By: Lauren De Vries
Gina Yashere is working harder than you. She’s vegan, she’s won a whole bunch of awards, and she knows how to fix an elevator. In fact, she was even exercising over the course of this entire interview. The 43 year-old comedian has built herself up into the headliner that she is today, with multiple specials (Ticking Boxes, Skinny Bitch, Laughing to America), regular appearances on late night talk shows, and now a position as a correspondent on the Daily Show. We spoke with her about traveling the world, making her own chocolate, and her kind of comedy.
CU: So I know you used to play a psychic character on Leno and then you also said in an interview regarding Trump “I would not be surprised if he did make it all the way to the presidency”. And then he ended up elected! So, be honest, are you a little bit psychic?
GY: [laughs] The thing is, when I was saying that, I was hoping that what I was saying was not going to come true. But obviously it did. So yeah, I suppose I am a little bit psychic!
CU: I also heard on The Dork Forest, Jackie Kashian’s podcast, that you’re very into Stephen King novels. Are you really excited for the new ‘It’ movie?
GY: Oh I’ve seen it!
GY: Oh yeah! I went to see it the day it came out!
CU: Do you incorporate any horror elements into your comedy? I’ve watched some of your standup and it’s not so scary, very funny.
GY: No, I’ve never thought about it, but I’ve recently started doing a routine where I talk about going to see ‘It’ and how I prefer movies of the old days where it was less blood and gore and more atmospheric horror. The music! The timing! So yeah, I’ve literally just started doing a routine about that.
CU: Oh awesome! Yay! We get a little preview! You also travel so much. Do you have a joke about every country in the world by now?
GY: Pretty much. I’ve got routines about Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand. Yeah, I’ve got routines about pretty much every place I’ve been to.
CU: Is there a country you still want to do standup in that you haven’t as of yet?
GY: Ooo, I’d love to do standup in Brazil, but I can’t speak Portuguese so that’s probably not going to work.
CU: Do you ever have to edit your comedy depending on the country you’re performing in because of them being more conservative, or do you just say whatever you feel like?
GY: I always have respect for the culture that I’m performing in, so if I go to a country where politics is frowned upon then I won’t- I mean, I’m not really a super political comedian anyway, but you can’t go to Thailand and talk about the monarchy. Otherwise, you’ll get 25 years hard labor.
CU: Oh my goodness! Well, I was listening to your interview with Shad and you had a really interesting quote where you were talking about what’s perceived as risk in comedy. And you were saying you don’t consider yourself a risk, you’re a comedian, which I thought was a really cool quote.
GY: Yeah. Thanks!
CU: Are there situations where you feel that people have not perceived your comedy correctly? Or have seen something as offensive, or heard something that wasn’t something people wanted you to say, even though you’re like ‘no this is pretty cool stuff’?
GY: Well, people are always going to be offended. You can’t go through your career just trying not to offend people. No matter what you do. I mean, I don’t set out to offend people. I’m not one of these ‘shock comics’ who say heinous stuff just for the shock value. If I’ve got something to say, I’ll say it because I have a reason and I think it’s funny and I think it’s interesting. But there’s still some people who are going to get offended! But I don’t care! If you’re coming to see me, you know that I’m the kind of person that’s no-holds barred and whatever opinion I have I’m going to express it. So if you’re coming to a show that I’m performing on, you know what you’re getting. And if you don’t, well that’s your problem for not being in for what’s happening.
CU: What was it like doing your first comedy special? I know you have a whole bunch now, but was it really nerve wracking?
GY: No! Because I shot my specials myself. All of my specials, I made them myself. It’s not like Netflix came up to me and was like ‘oh I’m going to give you a special’ and I was like ‘oh gosh’! No. All of my specials have been shot while I’m on tour, and I’ve gone ‘you know what? I’ve got a great hour of material and I’m ready to put this on sale’. So it’s usually at the end of the tour, I’ve got a big theatre sold out and I’m like let’s do it! I have a guy that makes all my DVDs for me and all my specials, I fly him to wherever I am and we shoot it. So it’s not super nerve wracking for me because I’ve already been touring and the show has been shot at the end of the tour, it’s more like excitement really. The only special that I didn’t do that way was my second special, Laughing to America, that I shot in San Francisco because nobody really knew me in America so I had to keep going back to San Francisco for months beforehand doing shows, handing out flyers, doing as much publicity as I could to get people to come to the show. If you’ve seen my special, that’s a smaller theatre. That was a 350 seat theatre. But I sold it out, and it was a fantastic special!
CU: Awesome! Is the type of comedy writing you do for the Daily Show any different than the usual way you write comedy, or is it pretty much simpatico?
GY: No, it’s very different. I’m not super political. So with the Daily Show it’s a different treatment. They’re like, ‘right we’re going to do some stuff about Brits!’ And I have to go ‘right’ and concentrate and write a load of jokes on my point of view of that. And you’ve got a deadline, you’ve got a certain amount of time to get to the standard. I don’t really work like that in my standup. If I think of something, I throw it out there on stage, and if it works I might do it the next night, and then the next night it’s better shit and then the next night it’s better shit. You keep doing that until you’ve gotten peak. So it’s a totally different way of working.
CU: Do you prefer straight-up standup, or do you also like topical stuff the same amount? I read that you were working on a scripted comedy?
CU: Would you consider doing more of that?
GY: Nope. [laughs]
GY: I’m writing a scripted comedy, but the scripted comedy is based on my life. So that’s why I’m writing it. I’m enjoying it, but no, standup comedy is my first love. Anything else I do to fuel the standup comedy. Anything I do on television or stuff like that I do so that more people will come out and see my standup.
CU: Can you tell us anything more about your scripted comedy? It sounds really cool!
GY: It’s basically autograph- autobiograph- sorry, I’m trying to get a workout in, I’m in the gym. Autobiographical! It follows me as a comedian coming up from London. Coming to America to live. Doing comedy. It covers issues of race, gender, sexuality between the two different countries through the eyes of a black female comedian.
CU: That sounds good! I would totally watch that. You’ve said you prefer the New York comedy scene to the LA comedy scene, what are your favourite comedy cities in the world out of all the places you’ve traveled to, and why? Is one of them Toronto?
GY: Oh yes! I love Toronto. I actually love Montreal, too! I’ve not done a bad show in Canada. So yeah, Montreal, Toronto, London has got a fantastic comedy scene, that’s where I started. New York has some of the best comedy clubs in the world. Sydney Australia’s got a comedy store out there which is fantastic. Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur has got a few fantastic comedy clubs…those are my top cities I think. Bangkok has got a great comedy club that I played a few times, so yeah as long as you’ve got a life and a good warm audience it’s going to be a fantastic night!
CU: And you’ve also said you believe in aliens. So would you want to perform standup for aliens? And what kind of set would you do?
GY: Wow, that’s a hard one…I’d have to go to their planet and wander around and make my observations, but I think I could do comedy for aliens. As long as they understood English, obviously. [laughs]
CU: Good point! What are some of your favourite things about Toronto? You said that you usually walk around and observe and then do your comedy based on that. What are some of your observations about Toronto?
GY: Toronto to me is like a baby New York, but cleaner and friendlier. Love that. Love the food. You’ve got good food in Toronto. And I’m vegan, and there’s a good array of vegan restaurants in Toronto that I’ve eaten at before, so I’m looking forward to that. The shopping! Shopping is good. I’ve never come back from Toronto without having bought some item of clothing, some funky hat or something. And everything’s in a more condensed area, especially around the hotel that I’m staying at. Everything’s in walking distance, so I love that.
CU: So, I’ve seen this thing online that you make your own chocolate. Is that true?
GY: I do! Yes, yes!
CU: And do you have any recipes? My mom actually owns a chocolate shop.
GY: Oh really? It’s pretty easy. I have a video on my Instagram, and I do #ginashealthtips. I’m vegan, so I make a lot of stuff because a lot of the American chocolate is full of sugar!
GY: -and chemicals and stuff that is not conducive [to health]. I’ve got a sweet tooth, I love chocolate and chocolate is actually good for you! It’s when you add all the other rubbish that turns it into crap. Making it is pretty easy, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, I mix in cinnamon, then some vanilla, put in some salt to taste, melt it all together. Sometimes I make organic peanut butter, almond butter and put it in a freezer in a chocolate tray. Good to go!
CU: Love it. I know you said that comedy was never part of the plan, and your mom wanted you to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or engineer. But did you ever have another career in mind as a child, or influences as a child that were a little bit comedy? Or was it more firefighter!
GY: I wanted to be an athlete. I was a pretty good hundred metres to two hundred metre sprinter. So my school was like ‘we want you to run for the school’, but my mum was like ‘if that means missing any lessons, no’. And that was the end of my athletic career.
CU: Oh no! I know you’ve also said that you’re reluctant to watch other comedians for fear of being influenced, but who are your favourite comedians when you do watch comedy?
GY: Oh gosh, so many! Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes, […] there’s loads, so many that I work with on a regular basis. I don’t really have favourites, I just go oh I love her! I love him! I love her too! That’s how I work.
CU: Awesome. One last question, and it’s a bit of a big one so I totally get it if you give me a blow-off answer. Where do you think comedy is headed in the next ten years?
GY: Oh, that’s a hard one. Well I think it’s going- I love the fact that comedians are almost becoming rock stars, which is great if you’re one of them. But the problem with that is the rest of us are now going ‘oh I want to go see that guy that I know from the movies’. And so a lot of comedy clubs are struggling to get numbers if you haven’t got a big name star on the bill. So that’s not a good thing. And also I think comedy has moved in the way that pop music is moving, in that it’s all about youth and looks rather than the content of what you’re doing. That I don’t like. So I’m hoping it veers away from that, cause at the moment that’s where it’s headed. That or a slow down and then death. But I’m hoping it doesn’t go that way, because obviously this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I just hope it doesn’t continue the way it’s going now.
CU: Well thank you for your attempts to peer into the future years after Jay Leno.
GY: [laughs] Thank you.
Gina Yashere will be performing at the Just For Laughs comedy festival September 26th at 10:30PM at Second City, September 27th at 7:00PM at Comedy Bar Main Space, September 28th at 8:45PM at the Royal Theatre, and September 29th at 9:00PM at Comedy Bar Main Space. Just click on the link to buy your tickets before they’re all sold out!