What makes Brits laugh and not Americans? Funny woman Gina Yashere, who now lives in the States, decided to find out, writes Roz Laws.
She is a big enough name to be playing in front of thousands of people.
But far from embarking on an arena tour like her contemporaries, or at least gigging in 2,000-seater theatres, comedian Gina Yashere is appearing next week at The Drum.
The venue in Aston, Birmingham, has space for just 340 seats. But she specially requested it as part of a short UK tour because it’s one of her favourite places to perform.
For Gina, star of Mock The Week and Live at the Apollo, it seems small is beautiful.
“It’s a lovely, intimate room and a joy to play,” she says of The Drum.
“You have a real connection with the crowd. I had so much fun last time I played there that I had to come back.
“I’m just playing a few choice venues, in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and filming them for a documentary I’m making. It’s about my journey from Britain to America and comparing the culture of comedy in the UK and US. I’m looking at what you can get away with here that you can’t in America and what you need to change to work in the US.”
Gina, 37, moved from her native Bethnal Green in London to Los Angeles four years ago and quickly became a regular on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“I have to speak differently there,” she admits. “I had to change a few words and to slow down my speech – they don’t understand my broad Cockney accent.
“I have to explain myself – yes, I’m black and I speak like this. They haven’t really seen anyone like me before and many Americans don’t realise there are lots of black people in Britain. They know Idris Elba from The Wire, but they think he’s American.
“I do love living in LA. I’m a sunshine, flip flops and palm trees kind of girl.
“But I spend at least four months of the year in England. This is my home turf and where my main audience is.
“I pay tax in both the UK and US, depending on where I’ve done the work, and I have to have two accountants.”
For all the good weather she gets in LA, there are some things Americans will never be able to do properly. When asked what she misses most about Britain, Gina doesn’t hesitate.
“Chocolate,” comes the immediate response. “It’s disgusting in America, so sickly.
“When I come back to Britain I go crazy on Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, Kit Kats and Crunchies.
“But it’s good that the chocolate is so horrible in America because it keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
Gina now follows a mostly raw food diet which she adopted to help her conquer the autoimmune disease of lupus.
She was diagnosed with it in 2005 after suffering terrible pain in her hands and knees. She has an aunt who was thought to have died from lupus.
Gina was treated with steroids and the drug hydroxychloroquine but she didn’t like the side effects, which included her weight ballooning from ten to 15 stone.
Then she heard about the benefits of detoxing and eating a raw fruit and vegetable diet. As her symptoms eased, she cut down on the medication and hasn’t taken tablets for two years. Her excess weight has also dropped off.
“Eating better has had a really positive effect on my health,” says Gina, who worked as a lift engineer before making it in comedy.
“I’m not 100 per cent healthy, I still have a debilitating disease. But at the moment I’m not on any medication, I’m controlling it through diet.
“I’d say 60 per cent of what I eat is raw. For breakfast I make a smoothie of berries, banana and spinach and for other meals I try to have salad and vegetarian food.”
Now that does sound like a Los Angeles diet, but Gina, who’s single, insists she’s not become a showbiz luvvie.
“There are normal people in LA and I’ve made friends with some of them,” she says. “I’m not into the whole celebrity schmoozing thing.”
She remains fiercely independent and is making the documentary on comedy on her own.
“That’s what I did with my last DVD. I produced it myself, then sold it to an American TV channel.
“I’m filming the documentary and then will decide whether to sell it to a TV network or try to release it as a film.
“I take my career into my own hands, I don’t rely on anyone.”
On a lighter note, there is somewhere else, apart from The Drum, that Gina’s fans will be able to hear her voice in Birmingham – and that’s coming from a rubbish bin.
Gina, along with Michael Palin and Amanda Holden, has recorded a message thanking people for depositing their rubbish in 25 special bins which are to appear on the streets of London, then will be moved to Birmingham next year.
The Keep Britain Tidy campaign was launched after studies in Sweden showed that talking bins collect up to three times more litter than ordinary ones.
“I think that’s the strangest thing I’ve ever lent my voice to,” says Gina.
* Gina Yashere Live In Colour comes to The Drum on November 18. For tickets ring 0121 333 2444 or go to www.ginayashere.com