Gatekeeper or dream killer? Victor Ber says making comedy is no joke

Churchill Show Creative Director Victor Ber. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • He cites Shix Kapienga, a talented actress, comedian and a radio presenter, as one of his success stories.
  • He says getting the talent out of some people is hard.

He has been on the Kenyan entertainment scene for almost two decades now, but the past week has been one of the most trying for Victor Ber, the Churchill Show creative director.

Mr Ber, a seasoned theatre producer and actor, has lately come under heavy criticism by upcoming comedians over what they say is stern gatekeeping which has killed many a comedian’s dream.

Last week, popular entertainer Zainabu Zeddy, in a social media “rant”, described Ber as “depression maker” for those who make it to the auditions for the country’s most popular comedy show.

Zeddy’s accusations came as the entertainment industry mourned comedian Joseph Musyoki Kivindu aka Kasee whose death was linked to depression and alcoholism.

GOOD GATEKEEPER

Zeddy asked: “For how long will you continue to make artists suffer? For how long will artists live with depression? Comedians, please, do not comment because you will not be allocated slots. I have already burned the bridges. The day it will down on you that God is the provider and giver, you will never beg anyone for such opportunities.”

The post elicited a huge debate online on the character of Mr Ber, with his critics drowning out his supporters.

So, is he a good gatekeeper or dream killer?

“I am a gatekeeper and I do no break any one’s dreams. I go looking for talent in the streets but things change when they (comedians) become big shots,” Mr Ber says.

He cites Shix Kapienga, a talented actress, comedian and a radio presenter, as one of his success stories.

“Shix Kapienga used to sit on a stone in Kawangware. Someone came and told us about her and how she was entertaining people over there. We went talked to her and the rest is history. So, tell me, how am I killing people’s dreams?”

He says getting the talent out of some people is hard. “Sometimes it takes up to seven months. I even give them bus fare. Then when I think one is ready to go to stage, I take them back to the first lines they wrote when they walked in here.”

He says the problem now starts when they become rich and famous, and they start getting endorsement gigs. He says some do not know how to handle fame and end up blowing their chances and end up destitute.

CREATIVE GENERATIONS

“They forget that when they walked away from the show, a chance opened for someone else and they cannot come back because their space has already been taken,” he says.

Among those who share his sentiments are popular duo Josephat Muchesia alias Mchungaji and Gilbert Wanyonyi aka Mtumishi of Creative Generations.

They say some comedians are falling into depression not because of being denied a chance to perform but because of leading fake lifestyles. The duo, who rose to fame through the Churchill Show, are of the view that societal pressure is what has pushed some of their colleagues to live beyond their means -- and when the going gets tough, they fall into depression.

Last November, Churchill Show comedian Njenga Mswahili was found dead in Ndonyo Market, Dagoretti South, after being hit by a train. He was laid to rest at the Lang’ata Cemetery. Comedian Eric Omondi later said Njenga had been suffering from depression.

About Zeddy’s accusations, Mr Ber says that the two have always been friends and he didn’t understand why she wrote the things she shared on social media.

LIT FIRE

“Since she wrote those things, I tried to keep it to myself, but she kept posting more and more and it wasn’t until Wednesday that I picked up my phone and texted her and she called me back and talked for half an hour,” he says. “I know her very well and when you watch the videos, she cannot edit the way they have been edited.”

He believes someone is behind the videos attributed to Zeddy.

During their conversation he says that he told her that what she had done was not ok, but he believes she had her reasons, which she explained but he could not divulge.

“I told her that she had lit fire in my house by involving my wife. People believe what she shared.”

Mr Ber is married to another popular comedian, Carolyne Wanjiku akaTeacher Wanjiku.

On Kasee, whose body was found by the roadside in Nginduri, Kinoo, after he had gone drinking with friends, he says: “When people say I have killed him, yet the autopsy showed that it was poison, it hurts and that is why I called Zeddy. After our talk, she agreed to delete everything she had shared online.”

The post that she shared ignited mixed reactions from comedians among them Sleepy David who castigated her, accusing her of spreading falsehoolds.

“For all of you judging a man you don’t even know, you need to meet Ber,” wrote Sleepy. “He has paid his price in building the industry. Ask yourself why no comedian is saying anything about this man amidst the drama. I have so much respect for Victor, did you actually know that Ber was among the few people that hung out with Kasee before he passed on?”

WATERING HOLE

Ber says he and Kasee used to hang out “at the same watering hole.”

Sleepy argued that Ber is not God to determine who should shine in comedy.

Asked if he would welcome Zeddy back to the Churchill Show, he said, “yes, without a doubt.”

But in an interview on Thursday on YouTube with comedian and radio presenter Jalang’o, Zeddy said she will be leaving Churchill Show after eight years. She said she is not quitting comedy but will use other platforms for her performances.

Insisting that she was not fired, Zeddy added that she is one of the oldest comedians in the show and “you know there is a need for growth.” Zeddy said she is taking her performances online.

Mr Ber, described by some as a heartless person, says he has a way he works with people and if there is no discipline, things might get out of hand.

SACRED STAGE

“When I was not working on the show, sometimes Churchill himself would call me and ask me to come over and make sure that people toe the line,” he says. “They might think I am heartless but it is my way of preparing them for what they will encounter when they step on that stage.”

He describes the Churchill Show as a sacred stage. He says the people crucifying him have no idea what goes on in a production.

“Clients have their demands: NTV will tell you what they want, on social media, fans will also demand a certain person to be on the show; when we go on tour, counties also have their demands. Hundreds of people come for auditions and because of all these demands we cannot fit them in and we have to go by what the client wants.”

Mr Ber, who used to be a partner at Heartstrings Kenya, a theatre company, says Churchill Show needs a touch of freshness.

“Churchill himself should hang his boots. He should go the way of The Daily Show in the US. We should have, for example, something like Churchill Show hosted by Sleepy David.”

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