Out British comedian and actress Gina Yashere is making quite the splash internationally.
Born and raised in London by Nigerian parents, Yashere was already a rising star overseas before breaking into the American comedy scene with her successful appearance on “Last Comic Standing” in 2007. A year later, she became the first British comedian to appear on “Def Comedy Jam.” Since then, she has become a regular contributor and performer on comedy-TV institutions like “The Daily Show” and has starred in comedy specials on Showtime and Netflix.
Stateside success means that Yashere has seen her fair share of the cultural nooks and crannies of the United States. Her insights as a non-American performer are equally hilarious and kind of sad when you think too much about it. So we thought it would be interesting to pick her brain about how the United States looks through her worldly tinted lenses.
PGN: You started out doing comedy in the U.K., but have been performing in the United States for years now. What would you say were the biggest adjustments you had to make, if any, to your style when you perform in America?
GY: A lot of it is fish-out-of-water stuff. I talk a lot about the fact that I’m not from here. I didn’t have to change much. Definitely one of the changes I had to make was explaining who I am. People didn’t really get that I’m black and British. It’s only in the last couple of years with people like Idris Elba that Americans realized, “Oh, right, there are a lot of black people in Britain.” Before that, it was just me and I was constantly explaining it on stage. I have to slow down my speech a lot because my London accent is quite strong and when I talk at full speed, sometimes people can’t understand me. I had to slow down and enunciate when I moved here.
PGN: Do you feel like American audiences are somewhat less informed about the world than other nationalities?
GY: Yes, most definitely. Americans are a lot more insular. I travel a lot and talk about getting the shits in Malaysia, so there’s a lot of explanation of where Malaysia is and their culture before I can get into the joke. So Americans are not as well traveled and knowledgeable about other cultures, but I can understand that because you’ve got everything here. You can go within America to ski. You can go within America to the beach.
PGN: In the world of American entertainment, things like a performer’s race, sexuality and social politics can be somewhat of a big deal here. Are Britons as hung up on those issues as Americans are?
GY: We have the same issues [with race and sexuality] in the U.K. as America does. The Internet has made the world a very small place. There are aspects of political comedy that might be slightly different elsewhere than in America, but overall there isn’t a huge difference.
Gina Yashere performs Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at Punch Line Philly, 33 E. Laurel St. For more information or tickets, call 215-606-6555, or visit www.ginayashere.com or www.punchlinephilly.com.