.
When asked, Eric, too, did not want to talk about the money — including claims by sources that he paid the women at least Sh100,000 each.
“Of course there was money involved for everyone who took part in Wife Material, but that’s not important. Just as what happens in Las Vegas remains in Las Vegas, what happened in Wife Material remains in Wife Material.”
Despite its success in the three weeks that the show played out, it wasn’t without controversy. Irked Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua reprimanded the comedian, accusing him of promoting dirty content.
However, Eric says he doesn’t really care about what the KFCB boss thinks of him, accusing Mutua of failing the entertainment industry.
“He doesn’t understand the industry. He has done nothing to help artistes. During the pandemic, what has he done? What has he ever done to uplift our industry since he got to that position? When I launched the studios, I expected him to call and congratulate me for the milestone and even offer to sponsor a number of the artistes. All he does is wait for opportunities to play PR.,” says Eric.
Popular in Tanzania
Controversial or not, Eric doesn’t care much about his critics. He cares more about his brand growth and is willing to go any extra mile to achieve that.
At the moment he feels he has conquered the Kenyan market and Tanzania where he enjoys a huge following.
He attributes his rising popularity in Tanzanian to his equally controversial superstar friend, Diamond Platnumz.
“When I did the parody to Diamond’s Nasema Nawe hit song, which I named Nabeba Mawe, he reached out to me and told me his then-wife Zari loved it. She thought it was hilarious. He later invited me to host a private event at his home and ever since we have been good friends. He has engineered most of my visits and shows in Tanzania,” Eric says.
But during his numerous visits to Tanzania, Eric noticed how Diamond was adored and supported.
Eric embarked on doing more of Diamond’s subsequent hit songs’ parodies and this boosted his popularity.
"It was a deliberate strategy that has worked so well for me,” he says. “Tanzanians are very keen to support their own. I have done skits even about their president and the response has been amazing. I doubt if there is any Kenyan singer or comedian who has had more shows in Tanzania than me.”
Not marrying soon
Beyond the social media drama or while on stage, the comedian who was born and raised in Kisumu is a reserved kind of person.
He was born to a policeman father and an entrepreneur mother. Five years ago, Eric who turns 37 in March was considering settling down but that changed when he broke up with his Italian fiancée Chantal Grazioli. They had been together for close to five years.
“I knew Chantal was the one but after we broke up, to be frank with you I don’t think marriage is a priority to me anymore. All I’m sure is that I will have more children but marriage is out of my mind. I’m more focused into building my empire as I compete with the likes of Trevor Noah,” said the man who is sometimes referred to as the president of comedy in Africa.
For now, he says, focus is on his next project that he believes will be bigger than Wife Material.