U.K. Comic Gina Yashere Plays Brava Theatre
"I like to play with their little brains."
That's one of British comic Gina Yashere's lines about the conundrum some naive Americans face with her cockney accent. "So many Americans don't know there are black Brits, so I work that," said Yashere (pronounced Yah-sure-ay).
Originally visiting Los Angeles in 2007 as a competitor on the show Last Comic Standing, Yashere found quick success and stayed on. "I had no intention of staying," said Yashere in a phone interview from New York, where she'd just landed after a series of European shows. "But I discovered I'm a sunshine-and-palm-trees girl."
A Los Angeles resident for five years, Yashere, 38, has toured worldwide since becoming a full-time comedian 16 years ago. Combining acerbic commentary on race and culture, including her Nigerian heritage as compared to her East London upbringing, Yashere pokes fun at controversial issues while making people laugh.
A self-described class clown, Yashere studied engineering and built and repaired elevators after college. But on a summer off, when she decided to try out stand-up at an open-mic night, what was once a dare led to offers of other gigs, and a new career was born.
Her TV appearances range from The Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien, and Def Comedy Jam, the British Lenny Henry Show, to her solo show, Skinny Bitch, aired on Showtime. That show's inspiration can be found among Yashere's YouTube clips, some of which share her experience undergoing a high-colonic irrigation in graphic detail.
Called one of the "Ten Fresh Lesbian Comics" by Cherry magazine, Yashere also recently toured with Poppy Champlin and other women comics in the Queer Queens of Comedy tour, Olivia women's cruises, and the popular Dinah women's circuit events in Palm Springs. But Yashere has managed to avoid the sometimes limiting "lesbian comedian" category, performing for diverse audiences worldwide, including soldiers in Iraq.
Yashere will be taping a new comedy show on Sat., Sept. 22 at Brava Theatre. Kickstarter supporters will get prizes like T-shirts, downloads and other swag, including a vacation stay at her home in Chang Mai, Thailand.
Yes, Thailand. Along with Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, the stand-up comic travels a lot, which has led her to some odd discoveries, which, along with some recipes, she documents online (such as the potentially offensive Australian "Coon Cheese").
Born and raised in comparatively foggy East London, Yashere said she likes to return to the U.K. "The standup scene is excellent, with New York a close second. Also, the clubs pay a lot more money in London."
With certain cultural references, such as using London council flats as a punchline, Yashere does adjust some specific lines for American audiences.
"I've always kept my comedy flexible," she said. "When I visit, I catch up on the scene. When I came to America, I had to slow down my speech. In London, we speak a lot faster, and I'm an East Londoner, so I've gotten a bit more 'posh' for Americans. As far as the language is concerned, I do make a few adjustments. I know you guys say 'gas' instead of 'petrol.'"
Yashere said she likes to play off a crowd for her longer sets. "I will talk with couples, gay or straight; material-wise, it's what I do. But I don't change my style too much."
Yashere turns her British background to an advantage. "Obviously, I'm a fish out of water, living in another cultural world." Her new act, aptly titled Laughing to America, focuses on that. And the Sept. 22 taping, like her prior show, may be aired on Showtime or another network. Before that, backers of her DVD production will be able to download the show.
Asked about comic Louis CK's independently produced and highly successful DVD sales campaign, which made millions online, Yashere noted the comparison is apt, but that Louis already had a large fan-base from his TV show. "We have the ability to put the power in our own hands. But the fact is, television appearances make the live shows and other events work."
Following her home city's recent hosting of the Olympics and Paralympics, Yashere offered an exaggerated sigh. "Thank God they carried it off! It was touch-and-go for a while, with the transport and all." Yashere attended the Opening Ceremonies, which she called "great. The atmosphere was fantastic. They also had massive screens in Hyde Park to watch live events."
In-between her return visits to London, Yashere performed in Spain, Holland and several Asian cities. As a headline performer on a few recent Atlantis gay cruises, Yashere said she enjoyed her time "with 3,000 horny men. I never knew there was a top deck they call the 'dick deck.' One guy took me up there at about four in the morning. I saw things that cannot be unseen."
Gina Yashere performs Sat., Sept. 22, 8 p.m. at Brava Theatre, 2781 24th St. $18-$20. (800) 838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/262236 www.ginayashere.com