Gina Yashere: the 'woman king of comedy' returns

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 6, 2023
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Gina Yashere
Gina Yashere

Gina Yashere is a busy woman. The popular comedian, an out lesbian, is currently playing a supporting role in the hit CBS sitcom "Bob Hearts Abishola," a show she co-created, co-writes, and is now the show runner for. In addition to all that, Yashere also enjoys a career as a stand-up comic, playing to sold-out houses wherever she performs. On Saturday June 17, Yashere returns to San Francisco with her new show, "The Woman King of Comedy." San Francisco is where she recorded her live show, "Laughing to America," more than a decade ago.

In a recent chat with the Bay Area Reporter, Yashere revealed that "Bob Hearts Abishola" has been renewed for a fifth season. She was pleased to report that the show has done well in the ratings.

"I take less sleep per night," she said. "From the moment I get on set I don't stop. If I'm not in the writer's room, if I'm not running around producing the other actors, then I'm also in costume acting. It's pretty non-stop, but I'm loving every minute. I've learned a lot these last few years."

Gina Yashere and Folake Olowofoyeku in 'Bob Hearts Abishola'  

Yashere added that she loves the acting, because it's a character that she's been working on for twenty years. She'd been waiting to bring that character to television. But she also loves the writing aspect of it in that she's bringing authentic stories to primetime television.

"I think we're kind of breaking boundaries here," she said.

"Bob Hearts Abishola" is the first time there have been Nigerian characters on an American television show. Yashere herself is of Nigerian descent, though she was born in London.

"I've always thought Nigerian characters would work well in the mainstream because it doesn't really matter where the characters are originally from, it's all about the story," Yashere said. "It's all about the three-dimensional aspects of the people. People have fallen in love with the characters. It doesn't matter what part of the world they're from."

Yashere had been trying to get these characters on screen for quite awhile. She's delighted that it finally happened and that she was proven right.

"It's very vindicating," she said.

Yashere has been keeping busy elsewhere. She has hosted the NAACP Image Awards and is now touring with her stand-up show. Her favorite places to perform are New York and San Francisco.

"Those audiences tend to be more well-traveled," she said. "Which means I can talk about a wider range of subjects and not have to explain so much. It's just a much more fun place to play. And when they come out to see comedy, they're coming out to see comedy. Where in Los Angeles half the audience wants to be in movies or TV themselves, so they're keeping one eye on you and one eye watching to see whoever else is in the room. I never have that problem in New York or San Francisco."

Earlier in her career, Yashere had to face certain prejudices from her audiences. People thought that Black people only existed in the USA, the Caribbean, or Africa, and had no idea there was a Black community in Britain.

"So I'd come on stage with my accent and the way I dress, looking slightly different from the average African American and I had to explain, yes, I'm Black and I'm British," she said.

Her new show chronicles her journey from being born in London to immigrant parents to dreaming of coming to America. Before she broke into comedy she worked as an electrical engineer. She'll talk about finally making it in America as a comedian and the struggles that ensued, and how she finally succeeded and got a TV show. She assured us that there was a lot of hilarity along the way.

"My last job was building and repairing elevators," she said. "I worked for a company called Otis, which is the biggest elevator company in the world. I was the first female engineer in England in their hundred year history."

But the job wasn't always fun. There was misogyny and racism on a daily basis, but she stuck with it for four years just to prove that she could do it and to open doors for women and for other Black people.

Yashere is quite open about her lesbianism.

"It's extremely important to be an out performer," she said. "It took me a long time to get to that point where I was comfortable enough to come out, because being a Black woman in this industry I already had two strikes against me. So I kind of took my time coming out because I didn't want to be boxed in any further."

But she now feels that being unapologetically who she is helps young people who are facing issues and living in parts of the country where they're not as accepted as they would be in New York and San Francisco.

"And I also feel that being completely myself has made my comedy a lot better because I'm not hiding anything about myself," she said. "I'm completely free to say whatever I want however I want to say it."

Yashere has a simple message for those on the fence about attending her show in San Francisco.

"If you speak English, you like a good laugh and you like interesting subject matter, there is no reason not to give my show a go," she said. "A lot of people come to my show never having heard of me and 99 percent of them become lifelong fans. The other one percent are just racist! My show is the place to be!"

Gina Yashere, June 17, 7pm at Social Hall, 1270 Sutter St. $27 and up.

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