Taking center stage British-born comedian Gina Yashere shares her life’s journey at some of the world’s best comedy clubs and onscreen
When Gina Yashere left her job as an elevator engineer in London, her friends told her to try standup comedy. Despite her mom being less than impressed, it turned out to be sound advice. Within six months the now Brooklyn-based comic was broadcasted on television sets across the U.K., and twenty years later she says she “never went back to work.”
“I’ve been on TV so now my mom can boast to her friends,” says Yashere. “And she’s been on TV as a result of me being on TV, so she loves it.”
Yashere, born to Nigerian immigrant parents in London, has three comedy specials to her name with another coming out on Netflix. With countless televisions appearances including a freelance spot on The Daily Show and a myriad of standup, Yashere is planning her own comedy show documenting her move from London to Bedford Stuyvesant, where she’s lived since 2014. So yes, her mom has a lot to be proud of.
Growing up on a diet of American TV shows the comedian always thought it was way cooler being in America than England. What drew her to Brooklyn was “the culture, the music, the food and the vibe.”
“I loved the mixture of old Caribbean people that have been here for generations with all the new people coming in, it’s a nice mix,” says Yashere. “As long as it doesn’t get over-gentrified – which parts of it are.”
Since her move, Downtown Brooklyn has changed beyond recognition: More buildings are being constructed everywhere and rents have skyrocketed. Stopping “prospectors” from buying up properties who don’t rent to people of color is paramount, she says.
“I like the idea of people moving in and neighborhoods changing and improving, but not to such a point that people who have been here are being forced out.”
But, she thinks, there have also been changes for the better like the number of different food options, especially for vegans like herself.
Her shows are inspired by the journey of her life; she describes her standup as “literally just me talking about me.” Her comedy covers her growing up in England with immigrant parents to being an immigrant herself in the United States – with an outsider’s point of view.
How does this “outsider” assess the 2016 U.S. presidential elections? Yashere says comedically nothing has changed for her in the Trump era. As a black woman of color, she knew racism and misogyny didn’t go away just because America had a black president; the difference now is a lot more people realize it.
“The days of sitting back and sticking your head in the sand and being apathetic have gone. We did that, that happened and now we have a crazy demagogue in the office. I think people are becoming more politicized now as a result.”
Despite the glass ceilings for women and black comics in America, Yashere believes she had more opportunities here than she would have had in England, one of the latest being her freelance spot as the ‘Brexpert’ on The Daily Show. Although she loves the gig and the other TV work she does, live standup is where her heart lies.
“It’s the freedom I can do or say whatever the f*** I want at any moment. I’ve got no lawyers going through my material to check whether I’m allowed to mention this person or say anything, there’s no censorship.”
From London to Brooklyn, Yashere has performed at some of the world’s best comedy clubs, as well as local spots like Hangar Ballroom and Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and when a good gig comes up, she’ll do so again. But first up is the release of her special as part of Netflix’s “The Standups” in the new year – and putting in the work for her own show.
And in the meantime, you might just catch her sitting on her stoop or cycling around Bed Stuy.