*Gina Yashere! Have you heard of her? Sure you have! She was the first British (Bri’ish) performer on the cult classic “Def Comedy Jam.” No? How’s about her being named one of the finalists on “Last Comic Standing,” and she is a regular on television on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. What do you mean you’re not sure? There aren’t many black female comics in merry ol’ England, are there?
“Actually there are quite a few black female comedians in England, obviously I’m the best, but there are quite a few,” Yashere (Yas-Shir-Ray)told our Lee Bailey. “Same as there are out here. There’s actually a vibrant comedy scene in England, regardless of if it’s black or white. It’s kind of how it was in America in the 80s. There’s a booming scene and of those there are a quite a few black female comics. Not billions of them, but there’s a few.”
Ok then dear reader, you got us on that one. There are quite a few black female comics in Great Britain and, to hear Gina tell it, she is the very best. But it isn’t just Gina saying it. The Guardian (London) once called her one the best comedians in the world. We know they were likely giving a hometown girl some extra props, but those are still pretty lofty accolades.
“I’ve been working a long time in England and I’ve reached a level where I can sell out theaters, I sell DVDs and I do quite a bit of television so I think I’ve hit a ceiling and I want to expand my horizons,” Yashere told EURweb.com. “I think America is definitely the home of the best comedy in the world and if you make it in America, that’s it! You’ve made it everywhere. It’s always been a plan of mine to come to America, even before I was in comedy back when I was working as an engineer. I always planned to come to work in America in some capacity.”
Well all righty then! Now she’s finally here and slugging it out in the arena of comedy for laughs and recognition. Last year her Showtime comedy special ‘Skinny Bitch’ had folks in stitches.
“I’ve always loved the whole ethic behind the American dream,” Gina explained. “I think my personality fits in a lot more here than it does in England. The British mentality is they kind of scorn ambition. You make it and it’s like you have to pretend you don’t know how you made it. ‘I made it. I happened to be in the right place at the right time!’ They do this fake humility kind of thing. Where in America it’s like ‘I want it, I’m going to work hard for it, now I’ve got it and I’m going to let everybody know I’ve got it and how great it is.’ In England it’s this whole pretend humility thing. That’s just not my personality.”
We guess the expressions “if you got it, flaunt it” and “I’m just doing me” don’t fly over well in the United Kingdom. “Shake what your Momma gave you” probably makes people frown as well.
“I came here to do a TV show called ‘Last Comic Standing’ and I got the top 10 in 2007,” Yashere explained of her first stab at permanent US residency. “That got me a work visa and I thought ‘I’m not going to waste this.’ It’s what most people would kill for and now that I have it here I’m going to make the most of it. I went back to England, sold my house and everything I owned and turned up at the finale with two suitcases. I don’t play around. No regrets whatsoever.”
That was a gutsy move to be sure. Contrary to what some immigrants imagine prior to moving to the United States, the streets are not lined with gold but the hopes of those who dared to have dreams yet lacked the resolve to see them through. But the success stories are what keep people coming.
“It’s a huge challenge getting work out,” said Yashere. “I didn’t realize before I got here was that the whole club scene out here, in order to get work, is celebrity driven rather than talent driven. Celebrity and talent doesn’t always equate. Somebody could be a celebrity but they might be a sh*tty comedian. I’ve seen a lot of that where there are comedians on stage selling out comedy clubs and I’m like ‘I would wipe the floor with that guy!'”
After her prior statement Lee Bailey asked Yashere for a bit of clarity. While that celebrity/comic phenomenon works in mainstream comedy, black folks are not paying their money to see someone who is not funny.
“Not so much with black comics because with black comics, to get to where you are, you’ve got to be super funny,” said Gina. “I see it more often with the mainstream comics, the white comics most definitely. You’ve got some mediocre comics out there selling out comedy clubs. Mediocre at best.”
Mediocre at best! One thing you have to love about the British is that they’re so adept at hurling crushing insults without the slightest deviation in vocal tone and inflection. An admirable trait to be certain, especially for a comedian.
“That is very frustrating coming from England where everyone knows who I am, I don’t even have to announce myself,” said Yashere of her level of fame in the UK. “I just show up and people fall all over themselves to book me, coming here they’re like ‘We know you’re funny, but can you sell tickets? No?’ Then we’re not going to book you.”
Another major difference between the comedy scene in the United States and the United Kingdom is the format. Yashere tells EURweb.com that a good comedian can work consistently if he/she is good.
“In England audiences just go to the comedy club,” she explained. “They don’t know who is going to be up there, but they know that if it’s a reputable comedy club they are going to have good comedians. It’s not based on who is on that night. Every comedian works in England. If you’re good and you’re consistently good comedy clubs will book you. It’s not about how many tickets you can sell, the onus is on the comedy club to sell tickets. That means, as a comedian in England, all comics earn a very good living regardless of how many TV credits you have. In England, all the comedy clubs pay all comics the same money. I think that’s a much better system. In England I’ve actually transcended. I don’t do comedy clubs anymore. If you get to the point where an audience is coming just to see you then you move to theaters and book your own shows, do your own tours. ”
After going from headlining your own comedy tour, Yashere says her pockets aren’t quite flat, but they certainly aren’t fat here in the U.S.
“I’ve taken a huge, I mean a humungous pay cute, to come out here and work in America. I think I have something to offer the American audience and once I hit it, I will hit it. I know I’m very good at what I do and what I’m capable of and every time I get in front of an audience out here they know what I’m capable of.”
For blacks in show business talent and skill almost have to be overwhelmingly apparent, but not so much with some other ethnics groups where folks can get away with being clever and cute. But there’s also the old ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ scenario.
“Talent will always rise to the top eventually,” said Yashere. “but it’s also whose manager is in contact with whose manager, whose got the best agent, whose got the biggest over all presence. It’s a combination of a lot of things that can catapult you to the next level here in America.”
“To give you a prime example, I’m on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno every couple of months, doing my psychic sketch, which is a very funny sketch. So funny they keep calling me back to do another one. I’ve been on the ‘Tonight Show’ six times, which is more than most comedians out here have ever done in their entire careers and I’ve been here not even three years. But that is not translating into the type of work that I thought it would. It’s not because I’m not talented, but because people don’t know who I am. That’s basically a PR problem rather than a talent problem.”
Another thing female comedians have to deal with in America is delivery. The angle of approach and delivery is critical. Feminist, sexpot, activist, mother figure? Yashere says her comic stylings are more observational at this stage in her career. She also thinks sexual material is the easy way out.
“I’m not overtly sexual because I think that’s a trap that a lot of female comics are falling into,” she explained. “They think they have to be overtly sexual to be on the same level as the guys. I made a pact with myself about five years ago to get rid of all that material from my set and try to be strictly observational so that I cannot be judged and compared to other females. I can do a two hour set without doing any overtly sexual stuff.”
On her most recent DVD, ‘Skinny Bitch’, Yashere talks about being a newly skinny individual. She recently lost 80 pounds. She tells our Lee Bailey that it has definitely shaped her material.
“I would have thought that loosing weight would have effected my career drastically but it hasn’t to this point,” she explained. “I’m probably going to come out with a fitness DVD at some point. My Showtime special is called ‘Skinny B*tch’ because I talk about the fact that I’ve lost like 80 pounds. There’s a trickle down effect. I decided to loose the weight around the time I’ve moved to America. It changed my material. I’ve lost 45 minutes of material because I used to talk about the fact that I was big. It changed my material because now I get to talk about how I lost the weight, which is good. There’s a lot of big and black females comedians out there talking about being big and black so I needed to move on from that anyway.”
Gina Yashere is a hands down, funny sister from London, England and we think you’ll agree the props she’s getting from the media in the United Kingdom are warranted. Below there’s a list of select clips for your approval. If you’d like more on Gina Yashere then log on go www.ginayashere.com.
Watch Gina Yashere on Conan: