What you need to know:
- In the course of his work, some people get incensed and rebuke him.
- Others choose to be mute, leaving the scene quietly but evidently alarmed.
You are seated somewhere in town, worrying about the rising commodity prices and all your other problems, then a man shows up; microphone in hand.
He is apparently reporting live for a TV station. And he makes the report about you. He may say you are there because you have been ejected from your house after gambling away your rent. Or that you are a drug trafficker calculating your next move. Anything outrageous will be said.
Some get incensed and rebuke him; others play along; others choose to be mute, leaving the scene quietly but evidently alarmed. Whatever the reaction, one sure thing is that prankster Nixon Andare, alias Nicki Bigfish, will make you uncomfortable for a while as cameras roll.
In his interview with Saturday Nation, he revealed that his more than 10 years as a prankster — which include being the leader of the team that shot Naswa pranks for Citizen TV between 2011 and 2013 — have taught him many things about Kenyans. Among them is that men are more “cowardly” than women. More on that later.
In the latest recording that has drawn controversy, he found groups of people resting on various spots in Nairobi and, as he aped a TV reporter, called them rude agents and caretakers who lock doors for poor tenants for missing rent payment even for a day. You could see the nonplussed faces of people who did not take kindly to being called things they aren’t, and on camera no less.
Did that make his landlord send him an eviction notice as he posted on social media recently? In our interview, he was vague on the specifics, raising questions on whether this was a stunt; the kind celebrities are known to pull for attention.
Regardless, for the people involved in the “rude caretakers” prank, it was irritation par excellence. But irritation is Bigfish’s stock-in-trade.
He is often the prankster on the prowl in the streets of Nairobi, pretending to report over one matter or another. If not pretending to report for TV, he is making a phone call that somehow has to involve you, something like: “I am here seated with men who have refused to take a bath because it is too cold.”
Some pranks have gone wrong, getting him roughed up and even assaulted. There was a time a passer-by thought someone was in danger and drew a gun, nearly turning into a bloodbath a prank session that involved pouring a liquid on a car to make it look like it was about to be burnt while someone was inside.
Did you know that the 32-year-old comedian cannot prank a pregnant woman and will hardly make his practical jokes on disabled people?
Bigfish was born in the Huruma slums of Nairobi. The third born in a family of six, he was attracted to performing arts early in life. After completing Form Four at Eastleigh High School in 2008, he immersed himself fully into the activities of Wasanii Pamoja, a group of then many up-and-coming artistes from Huruma that included Bahati, Willy Paul, Mr Seed and Eko Dydda.
“I used to be a gospel comedian. We would be on the lookout for shows in gospel outreach events. We would also perform in some secondary schools, campuses, or even churches,” recalled Bigfish.
In his formative years, he was also a swimmer, and that is where he got his stage name. His debut appearance on TV was on K24 in 2009 on a show called Pasua. He was the director.
Before Pasua went on air, they had presented a proposal to the station for a comedy show. One of the segments of the show comprised pranks and the editors thought it should be the only offering.
“We took the comedy show proposal to every TV station. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. But at some point, K24 called us and told us: ‘You see that show you brought? There is that segment you had. Want that alone.’ So, we concentrated on pranks,” he said.
The show lasted about three months then was terminated due to differences between Bigfish’s team and the production team.
In 2008, they had also approached Citizen TV and presented a pilot for a prank show. This would give birth to Naswa. It took almost four years for the station to okay it.
“We had done so many pilots and sent them to many stations, but rejections kept coming. On the day we were told Citizen TV would start airing it, we were not even sure. I was like, ‘If it starts, it starts. If it won’t happen, we’re used to these heartbreaks.’ When I saw ‘coming soon’, I knew this was it. March 9, 2011, is the day the show debuted. At that time, it was a big deal to appear on TV,” said Bigfish.
Naswa was controversial from the word go. Some pranks were downright mischievous and others appeared to make fun of people’s kindness. But many found the videos funny and a great source of entertainment.
Bigfish said they spared no effort in making the pranks as funny as possible. He says the effort was because of their background. “You work hard knowing that that holds your life; you’re not doing it for fun. So, when given a chance, you do it like your life depends on it. That’s why we were making crazy shows,” he said.
One prank involved hiring a coffin, which they used for a prank about dead people suddenly resurrecting, and there is a funny story about it.
“On the first time we hired it, we returned it late and the shop had closed. And our town office was too small to accommodate the coffin. So, we had to take it home (then in Kariobangi South). We took it to the residence and people were asking, ‘What’s wrong?’” he recalled.
“We used to stay together, and so people were wondering who had died. But once a prankster, always a prankster. You won’t tell people that this is a prop and explain what’s going on. You tell them a lie and see the reaction. We woke up in the morning screaming as people knocked on our doors,” added Bigfish, laughing. “But it’s fun if you ask me.”
Bigfish and the Rib Crackers team that he leads—with most members drawn from Huruma — had a run on primetime TV for three years.
In 2013, they parted company with Citizen TV and they moved to K24 and got a show called Wahiwa.
“By then, we had opened our own company, bought our own equipment, and even created some employment opportunities for the people who handle cameras, graphics, editing, extras, and such,” said Bigfish.
“We also got more time to do what we were passionate about—stand-up comedy. We joined Churchill Show in 2014, and used to be aired in their episodes on NTV until Covid-19 struck and live shows were cancelled.”
Today, Bigfish is capitalising on the Internet to circulate his art. His YouTube channel has close to 120,000 followers and the video platform runs advertisements through his channel, bringing him money. He says the channel’s growth was mostly due to Covid-19. When the pandemic hit, his group of six met and agreed to venture into solo projects.
And building on clips he shot for an Ebru TV show called Jibonge, he has taken his pranking to higher levels. His pranks where he approaches strangers resting in town and makes them part of something uncomfortable have been his mainstay.
There was a day he went out to ask for a kiss from random women, and he was surprised that one agreed to it — though it later put him in trouble with her fiancé.
“He DMed me (sent a private message on social media), saying he was looking for me. I asked him, ‘Are you threatening me?’ And he said ‘yes,’” recalls Bigfish.
There was a day he pretended to be a student asking for money from a parent. To make it plausible, he would let the stranger seated next to him at a public park take the phone and pretend to be the teacher. Some played along and pretended to be teachers.
Through these, he has experienced the peculiar habits of Kenyans in uniquely.
“The number one lesson I’d say is that men are more fearful than women. Or maybe it’s that men react faster than women. An instance is the coffin prank. When people saw a corpse coming to life, ladies would stand still. Perhaps their shock happens within. But men run. A snake shows up and a man will scream while running away. A woman will stay rooted on the spot, scared but stable, then finally leave. I’ve noticed that a lot,” he said.
He has also noted the suspicion with which Nairobi residents treat strangers. The notion that everyone is out to con others is written all over the hesitation he witnesses when in a prank where a stranger’s help is needed. He has also noticed that Kenyans can be accomplices to a con game ever so simply.
“There is a prank in which I was lying to people through a fake call: ‘You’ve won Sh100,000. Are you happy? Send Sh2,000 to this number, and I’m here with this person.’ And you give the person (a stranger on the same bench at a public park) the phone and he joins in by saying, ‘Yes, you’ve won; send the money.’ So, I think Kenyans are also ready to collaborate in some deals. That makes us unique people in our own way.”
A man who considers himself an introvert, Bigfish says he prefers his own company, but the nature of his work forces him to venture out and interact with people. He believes everyone is a prankster in their own right, only that he took it to another level. And his long stay in the field has earned him experience that he thinks gives him an edge over any pranksters who try to emerge.
“Now I am conversant with everything. That’s why I think it’s somehow difficult for a beginner. Most people try but fizzle out,” he said.
“But with my experience, in town I know the plainclothes officers, for instance. There are a lot of them. I also have a good relationship with a number of kanjos (county inspectorate enforcers). So, I’ve usually sorted out the permits and everything, and I know which location to get which reaction, where I want a heavy or slow flow of traffic,” he said.
He has also learnt to draw the line on whom to prank.
“I can’t prank pregnant women and disabled people. I can prank the disabled but only for specific feel-good pranks. There are also some police officers who ask me to delete their clips because they’re in uniform,” he says.
Also, he informs everyone involved in the pranks that it is a light moment being filmed. “If I prank a person, I tell them it’s a prank. If they have issues, I delete the video. And then I don’t do pranks in banks. You never know when a gun will be cocked. But I can do pranks at the State House.”
Some of his relatives were at first apprehensive when he ventured into pranks, particularly his father, an electrical engineer, who thought he would be better off furthering his education.
“He would be told, ‘Your boy is doing good; we’ve seen him on TV.’ He wouldn’t be that impressed because he believed I should be studying. But with time he understood. I think it’s the culture of our society. Going into the arts is seen as a wishy-washy job.
“It’s like when I started appearing on TV, a woman who was our neighbour told me, ‘I have a son who spends hours on end smoking bhang. Rather than him idling around, can’t you take him with you to do those jokes?’ I wonder whether he would tell a lawyer the same thing: ‘Rather than keep smoking bhang here, can’t you take him to court to defend people?’” says Bigfish.
Besides his online platforms, Bigfish also makes money by being a paid influencer for businesses. The latest bumper deal he bagged, he says, was taking part in an advertisement for video streaming platform Netflix.
Asked whether he is happy with what he earns, he says: “Of course, everywhere there is room for improvement. But so far, so good.”
At least five people are directly employed by his content production, and more are usually engaged whenever the task requires it.
Carlos Xperience is his childhood friend and has taken part in most of the pranks shot. In a typical prank, there are usually two cameras, two security people on standby and sometimes police.
Carlos described Bigfish, his boss, as a hardworking person who is also kind.
“He treats us well. We’ve never been treated like this in our lives. Si unaona hadi tumenona?” he posed. “I’d ask for God to bless him exceedingly.”
For Bigfish, 2022 will be a year of more pranks. Brace yourselves.