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“The number one priority for me is making you laugh” - an interview with Gina Yashere
Image Credit: David Burgoyne

“The number one priority for me is making you laugh” - an interview with Gina Yashere

16 June 2017 Will Rathbone

Gina Yashere is a sensation, and has come a long way from her past as an elevator engineer. Having taken a punt on stand-up, Yashere quickly started winning competitions, appearing on TV panel shows and touring the UK extensively – gaining a huge following in the process. Then, a decade ago, she moved to the US and did it all again. Now, with a massive American fanbase and several prominent guest spots on Primetime TV, she is back in London to perform at the Underbelly Festival on the Southbank.

London Calling: Morning Gina, thanks very much for speaking to us! Please can you start by telling us a bit about your new show?
 
Gina Yashere: Every year I come over and do three nights in this big upside down tent on the Southbank. It’s an hour set, and I’m usually trying out stuff for a new DVD or Comedy Special. It’s a pretty good stomping ground to try out new things. The London crowd is still my favourite crowd in the world!
 
LC: Your touring schedule is ridiculous! How do you find time to write?
 
GY: Stuff just comes into my head, or stuff happens, and I make a note of it. The next time I go on stage, I’ll throw it in and see how it sounds. I mould things on stage, so the more shows I do the more I write! I’ll ad lib, and if it gets a laugh it’s a nugget and I’ll get it out next night and polish it. That’s how my shows are made. For me, nothing beats live performance. Everything else I do – films, TV, interviews – it’s all so people can get to know me, and then come and see me live. The live aspect of what I do is the most important for me.


Image Credit: David Burgoyne
 
LC: You’ve been living across the pond for nearly a decade now – through some particularly turbulent political times. Have you noticed a significant shift whilst living there?
 
GY: Not really – as a black person it’s not a massive shift for us. It’s just a big shift for everybody else – for people who thought that life was perfect; that racism was dead. For people of colour – for women – we always knew misogyny and racism was bubbling along. All that’s happened is the tide has pulled out and you can see all the shit that was under the water. So there is a shift, but only in terms of some people being able to see what everyone else already could.
 
Since Brexit and Trump, some people feel that being outwardly racist or misogynistic has been legitimised. As a black woman I knew this stuff was there. In a way, Brexit and Trump are good for us – as black people, as women – because the curtain has pulled back to reveal something we knew was there all along.
 
LC: Your comedy tackles issues – identity and social awareness – that people are becoming far more aware of. Do you feel you’re tapping into quite modern concerns?

GY: I don’t feel like I’m tapping into anything, and I’m not trying to tap into anything. I just talk about what I see and what occurs in my life – my observations as a human being. People always say, ‘you talk about social issues, you talk about black politics’ and I say, ‘not really. I talk about shitting myself in a hole-in-the-floor toilet in Malaysia too, you know?” I talk about whatever happens to me. Just by virtue of who I am, I am political. I’m a black, gay woman. I was born in England to an immigrant family – I’m an immigrant wherever I go. I’m inherently political, so I’ve got to wrap it in a sandwich of jokes.
 
I’m not trying to talk about whatever’s hip to talk about right now. I’m either of my time, or sometimes ahead of time. I’ve been criticised about talking about certain things in the past, and now that it’s hip to talk about those things I’m not getting criticised. I don’t really give a shit about any of that – I just say what I want to say and if you enjoy my comedy, that’s great.


Image Credit: David Burgoyne
 
LC: You just create: people can say what they like, but it’s just what you do. I understand, but why do you think so many people are drawn to you and what you say?
 
GY: Well, that’s straightforward: I’m funny. At the end of the day, I’m a comedian and I’m here to entertain. It’s the number one priority for me, and it’s the reason people keep coming back. People come, forget their problems and have a great time. They might come out learning a few things but they don’t realise that. The best way to learn about stuff is by not actually realising that you’re learning.
 
I’m not bashing people over the head with politics. They get all that in newspapers and on TV. They don’t need that – they’re coming here to have fun. I’m not trying to educate – I’m not trying to change your mind about whatever affiliation you might have. I’m just entertaining you. I’m also giving you little nuggets of information, or giving you a window into a life you may not know, but the number one priority for me is making you laugh.


Image Credit: David Burgoyne
 
LC: What do you think of the prominent female writers and comedians coming out of America at the moment?
 
GY: It’s great – I love the fact that women are coming out and creating their own content – but I don’t see why it should be such a big deal. We are just as funny as men. The number of times I’ve been requested to do interviews with just women, or I’m asked questions about women. “Oh! Women! They’re funny! Are women funny?” We’re half the population: of course we’re funny. It’s fantastic that it’s happening but I’d like to see other types of women – women of colour – coming through.
 
LC: What else is on your cultural radar at the moment?
 
GY: I love music festivals. Afropunk happens in Brooklyn, NY each year and now it’s in London too [2017’s Afropunk is at Printworks, July 22-23]. They bring on different types of music – not just Rap, RnB and Hiphop, but punk and alternative rock – stuff you wouldn’t know existed if it wasn’t for this festival. All my friends fly out each year and I look forward to that. It’s great – I suggest everyone goes.
 
Gina Yashere is performing Laugh Riot 2.0 (Send in the Clown) at Underbelly Festival, June 23-25. Tickets from £17.50.
Gina is also hosting American comic Sommore’s gig at the Indigo O2 on June 16.

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