Gina Yashere Interview
I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with one of my favourite comedians Ms. Gina Yashere. Having ditched us here in the UK for the last couple of year’s to make it big in the land of opportunity, America. She decided to pay her hometown a visit for a show at the O2 Academy Brixton, the London leg of her UK Laugh Riot Tour.
We talked about EVERYTHING from her life in New York & LA, being a black, lesbian, female comic in the entertainment industry, her very private love life, and of course what to expect at her biggest comedy tour to date!
How are you? How does it feel to finally be back at home?
Well it’s cold, but I love being back in the UK. You’re my people. It’s like taking off my bra after a long day.
Well the Sun’s started to come out now so it’s not that bad…
Yeah it’s getting better.
A lot of people reading this will probably be asking… ‘Where has Gina been’? You’ve left us in cold England for a few years now to take over America, which I know has taken your career to whole new levels. What have you been up to over there for the last couple of years?
Just hustling you know. Just working and doing shows. I was over there doing Def Comedy Jam, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and then I was on tour with Kat Williams so I’ve been working, that’s what I’ve been doing!
Do you think being British has helped you career in the U.S?
Erm, no (laughs). I think white-British people yeah, because in America their understanding is that if you’re British you have to be white; but if you’re black they don’t really get it. Also a lot of British actors have done well because they have tricked American audiences into thinking they’re American and then audiences find out they’re British afterwards and they’re like, haha I’m actually a Brit!
I’m coming from a different angle like I’m black, and I’m British so take it. So I’m sort of like swimming against the tide and showing them that Britain isn’t just full of white people there’s a mix. London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
So you originally lived in LA and now you’ve recently relocated to New York. Why the move?
LA is full of actors pretending to be comedians, and I am actually a real comedian. I enjoyed the weather, the lifestyle and I had a beautiful apartment overlooking LA and Hollywood with a rooftop pool but it just wasn’t for me.
Is it quite expensive loving over there? I heard it costs a lot to live well in LA…
Really? Nope, not at all.
Oh gosh, really? I guess people have just been lying to me!
They definitely have, complete lies. LA is way cheaper than New York and is kind of similar to London. To be honest in LA you get a lot more for your money in comparison to London, it’s a lot more reasonable than London at a lot of the time. Like for example, my apartment with a roof top pool was less than renting a flat in you know, say Tottenham.
Oh wow. I feel like I might need to move over to LA myself, London house prices are getting crazy!
I know. What you can get over in LA for the same price the UK is terrible.
So back to why you moved….
Well like I said, the place was full of fake comedians and you know, I used to go to the comedy clubs and they were terrible. Honestly I used to think, these audiences are being cheated. I was like, this is not what I’m about. I used to go to New York about once a year and come back with wads of cash in my pocket and think, ‘Why am I even here, when I could be in New York?’. It’s a really vibrant city and as a London girl I’m used to the city life and New York is basically London on steroids. It’s a lot more real and everyone’s just grinding, I’m more of a grinder.
Do you think you’ve found more success in America and other countries opposed to here in the UK?
Yes and no. Yes because I get a lot of work out there and I’m different so they’re like woo, this is interesting, she’s hilarious. She doesn’t sound like us and she’s not talking all the same rubbish the other comedians are talking – so that’s been great.
I’ve done a lot of things in America that I’m still yet to achieve over here, for instance turning my DVD into a show time channel out there with my own hour special, and that’s never happened in England. However, in the UK I have a fantastic fan base that always pay to come out and see me so you can’t knock that.
A lot of black actors and creatives in the media in the UK don’t really get the big roles or TV gigs in comparison to their white counterparts, and usually have to go over to the U.S. for success. Prime examples… Estelle, David Oyelowo… do you think this relates to your career?
Definitely. Yes, definitely. If you turn on the TV and look at all the comedians getting the biggest play, they’re all white, they’re all male, and they are 90% middle-classed. Now the people booking comedians for these shows are also male, white, and middle-classed. As a black comedian I’m not 21 years old, I don’t look like Halle Berry, and I’m not going to be sensitive in what I’m going to say. I’m uncontrollable. I mean I’ve been on mainstream shows like Mock of The Week but my face just doesn’t fit – and that’s just how it is.
I’ve been to places like the BBC for meetings and they’ve said, “Oh, I don’t know how she’ll appeal to Middle England”. I tour all over the UK all the time and think I perform quite well for middle England. I’ve been to places where there are no black people at all, in theatres full of white people who have paid to see me, and they leave having a great time just like anyone would from any part of the world. It’s just about changing people’s mind-set, which is why a lot of us end up going to the states. It’s a much bigger market but America is just as racist. It’s just that when you hit the glass ceiling it’s a lot higher than the glass ceiling in England. At least when you hit the glass ceiling in America, you’re a millionaire while you’re complaining about racism (laughs).
(Laughs) So back to what you said about being in meetings and discussing audiences, what exactly did they say?
Well they basically said that they don’t know how I’ll play to ‘Middle England’. In the UK there isn’t a huge black audience for them and to me that’s racism in itself, just because I’m black doesn’t mean I can only play to black audiences.
I travel all over the world… China, Malaysia, Hong Kong – it’s just rubbish, and laziness. They just don’t want to take a risk and would rather putting on the same stuff all the time because they know that’s what works.
Do you think being female, and being an open lesbian and a comedian, has stopped you in anyway from what you want to achieve in the media?
Well right now, we’re in a new era. We don’t need someone to give us a TV show; we can pick up our phones and make our own content. Right now, no one can stop me from what I want to do because I can go on social media and get the content to the fans without needing a middleman. The market is open right now and we can do whatever we want to do.
Would you advise young, black, and ethnic British entertainers to look into other opportunities abroad if they’re not finding success in the UK?
Of course, you should always look abroad for opportunities. Always. Never ever always put your eggs into one basket. I’ve always planned from the beginning of my career to be global, because the bigger you are globally the more money you make it’s as simple as that. If you’re only performing in one place for one type of audience you’re limiting your earning potential.
My advice would be to stay original, stay true to you, and don’t ever limit yourself.
Also, with the change of country you’ve also had a big change in image. Was that something you did intentionally when moving over to the states?
It was never a rebrand to be honest, my image changes constantly because I’ve always been outlandish in the things I’ve done and I never like to look like anyone else, anyway so I’m always changing the way I look. Whether it be tattooing myself, getting piercings, losing weight, gaining weight. The weight loss in particular was down to a drastic change in my lifestyle, nothing to do with me going to America and thinking ‘I need to be skinny!’.
Yes, when I interviewed you at Southbank’s Africa Utopia event last year you did say it was down to you being diagnosed with Lupus?
I had to make a choice to change my lifestyle or end up being on medication for the rest of my life. So cutting out a lot of things like sugar and just eating healthier. When you do those things, weight loss just becomes a part of the equation.
Although the weight loss was mainly due to health reasons you’ve managed to keep it off, so what advice would you give to help get that summer body? Because you know we’re all trying to be summer time fine!
I would say firstly it’s not about looking good just in the summer, it’s about a lifestyle change. If you’re always on diets, you’re always going to be doing diets. I’ve basically just changed the way I eat overall – it was a lifestyle change. Especially cutting out sugar, you really have to watch what you buy these days as everything has so much sugar. That’s pretty much it.
One thing we don’t really hear about is your love life. Are you currently dating at the moment?
I’ve been talking about that on stage actually. Come to the show and you’ll hear about my love life.
Don’t worry, I’ll be there!
Good and I mean, no I don’t really talk about my love life because to me it’s not that funny but I’m touching on it in my show.
Do you find it hard to date? Because I can imagine, once you reach a certain level of fame it’s a bit harder. Will people approach you, are you wary of people just wanting to be with you because of fame?
I don’t really worry about stuff like that, I mean the real people will be separated from the fake – it always works out like that. I’ve been lucky to have good people around me, a good group of friends and I just kick out people who are just trying it.
You’re FINALLY back on Landan-tann for your comedy tour, Laugh Riot, and you’ll be stopping off at The 02 Academy in Brixton on the 11th April. What can we expect?
Well I’m talking to some people and I have a few of my fellow entertainers… I’m not going to say ‘celebrity friends’ because I don’t have any! But a couple of other famous comedians and it’s going to be good.
Ooooh, can you give me some names?
Ahh no I can’t.
Noooo Gina (laughs), not even one name?
Ahhh I can’t as not everyone has confirmed yet, but trust me it’s going to be good. Some good singers, a couple of major actors have said they’re going to pass through, some comedians – it’s going to be a good night.
Now you’re background is Nigerian, and the elections are coming up later this month. What are your thoughts on all the controversy surrounding the elections?
All I can say is that we’ve got a long way to go, this is not the first time these things are happening and that’s really a whole other interview and a whole other story if I started talking about that one. I haven’t even got time to keep up with all of that to be honest.
Last but not least, I saw you tweet about the infamous ‘dress’ that was everywhere on social media few weeks ago. What colours did you see?
I saw blue and black and black because that’s the colour of the dress.
Yes I saw that too…
Yeah, and we’re right, I don’t know what everyone else is seeing. The people of the dress even said it was blue and black. To be honest I don’t really care and I don’t know why a dress has got that much publicity, like it’s not even a designer dress (laughs).
For more info and tickets to Gina’s show at the O2 Academy, visit: www.o2academybrixton.co.uk/event/72071/gina-yashere-laugh-riot-tickets.