Joey Muthengi. She’s an introvert. A loner. A philanthropist. And an industrious hard-worker.
For this interview, Joey was raw, authentic, and she held nothing back. We agreed that she would only speak her truth; and her truth, did she speak.
Professionally, Joey is, in summary, a media personality. She has, over the years, worked with various media entities as a radio presenter, video jockey, reality music show host, and most recently, worked at Citizen TV, as a weekday breakfast show co-host, before she resigned.
And although she isn’t on morning TV anymore, Joey has been everywhere else: TV ads, billboards, newspapers, everywhere. Why? Because she’s currently the lead female ambassador for Betin, a gaming firm, in which she co-stars with famed Kenyan footballer, McDonald Mariga.
Personality-wise, Joey is like a perfectly-mixed, expertly-crafted, cocktail. She’s sassy yet reserved. Vocal but introverted. Receptive and still cautious.
While at Adlife’s NewsCafe, in Kilimani, I walk up to greet Joey and the first thing she says is, “Oh, great, you’re on time! I love people who keep time! You are my kind of people!”
We laugh, hug, and then switch to a table by a corner.
As soon as we get settled, and we make our orders, Joey and I go all in, quite fast. We make almost no small talk at all, and I quickly learn that this is exactly the kind of vibe Joey prefers. She doesn’t like chit-chat, pointless conversation, and as she tells me, she abhors, “Unnecessary Whatsapp messages.”
Joey, while friendly, is also extremely no-nonsense. As our Dawa arrives to the table, Joey goes on to tell me about a politician who had been irritating her on Whatsapp; she blocked him. He then started messaging her on normal text; she blocked him there too. And when one day they bumped into each other at the corridors of the TV studios? She kept walking. We both pause, and then break into unguarded laughter. Ah, Joey.
In this interview, Joey tells me about the intrigues of working in media, the fickleness of television, opportunistic friends, and why she only prefers her family (whom she runs a non-profit charity organisation with) as her go-to people.
In what turns out to be an unexpected yet vulnerable twist, Joey further talks to me about the man she considers to be the love of her life. And we then delve into the reasons she confidently chooses to be child-free.
Joey, let’s dive right in…
Sure! Let’s do this.
You first went to the US when you were quite young, is this accurate?
(Nods) Yes, I first travelled to the US when I was two years old. My parents were studying at the time, so they took me with them.
Growing up, going back and forth between the US and Kenya, did this movement come with its own set of challenges?
Oh yes. Certainly. Just when I was getting used to one place, I had to move to the other, and it was like, ah, now I have to start all over again.
I was also living in Michigan, there weren’t a lot of black people, and I was always homesick, so it was a combination of things. I eventually saw a mental health professional for two years in high school, and for about a year in college.
How old were you then?
I was about 14 at the time.
All this at only 14? Wow, Joey, that must have been a lot to deal with.
(Nods) Yeah, and I think I was dealing with a lot way before then. It’s just that at 14, is when I was finally able to seek help.
Okay. Joey, you’re an introvert…
Correct. 100 per cent! (Laughs)
And we were just talking about Whatsapp earlier…
Yes. Look man, these people who keep showing up on my Whatsapp, just tell me what you want. As in, do you have something important to say, or like a deal, or a gig, what is it? Get to it already. (Laughs heartily)
You don’t want, “Hellos?”
(Shakes head) Absolutely not. Greetings? For what? (Laughs)
Look, it’s like when I left Citizen, and all these guys were sending me messages on Whatsapp, “Oh, hey, how are you holding up?” or, “Are you okay?” And I was like, why are you feeling sorry for me? What is this? I’m okay, I’m fine, that (Leaving Citizen TV) was my decision.
But Joey, maybe they didn’t know you were fine. Perhaps they were just trying to show that they care?
What care? That’s fake care! That’s fake concern! And it really bothered me, so I started blocking people.
Okay, so how do you know, what’s fake, and what’s authentic?
Most of it is fake! (Laughs) Yvonne, let me tell you, in this industry I’m in? 90 per cent of it is fake. It’s so hard to find real people, and I don’t consider myself to have a lot of friends for that reason.
These are people who are in and out of your life based on what you can provide for them. And that’s happened to me several times, like when I was at Capital (FM), then I left, and everybody went silent. Then I got on Tusker Project Fame, and they started calling me and then they went silent again; and I kept thinking, who are you?
And until today, they are the same people who call me and I’m just like, leave me alone. That relationship to me, is dead, because you proved yourself to be an opportunist.
Has this made you picky when it comes to letting people into your inner circle?
Extremely. I’m very picky now, when it comes to who I decide to let into my circle, and that’s mostly my family. (Laughs)
Okay. So what qualities would you be looking for, in someone you’d consider a friend?
Well, I’m not really looking for friends. (Laughs)
Yvonne, you said we were having an honest conversation, right? This is all the honesty coming your way. (Laughs again.)
Look, I think that’s a pretty tough question actually. That’s even tougher than, “What do you look for in a man?” Because friendship, oh, that’s something I would hope would last a long time.
But I would hope that this person would bring more to the table, and wouldn’t just be wanting something from me.
Right. What do you think, is the biggest misconception people have about you?
That I’m a snob.
I’m not! (Laughs) I think I’m highly misunderstood, and I think that I just have my introverted ways about me, but once you actually get to know me, then I let loose, and I’m honest, and free.
Okay, let’s talk about TV; how was it working in TV?
Oh, TV. Working in television is really something else. It definitely has its perks, but it’s very fickle. And it’s an act. A lot of what we do on TV is an act.
I meet people at Chandarana and they keep expecting me to jump up and down like I used to on 10 Over 10. And I’m like, “No, I’m not jumping. I’m just here to get my groceries.” (Laughs)
You’ve worked for: Voice Of America, Capital FM, Channel O, Tusker Project Fame, Citizen TV, and now Betin, did you audition for all these roles?
I did. All of them. And that’s the thing, people think I’ve been in the industry for two years, I’ve been doing this for a decade!
So for all the people who must come to you asking you for a job, or begging you to connect them with one, what do you tell them?
(Nods) I get so many emails, I get so many messages, and Yvonne, I honestly never know how to respond, because everybody’s journey is different.
The way I got into media, is not the same way you got into it, or the next journalist, or presenter, you know? It’s always a very difficult question for me.
What do you end up telling them?
Gosh (pauses), I just tell them to maybe start with an internship, because that’s how I started. While in the US, I interned at Voice Of America, and then just grew from there.
Also, have a spirit of wanting to be great at the job, and be willing to learn as much as possible.
On Citizen TV’s Motivation Monday, you used to have different topics about life and advice; Joey, were you just getting free therapy on TV?
Oh yeah, absolutely! (Laughs) Welly Odendo was definitely my therapist. For free. On live TV. (Bursts out laughing)
Over the weekends, I would try to figure out what I’m dealing with, and then I’d think of the appropriate topic, and share it with the producer.
And that’s what you would talk about on Mondays?
Exactly! Welly and all the other guests who came on Mondays were definitely my therapists. (Laughs again)
Let’s talk dating; who would you consider to be your ideal partner? Do you have an age preference?
(Pauses) I’d prefer someone who gets me, and I don’t think that’s dependent on age.
I prefer someone who is mature enough, has a great sense of humour, those type of things. When someone gets me, I’m usually like, “Oh my god! Finally! I’m never letting you go!”
Does this make you get a little too attached to the people you date?
Yeah! Because it’s hard, oh my goodness. I’m a weirdo, I’m sarcastic, I’m introverted, I’m all these things mixed together, so when I meet someone who truly gets me, it’s very refreshing.
African men, Caucasian men, when it comes to ethnicity and dating, do you have a preference?
No. I’m an equal opportunity dater. (Bursts out laughing)
Ah, nice one!
(Smiles, then pauses) But, Yvonne, can I tell you a quick story?
(Long pause) The love of my life, was a white man. I knew him since high school. We were perfect, but the logistics around our lives just weren’t matching. We were always travelling, on different time-zones, different locations, and I was so keen on climbing the career ladder.
And when I finally got to Citizen TV, when I was finally feeling like I’ve sort of, “Made it,” I started looking for him again. And then I find out he got married.
Can you imagine?
How did you find out he got married?
Through Facebook! Of all places! (Long silence)
Oh, Joey, that must have been difficult.
It was. And it had me depressed. (Pause) I was quite depressed for a long time actually. Even my family couldn’t understand, they kept asking, “What is it about this guy?” (Another pause)
And that’s been the one, main, love of your life up until now?
(Voice breaking a little) Yeah, that was the guy that I always knew, should I ever get married, it would be to him. (Long pause.)
But he’s married now, and I’m moving on. That’s that I guess.
Okay. And now, looking forward, would you like to have any children?
Because they wouldn’t be by him.
Oh, had you gotten married to him, would children have been an option?
Yes. For sure.
And now, no interest in having children at all?
(Shakes head) None. I’m not having any. I don’t want any.
What if you meet someone who surprises you in many great ways, would you reconsider and have children with him?
No. That chapter is closed.
I also don’t think motherhood is an easy job. My sister has kids, my brother has a kid, it’s work. And when I think of some of the things I struggle with, in terms of depression and anxiety, I worry about that, about passing it along and those type of things. So, no.
What about people who say, “When you grow old, you might get lonely?”
(Giggles) Then I’ll be an old, lonely, lady. (Smiles)
And for those who ask: “What about your parents, don’t you want to give them grandchildren?”
My parents have accepted it. It took my mum a while to accept that I don’t want kids, she thought it was just a phase, but now she’s come to terms with it. So, my parents and I are fine.
Joey, looking back now, what would you tell you 23 year old self?
(Pause) I’d tell my younger self not to be in a hurry to do everything. I’d tell her to slow down, and to soak in every experience. I’d also tell her not to be afraid of the future. She’ll be just fine.
Any last words?
Well, to the haters, Jesus loves you. (Laughs)
To my fans, thank you so much for all the love, I truly appreciate it. I’ll be coming to a TV screen near you. It might take some time, but when I’m ready, I’ll return.