‘It’s just life’: Comedian Gina Yashere taps into everyday experiences for stand-up shows

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Gina Yashere /Courtesy

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Comedian Gina Yashere packs lightly when she travels for her shows — but every time, she always makes sure to bring her life experiences for the stage and her own set of bedsheets for a peaceful night’s sleep.

“I love traveling, I love seeing the world, I don’t love sleeping in beds that are not mine. … I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I travel with my own bed set,” Yashere said. “If I could bring my bed to every hotel room, I would do that.”

The stand-up comedian, currently based in New York, has kept it simple by centering her material on everyday encounters, such as her warfare with dirty hotel rooms. “It’s just life,” she said, explaining that even the most horrible experiences can be turned into a joke.

“Recently, I was attacked by a crazy woman outside a nightclub in London, and she punched me and broke my glasses and pulled my phone out of my hand,” Yashere said. “That was not a great experience, but looking back on it, it’s kind of hilarious, and I’ve turned that into a routine. And obviously, that routine now makes me money to pay for the damage, glasses and phone. It all balances out.”

Originally from England, Yashere has used this balancing act for more than 20 years. Raised by an academically oriented Nigerian family, she said she never expected to go into comedy. In fact, she worked as a lift engineer for years before she began her career as a comedian.

Yashere said that any industry in today’s world is severe and racist toward Black women, but the field of engineering was especially brutal — as a Black woman, she was constantly subjected to open aggression as she was constantly surrounded by white men at construction sites.

So she left her job, found comedy and never came back. In an interim between engineering positions, Yashere found herself performing at comedy shows here and there, and she absolutely loved it. Since then, she has relocated to New York and travels from city to city — her goal is to have her shows sell out and “achieve hours of laughter.”

“That is my job in life, that’s it — to entertain. If they’ve learned a different point of view, that’s an extra bonus,” Yashere said. “I’m not that ambitious; I just don’t want to be a movie star. … On a wider scale, I just want to do what I’m doing.”

A review of Yashere’s collection of shows on YouTube reveals a series of bits about her immigrating to America from England, her relationship with her mother — who moved from Nigeria to England — and her experience with media representation of Black women. Yashere said, however, it is not her intention to perform political comedy.

“I tend to not, like, deliberately do political comedy per se. Just by virtue of who I am — Black, gay, immigrant from England — I’m political just by virtue of who I am. … So I will talk about racism, I will talk about homophobia, I will talk about sexism. That stuff will come into my act because I am just talking about my experiences being me,” Yashere said.

In the world of comedy, racism often takes the form of microaggressions, as most of the field is dominated by white men. With media representation, specifically, Yashere said the field still has to move beyond typecasting Black people as criminals or crack addicts.

For her own career as a comedian, Yashere said she’s had to find opportunities herself. The doors don’t always open for her, so she’s had to kick them down.

“It’s a constant struggle, as a Black female, in this industry, in any industry,” Yashere said. “You just can’t let it get you down.”

For her first comedy special, Yashere funded the entire show herself, and the event sold out, launching her into her career. Ever since, she and her team have worked fervently to make her voice heard.

“If you won’t give me an opportunity, I will make my own,” Yashere said. “I’m going to make my own stuff, and eventually, they can’t ignore the products, and they’ll come to me.”

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected].