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Laughter’s Hidden Hero

It’s a typical morning at the Vitimbi ‘Hotel.’ Mzee Ojwang’, the spirited owner, is busy organizing the shelves in the small kibanda restaurant he runs with his wife, Mama Kayai. Suddenly, disaster strikes. A packet of flour slips from the shelf and explodes, covering his head, face, and shirt in a thick layer of white powder. Mama Kayai, walking in at that exact moment, nearly jumps out of her skin. For a split second, she thinks she’s seeing a ghost. But, ever the stalwart, she quickly recovers and resumes her chores, unperturbed by her humourist husband’s latest blunder.

Undeterred by his floury predicament, Ojwang’ decides it’s the perfect opportunity to interview two prospective employees. With a twinkle in his eye, he sets them a bizarre challenge: find a creative way to remove every trace of flour from his person. The duo hatches a hilarious plan. Each grabs one of Ojwang’s arms and starts bouncing him up and down like a human trampoline, shaking off the flour in a cloud of white dust. Ojwang’ laughs heartily, while Mama Kayai watches in a mix of amusement and exasperation. “Wololo Yaaayeee!” echoes through the kibanda, a fitting chorus to the comedic chaos.

A Legacy of Laughter

These kinds of slapstick routines kept Kenyans in stitches throughout the nearly 50-year career of Benson Wanjau, better known by his stage name, Mzee Ojwang’. If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, you’d remember him alongside unforgettable characters like Amka Twende, Othorong’ong’o Danger, Tamaa bin Tamaa, and Wariahee bin Hu. They brought joy and laughter to Kenyan households, making evenings something to look forward to.

Ojwang’ became a staple on shows like Kivunja Mbavu, Darubini, Vitimbi, and Vihoja Mahakamani, the iconic Kenyan court drama. A household name, he was eventually dubbed the father of Kenyan family comedy. By the time he passed away at the age of 78, he had earned the title of the grandfather of Kenyan comedy.

Presidential Giggles

Ojwang’ didn’t just entertain families; he even managed to tickle the funny bone of presidents. It was said that President Moi would carve out time in his busy schedule to unwind with Vitimbi. Imagine, a comedian whose antics could make a president laugh until he cried!

When was the last time you had a deep, hearty laugh? The kind that comes from the depths of your belly and leaves you wiping tears of joy from your eyes? Laughter, they say, is the elixir of life. It’s been proven to strengthen your immune system, alleviate physical pain, and improve the function of your blood vessels. So, in a way, Mzee Ojwang’ wasn’t just a comedian; he was a healer, enhancing the collective health of generations of Kenyans.

The Healing Power of Laughter

In 2024, Kenya was ranked 114 out of 143 countries in the World Happiness Report. Terrible, right? With rising depression and suicide rates, the value of comedy to our society is undeniable. Comedy, like sports, has the power to bring people together. Ojwang’s comedy did this uniquely. Most fans thought he was from Nyanza because of his stage persona. Few knew that Ojwang’ Hatari Ondiek Mang’ang’a Sibwor Brrrrrr was actually Benson Wanjau from Mukurweini in Nyeri. What mattered was that he made us laugh.

In his lifetime, Mzee Ojwang’ taught us the value of laughter. But the irony of the tragic ending for a man who made a nation laugh! Like many artists, with neither a pension nor health insurance, Mzee Ojwang’ struggled with medical bills in his old age. As we approach his ninth memorial in July, it’s a poignant reminder to appreciate those who enrich our cultural scene while they still live.

Copyright ©2014 David Waweru. Photo credit:

David Waweru

Author David Waweru

Writer, entrepreneur, trainer and consultant. Founder of Booktalk Africa and Will to Win Global. Member of the UNESCO Expert Facility on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Director at the Sports, Arts and Culture Sector Board, Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

More posts by David Waweru

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