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Elsa Majimbo Has Re-Written the Book

  • Words: Isabelle Hore-Thorburn

  • Photography: Travys Owen

In this FRONTPAGE interview, taken from HIGHEnergy, a print magazine by Highsnobiety, we spoke to comedic sensation Elsa Majimbo, a humorist breaking down borders and expectations with aplomb.

In a year spent anxiously glaring at our phones, waiting for the next disaster to take shape, a 19-year-old Kenyan comic rose to fame with a surprisingly relatable message: “I wanted to meet up, but, ooo, it’s a pandeeeemic!” As I adjusted to endless lockdown measures and social restrictions, her message had a personal appeal. The pandemic had given me a convenient and unchallengeable social out.

Through mouthfuls of chips, Elsa Majimbo pushed back against the nostalgic preoccupation for pre-Covid life with a simple admission: “I miss no one,” she grinned — and it struck a chord. As the pandemic progressed, Majimbo carved out a new space in comedy (from the comfort of her bedroom).

She tells me that this was her first experience of really making people laugh. “We’re all stuck at home, and I miss no one. It was the first video to really go viral, and it showed me that people didn’t only relate to what I had to say, they genuinely enjoyed it.”

Her high-confidence, zero-sentimentality aphorisms tapped into the absurdity of life in lockdown without languishing in the mundanity of it all. In doing so, Majimbo revealed a largely unspoken feature of the pandemic — some introverts were thriving.

When stay-at-home orders first went into effect, comedy diverged into two distinct avenues. Celebrities shared “relatable” content from their gigantic homes while emerging content creators tended to commiserate over the “new normal” as they gestured towards an “eat the rich” worldview.

Majimbo went in a whole other direction. “It’s not that I’m broke,” she explained in a recent Instagram video. “It’s just that when I get money, my taste buds start acting differently. I start having Jeff Bezos behavior with Elsa Majimbo money.”

Few comedians can invoke a billionaire supervillain like Bezos and still seem relatable, but Majimbo lands the punchline every time. Rather than adopting the narcissistic self-reflexivity favored by her peers, she has created a singular comic brand that is aspirational and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek.

Scrolling through TikTok, you can see and feel her influence. Historically, self-deprecating white men dominated the most coveted comedy stages. But a combination of cultural and technological shifts have forged a new comedic landscape; one in which a teenager was able to captivate a global audience with a message that, “being this fabulous... it’s not easy.”

Majimbo identified a trend. “People are embracing more consistent content releases,” she tells me. “Comedians are starting to be less protective with their material. They are waking up to the fact that they live in the content age, and if you don’t have a consistent release strategy, you might get drowned out.”

She continues: “I’m very selective with all projects that I take part in because my personal brand is super important to me.” Between various magazine covers and her “Bedtime with Elsa” interviews, Majimbo managed to expand her imaginative world through yet another platform: the alphabet.

The Alphabet for Kids & Adults, a book co-written by Mohamed Kheir and presented by Valentino, is aimed at young and old. “The book is unique in that its comedy caters to both kids and adults,” she explains. “The lower case letters are for kids, and the upper case letters are for adults. The idea is that, as the kids grow up, they discover new layers of humor. In that sense, the book grows up with you.”

An alphabet book is a characteristically unexpected inauguration into high fashion. It’s also a powerful statement. After all, alphabet books are some of the first and most influential ones we read as children. With this Valentino collab, Majimbo introduces her singular brand of comedy with a young audience, long before they open TikTok or Instagram.

“Mo had already been wanting to write some sort of funny children’s alphabet book,” she says, “and I felt that it should be something different.” For example, the letter “U” dons underwear, and yoga mats make up the letter “Y.”

When I ask if there were any letters that she and her co-author disagreed on, she says, “We didn’t have many divisive letters, and any that we had I won, because I’m next-level hilarious.” Fortunately, it seems clear that the two have a vibrant working relationship, able to accommodate her healthy ego.

“The creative dynamic between Mo and I is great,“ she explains. “He’s easy to work with when it comes to these projects and, like me, he wants to keep innovating and pushing the boundaries.“ With her first foray into writing and her ever-expanding Instagram archive, Majimbo continues to push the boundaries of comedy and push back against the assumptions and expectations placed on her as a dark-skinned African woman.

As a child growing up in Kenya, Majimbo experienced rampant colorism, and she has spoken candidly about being perceived as less-than her light-skinned classmates. Speaking with Naomi Campbell, she revealed, “I was made to feel like I was less pretty because I was darker.“

Yet even at a young age, Majimbo knew that this messaging was wrong, and she understood that she could prove it. When asked what her younger self would have thought about The Alphabet for Kids & Adults, she enthusiastically responds: “My childhood self would truly love this book! Younger me would be so happy to see that I grew up to be a beautiful, strong, hilarious, and successful woman.“

For those hoping to follow in her footsteps, Majimbo has some airtight advice: “Just do it,” because that’s exactly what she did. At the beginning of last year, she was a relatively obscure teenager making Instagram videos. Today, she has Rihanna sliding into her DMs and fashion houses knocking down her door to dress her. The key: “Don’t wonder about what people think. Take the leap and stick to it.”

Order HIGHEnergy, a magazine by Highsnobiety, via our online store.

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