Interview: Gina Yashere Discusses Stand-up, Improv and Sketch Comedy


With her gravelly voice, wide eyes and offbeat sense of humor, Gina Yashere is one of Great Britain’s most recognizable comedians. The London-born, Nigerian performer appeared on the Blouse & Skirt panel program and the Lenny Henry in Pieces sketch comedy series in the UK, then moved to the United States in 2009, and became a regular on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Despite her sketch comedy success, it is stand-up comedy that is her signature. We spoke to Ms. Yashere via phone to talk about her work on both continents.

A.D. Amorosi: When I lived in London, I went to as many underground comedy shows some, literally in basements – as I could. Was that part of your start?
Gina Yashere: I just picked up Time Out London to see where the comedy open mics were or what stage slots were around. For every one listed, they got a phone call from me asking when I could get on the list. That’s basically how I got started in that scene – cold calling.

A.D.: Did you immediately gravitate toward stand-up, improv or sketch?
Gina: Definitely something more long form. I can remember one of the first things that I ever did on stage was for a talent show, and I had written what turned out to be some form of a play, a comedy sketch. I got a lot of laughter during that sketch, and from there, kept thinking of other ways I could do that – especially by myself. That was my way forward – one sketch, then straight into stand-up.

A.D.: Who were your first comic heroes that made you want to write and perform?
Gina: I didn’t really have comic heroes, to be honest, at least not then. I really wasn’t big on comedy until I started doing it. There was no one that I wanted to grow up being because, as a kid, I wanted to be an engineer, which I became until I started comedy. I did start watching my peers more, however, when I got into the business.

A D.: So who then – among your peers – did you like?
Gina: They were all British comics such as Jo Bland who wrote Getting On, and is a brilliant stand-up in her own right. As a woman on the scene, she made me realize that I could do this, that I had a shot. Felix Dexter too, this hilarious black guy, as well as Lenny Henry – he was one of the guys that I learned to look up to.

A.D.: So then you must’ve been over the moon to work with Henry?
Gina: I was. He gave me a slot on his sketch show, and that really helped me develop.

A.D.: What is he like to work with? I watched his show religiously when I lived in London, and thought that he was magical.
Gina: Lenny was very kind. He allowed me to do what I wanted to do and try. Very supportive. I created my own characters, and he gave me the freedom to fly with them.

A.D.: You had, and have, so much acclaim in the UK. Why was getting to America a THING?
Gina: Well, I always wanted to get to America, even as a child. It seemed much more at one with my personality – it’s big and broad. Even when I worked as an engineer, I wanted to transfer to the US. In England, you’re right. I did achieve a certain amount of fame. I also thought, however, that I had hit a glass ceiling. I thought there might be more opportunity [in the US].

A.D.: Now that you live in America, are you surprised as to how stupid it is now?
Gina: (laughs) That’s a difficult one. No, I’m not surprised.  Everybody is stupid. Or, rather, every place has its stupid people.

A.D.: You spent some time on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. As a comic, he’s quite polarizing, either loved or hated. What was your take?
Gina: I thought he was very fantastic and very giving of his time. Like Lenny, he let me experiment. He was looking for new comics and characters to populate his show, and I tried like half a dozen. Finally, there was one character that I had written on the way over to NBC’s studios – this psychic. That’s the one he loved and let me run with for several years. I’ll always be grateful for that.

A.D. : You have done @Midnight with Chris Hardwick, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, all at Comedy Central. Do you think they’re priming you for something larger?
Gina: Not at all. I think I’m too old for their demographic. They are fun over there, though.

A.D.: So, what exactly is your stand-up going to be like?
Gina: To tell you the truth, I won’t know what I’m doing until I get into the room where I’m performing. I don’t plan ahead like that, so whatever pops into my head at that exact time, that’s what we’ll get. We’re in this together.

Gina Yashere, Thursday, August 10 to Saturday, August 12, Punch Line Philly, 33 E Laurel Street, Philadelphia, PA. For show times and ticket info call 215-606.6555 or visit
For info about the rest of the tour, visit

Photo provided by Punchline Philly

Posted on Saturday, August 5, 2017