On the Yash: An interview with Gina Yashere

Updated: 3 Dec 2013

The unmistakable London girl has toured all over the world, with over 16 years in the stand-up business. Time Out KL's Matt Bellotti catches up with her for a 'poolside chat' at her hotel in the city.

How do you prepare for new audiences, especially international ones?
No idea! (laughs). No, literally it’s just going up there and trying a few things out. I must say I didn’t have the best first impression of Malaysia. We’ve just done shows in Jakarta, Bali and Singapore and in Singapore they were all saying how Malays are criminals, which I thought was a bit racist. But then we come to Malaysia and within four hours I’m walking along the street and this guy on a bike flies past and nicks my bag off my shoulder!

Where have you enjoyed performing around the world?
All over. Australia is good. I do the Sydney festival. I do Sydney every year - I love doing that festival. I also love performing in the US. The audience are just so…hard. They’re so cynical, you know? They know their comedy. If you can do a set in a room in New York and you can get 200 people laughing, you know you’ve got your sh*t together.

Have you got any advice from when you started out that could help our young, aspiring comics?
It’s hard. Generally speaking it’s hard. I get asked a lot how difficult it was for me starting out as a black woman doing comedy. I believe that England has the best comedy circuit in the world. And I believe that because as a woman starting out doing comedy clubs in England, if you’re funny, they will book you. I got my first 20-minute set together in six months. I’ve been there with three pounds in the world and no petrol in the car but needing to drive to a gig. But, in the UK, if you’re good, you’ll get gigs. I made money within six months.

How do you write your material and do you draw inspiration from any other comics?
I’ve got an addictive personality. I get right into things and throw everything into it. I go to gigs but I haven’t got an encyclopedic knowledge of jokes. I don’t have a lot of DVDs of comedians - I don’t do all that. I don’t want to be influenced by other comedians as I have a unique approach. Now you can see especially young black comics who have clearly been influenced by me; some of them even stealing my jokes.

How does that make you feel?
It’s very irritating. It’s taking money out of my pocket. Russell Peters did it. He admitted that he took my material. It’s on his DVD. I confronted him; “You need to pay me” I said. He said he would pay me. But he never has.

Do you think it’s more acceptable for younger comics, maybe who don’t have writers, to take material or is it just as irritating?
A lot of new comics steal when they first start. But it’s plagiarism. Simple as that. In the UK they are fiercely ambitious. They want to go on TV. And because it is not being penalised they will steal jokes as a way of getting on TV. It’s sad because nothing feels better than saying something for the first time and people laughing - nothing. If you recite someone else’s joke you’re talking about that person’s world. If you tell their joke you’re an actor, not a comedian.

This interview was conducted on December 2010 and has been edited slightly. Gina Yashere will be performing at The Comedy Club in Hard Rock Hotel Penang on Dec 8, 2013.

Tags: Features