Gina Yashere had a roundabout entry into the world of comedy. Born in London, her mother was an immigrant from Nigeria and wanted only the best for her daughter — the only acceptable career options ranged from becoming a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or an engineer. Yashere actually chose the latter, and worked as an engineer in the UK before deciding to try comedy on a whim.
Now a certified comedy star in the UK, Yashere is best known on these shores as the “British Expert” correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where her segments on Brexit have become viral hits. Her latest stand-up special, Ticking Boxes, is streaming now on the Seeso comedy network.
Ahead of her hosting duties on the Brit(ish) show at Just for Laughs, we caught up with Yashere to talk about her reaction to Brexit, how she landed on The Daily Show, and why Canadians are the perfect audiences. Yashere hosts the British(ish) show from July 26-28 at L’Astral. Tickets are $33.26 plus fees, available here. For more info and all upcoming tour dates, visit ginayashere.com.
Are you looking forward to coming to Canada with everything that’s happening in the U.S. right now?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s great to come to a sane country with a nice leader! It’s going to be a relief.
Do you discuss the current political situation in the U.S. in your act now? If you do, how does that material go over in the States?
Oh yeah, I do talk about it. Because obviously, I’m an immigrant to America. So yeah, I talk about it from my perspective as an outsider. They don’t necessarily have to agree with me, but if it’s funny they can at least laugh. So it goes over well.
You tour quite a bit, are there certain jokes or subjects that go over better in different parts of the world?
I haven’t had any issues with people being upset with my point of view yet, even when I go to places like Texas, I do what I do. And so far I’ve had no resistance. I’ve been lucky so far.
Is part of that also in your delivery? You tackle tough subjects but you do it with such an earnest and fun delivery that it soothes over what could be contentious for certain people.
Yeah, that is definitely part of it. Definitely. And also, if you’re coming to my comedy show, you kind of know that I’m a person who says what I says and I’m unapologetic about it. So if you’re going to come to my show you know that yeah, I’m going to say stuff! (Laughs) Most audiences who do turn up at my shows, they know this, so they’re open. Which is good.
You have such an amazing back-story — has does one go from engineering into stand-up? What was that decision like?
It was no real decision, I just thought, “Oh, this looks fun, I’m going to try that.” That’s always been my attitude in life. I’m like, “This looks good, let me give that a go.” See what happens. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I was an engineer, I left that job. It happened to be summer time, so I was just enjoying myself and spending my redundancy pay-off that I’d received, and comedy came up. And I thought, “Oh, let me try this. People always say that I’m funny.” And lo and behold, it turned out I was really frigging good at it.
Was that something you had ever had in your mind before? Were you a big fan of comedy growing up, or were people just responding to your personality?
Yeah, people were responding to my personality, I’ve never been — I’m not saying I wasn’t a fan of comedy, everybody likes funny, but I was not an aficionado, I was not a connoisseur of comedy. I didn’t watch loads of comedy before I did it, it wasn’t something that was even in my vision, ’cause I come from quite an academic family. So it was always, “You’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or an engineer. You’ve got to pick one of those.” So no, it was never part of my plan.
One of my favourite parts of your act is when you talk about your mother’s reaction when you went into comedy — has her opinion changed with all the success you’ve had in the past few years?
Oh yeah, definitely. I’m the only one of her children that’s gotten on television, so her whole attitude is completely different now, she loves it. She boasts about me to all her friends, she boasts about me to strangers. “I don’t know if you know, but Gina Yashere’s my daughter.” She loves it.
How did you come around to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah? What was that connection?
We’ve done shows together all over the world, we did a TV show for Comedy Central in Florida about six years ago. And then I met him again at the Sydney Comedy Festival. So we’ve been bumping into each other all over the world for the last six years. He moved to New York to do The Daily Show, and we’d meet up at the Comedy Cellar, which is arguably the best comedy club in New York. We met up there and basically he’d seen me do my stuff on-stage and we have a similar perspective and outlook. And one day he just texted me and said, “I’d love you to come work on the show.” I didn’t audition or anything, it was a text.
Did you evolve what you were going to discuss on the show? Or was that entirely up to you?
Pretty much. It’s based on what is happening right now, you know what I mean? So, I’ll send in some ideas and go, “This is what’s happening in London right now, let’s talk about that.” And they’ll go, “Yeah, go write a piece,” and it goes from there.
So many people reacted to your Brexit commentary on The Daily Show, what was it like watching all that unfold from the States?
Yeah, I actually went back to England to vote, so I was actually in the UK when the vote came through, and I couldn’t believe we’d lost. So yeah, it was not fun. I was very mad, I was very upset. Just people voting against their own self-interest, it’s ridiculous. Such is life! Nothing new. Same happens in America.
Poor people are stupidly convinced to vote against their own best interests, thinking the rich man will save them. Not knowing that the rich man is only in it for himself.
Was it ironic that your big breakthrough in the States was tied into something that was happening back in Britain?
Um, no, not really. I’m British, my perspective is British, so it only stands to reason that if you want to talk about stuff that’s happening in Britain on an American TV show, it’s good to actually get a Brit!
You’re hosting The Brit(ish) Show at Just for Laughs here, is there something about Canada and the UK’s sensibilities that lines up?
Yeah, I think so. You guys are like a happy medium. In that you understand American humour and politics and what’s happening, but you’re removed from it. And you’ve got the intelligence and sensitivity of a British audience, you’re a happy medium between the two extremes, that’s why I like performing in Canada so much.
With all the touring you do, do you have any habits that develop? What’s your day like when you have a show?
What is my day like? Not much. I try and do as little as possible during the day, I’m quite lazy.
People think it’s really hard work on the road, but most of the time I’m sitting in a hotel room, surfing the internet and watching Netflix. Or if the weather’s nice, sitting by the pool, pretending to write jokes on my laptop.
Sometimes I wander around the city so I can gain some knowledge of where I’m going to be performing, but if I’ve been there before, then no. I’m in the hotel by the pool chilling.
Do you remember anything specific about wandering around Montreal?
I love the European feel of it. I love the little cobble streets, and I love to practice my schoolgirl French. I studied French from about 11 – 18. And I’ve barely used it since, so that’s the joy of coming to Montreal, I get to practice and dust-off my old French.
Are you going to be popping up on some different shows while you’re here?
Oh yeah, JFL always put me to work while I’m here. So no doubt I’ll be popping up on a Gala, I’m popping up on various late-night shows that they have, I’ll be popping up all over the place.
It can’t be a coincidence that you and Trevor Noah are here at the same time, so hopefully we’ll see a real-life collaboration between the two of you?
Well, you never know. (Laughs) You never know.
What else do you have coming up that you can you let us in on?
Ohh, I’m always touring, I’m actually coming back in September for the Toronto Just for Laughs. And I’m working at the moment on a scripted comedy that will be coming to a screen somewhere near you at some point. I’m always doing something.