Gina Yashere: 'Black people are too complacent... we sit back and let people tread all over us'
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Over the last decade, there’s been a notable ‘brain drain’ in the UK, whereby some of the country’s most talented black creatives have migrated to America, to flourish therein and maximise on its wealth of opportunities. You already know some of the names, and one of the most prolific of those successes is our Gina. The 43-year-old has become a primetime star in the States and there are few funny bones that she hasn’t tickled. Gina goes in; she’s featured as a selected comic on Gotham Comedy Live, was the only black Brit to perform on Def Comedy Jam and broadcasts on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central, to name a few accomplishments. Here we chat with the renowned, East London performer on upping sticks for America, new ventures and living the dream. On building a successful stateside career... I’ve been out there ten years, had to work my ass off and be consistently good. And persistent. The first few years was a real struggle. I came out there as a British woman. For a start, most Americans have never been outside of America. Like, up to 75% haven’t even got passports. So, most of them don’t even know that there are black people in England. Now, they’re starting to learn about black people with Idris Elba and all of that. Remember, Idris and those guys, got to America, playing Americans. So, I still think there’s probably a chunk of Americans that still don’t believe he’s British. On challenging perceptions of being British... Coming out there, they didn’t know what to do with me. They didn’t know what to make of me. That was difficult; trying to change people’s perceptions of what England is about. If you look at American TV, British has always been, y’know, Hugh Grant, Ricky Gervais. It’s been white men, that’s all they see. Or the English rose – the Queen. Coming out there, as a comedian, I had to educate people. I had to go ‘yeah, there’s a different kind of British person out there, just like there’s different types of Americans’. I got on lots of shows because I was different, but pushing it to the next level has been hard. For women in comedy as a whole, it’s gone way of pop music where it’s all about being young. The older comics that are making it through, are all older white men! How many older white women are breaking it and becoming massive right now? It’s all young white women. On becoming a UK correspondent on Trevor Noah show on Comedy Central... I never auditioned for the show – Trevor just texted me. I’ve known him for years; we’ve worked around the world together. I’ve worked with him in Florida on a TV show, we worked in Australia and then, when he moved to New York, we were seeing each other at the Comedy Cellar which is premium comedy club in the city. So, he saw what I do. He and I have a similar outlook; both of us are outsiders, looking in on American culture. When he got that show, I was happy for him but thought nothing of it. Comedy Central has always been a channel that seems to be geared towards the youth, and I’m no longer a youth, so I wasn’t planning to try and get on that show because I thought "that channel doesn’t think I fit their demographic." Then, one day, I got a text from Trevor asking me to come on the show. I was like cool, and that’s how that came about. So, it was all very casual and organic, really. To me, it’s another show. It’s deserved because I am very good at what I do and I am loving it. Which black British comedians inspire you? I’ll always be grateful to Lenny for giving me the opportunity to come on his show (The Lenny Henry Show), and bringing me to a wider audience. Up until that point, I was what you’d call ‘hood famous’. I had a black audience; I love them and they love me, but I was never seen as viable on mainstream TV. As a kid, Lenny Henry was the black comic that I saw on TV. He inspired me. I am now that person for the younger generation. Curtis Walker, to me will always be the don of comedy. He’s still the most original and funniest one out there. On the lack of black comedy across British television...
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