My Favourite Game
How Doom, Mario Kart and comedy define Njambi McGrath
Njambi McGrath is a Kenyan-born comedian and writer, performing her sharp, one-liner style of stand-up regularly on the London circuit. She attended university in both London and New York, has an IT degree, is fluent in three languages and is currently writing a book. What game first got you excited? I grew up in Kenya, so while most people had all the technology to play games and all of that stuff – my husband, he got the chance to play games in arcades – my first game was Snoopy. It was the most unsatisfying game, because he would just walk up to the roof, and then you’d make him sleep… That was the first game I can ever remember playing. What did you play that on? I don’t know whether it was made in Japan or China or whatever, but it looked like a very crude version of a Game Boy. It was just a single screen. Somebody brought it to school, and it was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s that?’. We played it for ages and ages. I was in boarding school, and so people used to bring all sorts of things. We would trade sweets to be able to play games. That’s the only one that I’ve never seen again – I don’t know where they got it from. That was the first game I kind of got addicted to. When did you move from Kenya to the UK? Did you have access to more games then? I was 18. When I was a student, I used to work in a cyber cafe, and so I had access to online games. There was a guy I used to work with who introduced me to Doom. During breaks we used to play multiplayer – shooting the hell out of each other. So he introduced me to what is quite a violent game! But you know, I think when you’re younger, you don’t actually see the violence in the videogame. How did your parents feel about that? They are fairly strict – but you know, they wouldn’t even understand what it is! I guess any teenager, at whatever age, will always do things that their parents can never understand or comprehend. I don’t think they knew what I was playing. Did that extend to when you got started in comedy? Yeah, they didn’t understand! What I call non-traditional format jobs are always surprising to African parents. When I was growing up, as a girl you had to be a teacher, or a nurse, or a secretary. So anything like comedy is quite puzzling. If I was a singer, they would get it, because in church people sing all the time. But standing in front of people… And in many cases, the comedy we had in Kenya was slapstick, very silly comedy. So it’s not even just standing in front of people and trying to make them laugh – to them, that’s comedy. Your style of comedy is very different – incisive and political. Who inspired you growing up? I like the edginess of Joan Rivers. She pushed boundaries. I like – not to shock, but you know, there are some things that people say “No, no, you can’t talk about that.” And I like the sharpness of Robin Williams, because his style is just punch, punch, punch. A combination of those two is kind of the comedy I’ve got, along with my passion for politics. Do you still have time to play games?
“You know, I think when you’re younger, you don’t actually see the violence in the videogame”
Hardly any. I’ve been fighting so hard to finish writing my show, to finish writing my book… I did get into New Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart Wii. There are still some elements of fighting but it’s not the realistic violence of Doom. I have a DS, and we have a Wii. At some point, my husband and I just said, instead of going to the tennis courts, why don’t we get Wii games and play tennis on the Wii? Which is lame. What, then, is your favourite game? I would have to say Mario Kart. When you’re a comedian, you drive to gigs all the time, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to get speeding tickets. When you’re in Mario Kart, nobody cares. You’re going so fast, and crashing… I suppose it’s kind of the relief of it. I don’t know what it is, I think it’s the speed. Perhaps the slapstick humour appeals, given your roots? Actually, yes – that’s the kind of comedy we had on TV when I was growing up. Somebody would see a cockroach and they would be jumping on the table and falling off of it. So yeah, I guess so.