Njambi McGrath: The Accidental Coconut Review – A New Look at Colonialism | Comedy
The Berlin conference of 1884, the legacy of Hugh Trevor-Roper and the religious practices of the Kenyan Watu wa Mungu sect – you cannot accuse Njambi McGrath of underestimating the intelligence of his audience. His show Accidental Coconut – a version of which is currently airing on BBC Radio 4 – unraveled McGrath’s identity as a child of a recently independent Kenya, still gripped by British mores and prejudices. Why did she grow up without any knowledge of her people and culture? Why are Western perceptions of Africa still so two-dimensional? Could the “white old men” who cut the continent away from Germany 140 years ago be there for something?
McGrath is committed to that stand-up rhythm that guides every idea quickly to a punchline, and so he can’t help but think that the accidental coconut is only scratching the surface of this fleshy material. (His book on the subject probably does him more justice.) The hour would also benefit from more tonal variety; its comic rhythms become repetitive. And the quality of the jokes is inconsistent. “There’s this new term called BAME,” one says, which dates the show not only as pre-pandemic (when it was first performed), but practically to the last century.
More often than not, McGrath brings new perspectives and a scintillating sardonicism to his account of colonialism in Africa and its aftermath. She mocks the relative virtues of Christian and Kikuyu missionary theology (for her, Agĩkũyũ), and dismayed that British children are being trained to eat in reference to starving Africans. Brexit ‘take back control’ is also put in its place, seen through the eyes of this daughter of Kenyan freedom fighters. Material about McGrath’s father threatens to break the seams of the series: there’s clearly a lot more to it than what we’ve got tonight. But the point is, the aftermath of racist British imperialism continues to be felt, even by a comic re-enacting her fractured self on a London stage in 2021. She could deliver tonight’s jokes with a little more animation. – but McGrath’s is still a voice worth listening to.