Timothy Kimani Nderu, popularly known by his stage name, Njugush, has been a household name in the comedy scene for the last 10 years and is still making moves. Karen Muriuki writes about his childhood memories, acting career and where the 26-year-old is headed
I was born in Meru to a reverend and a business woman. My dad worked in Meru at the time. I have been to six primary schools because my dad got transferred a lot and so my childhood was never spent in one specific place. Our family was strong on religion, my dad being a reverend. I have a younger brother who is almost graduating from Maseno University.
My favourite childhood memory was preparing Githeri. Back in the day, it would be done for a full day because you would add firewood and water to the food but it still wouldn’t have cooked enough. The best thing about that, however, was that mum would let us play as long as the food was still cooking.
I’ve always been an actor, ever since I was in Sunday School. The first time I was on stage was in Class One. I had no idea what was happening because all my mum did was volunteer me to the adult actors who needed a child for a role. I’ll never forget that day, despite not having any lines. For the first time in my life, all the attention was on me as soon as I got onto that stage, and that’s when I realised that that is what I wanted to do. I slowly got into acting and funny enough, it has always been comedy for me.
I auditioned at the Kenya National Theatre just three days after clearing from high school, and that’s when life began. We did not have a drama club in my high school. Naaro High School in Kangaru. That was when I had my thirst for drama, for four full years!
It was not easy though. We rehearsed for a whole month of December, knowing that the jobs would come in January. We lived in Ruai at the time, and I was really dedicated, going for practice each and every single day. The shows came eventually, but they were in Meru. I got a loan of Sh1,000 from a friend because I felt embarrassed asking for money from my parents and never giving it back. We did the job and at the end of it all we were paid Sh500, keep it in mind that I had a loan of Sh1,000 to pay back. It got to a place where I realised that that was not the life I wanted to live, because I’m a visionary, and my life was not going towards the direction I wanted it to go.
I was a B student, but I got a C+ in my KCSE examinations. By then, there was a lot of competition to get into university, and I couldn’t make it with that grade. I had always loved journalism, so I decided to try my luck in applying for the course. I went to Catholic University and was told I could be admitted with my grade. The problem however, was when I saw the fee structure. There was no way my father could have managed to pay for it, seeing as my brother was in high school at the time. This was after trying my luck in so many schools. I went home disappointed, and one of my neighbours asked me what I had planned on doing with my life. He told me he knew of a better school, Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. I applied for the parallel system, and I was accepted.
I stopped stage acting in 2010. I would sneak into TV production classes because I was very interested. I joined the drama club which was like a cult because it was very addictive. We used to rehearse from 8 pm till 3 am. It was all about passion for us. That’s where I met Abel Mutua, OJ a.k.a Dennis Mugo and others, who were alumni and big shots of the acting scene at the time. They really liked how I portrayed an old man role.
Abel took my number and promised to call me. He called me three years later, imagine. I was almost graduating. He told me of Hapa Kule News which he really wanted me to be part of. News. I was so excited. I wore a tie going for the shoot; little did I know it was not serious news. I shot the scenes in a vest. For the first time in my life I felt good. It was something I loved. After shooting, Abel asked me if I had signed a payment contract. I was confused, because, I mean, why would they pay us and they were already making us stars just being on television? (Laughs) I did not mind doing it for free for the rest of my life. I told my mum to watch television the next Friday when the first episode would air. She, in turn, told almost everyone she knew. Unfortunately, my scene, which was to be the last, couldn’t be aired due to sound problems. We had to redo it and that’s how my journey started.
I then became a creative director for Hapa Kule News, which in turn gave birth to The Real House Helps of Kinoo, as its initial name, but was changed to The Real House helps of Kawangware, TRHK. We shot that for two years, after which I left. I left TRHK because Abel left as well. He had the initial concept of the show from way back and wrote all my scripts. I don’t write my own scripts, and because I wasn’t sure how that would play out I decided to leave as well. Scripting for me is paramount.
Currently, I’m script writing for a show on Maisha Magic which is under Abel. I’m also coming up with new concepts for myself and I’m a mentor for Be Your Own Boss, BYOB, which is a new network under Safaricom. I was on BBC radio till April where I hosted a youth governance show called BBC Sema on Sundays.
Abel Mutua has literally pushed me in my life. When I first met him, he was just another actor who was in the same school I went to, but I learnt a lot later on, from how one thinks production wise to how one carries themselves. Fame has never gotten to his head. He is the best person you’ll ever get to know. He values family and has his life in order. I look up to him in all aspects of life.
The fear of tomorrow keeps me going every single day. More so, because family has come into play. Keeping that in mind keeps me hustling. My greatest achievement is just becoming a household name. It is something that I have always appreciated. The greatest lesson I have learnt in my career is knowing my worth. Simple.
With fame, I know that I can never have a private life any more, but I’ve gotten out of trouble as well because of it. In terms of talking to fans, that’s something I love and will always do. It has been like that since I was a kid; communicating easily. I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Remembering where I came from at the end of the day is the most important thing to me.