Gina Yashere on finding success in comedy and turning her biggest critic — her mom — into her biggest fan

Gina Yashere always felt she didn’t quite belong. 

The daughter of Nigerian parents, Yashere was born and raised in London by her mother after her father returned to Africa. 

“I was very British. At school, out and about — British,” Yashere told CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers. “But when I’d come home, it was very Nigerian. We wore Nigerian clothes. We ate jollof rice and pounded yam and okra stew. So I had that dichotomy.” 

She’s mined that dichotomy for laughs, joking about her upbringing in her standup comedy. 

“I imagine my mother in Nigeria with all her maps spread out before her. ‘Where shall I go, where shall I go? You know what? I am fed up with the sunshine. I want to go somewhere with a lot of drizzle, and subtle racism. Yes, that’s what I want,'” she joked during a show at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York. 

Yashere developed a keen sense of humor at a young age, but a comedy career wasn’t something she dared to consider. She described a childhood under the strict control of her mother. 

“I’d come home and I’d be, like, ‘Mom, I wanna go and hang out with my friends. I wanna go to parties.’ And my mom was, like, ‘Parties? You’re not going to party. You know you can go to parties when you become a doctor,'” Yashere said. 

Yashere became an engineer and worked for a time fixing elevators. She moved out of her home, but again felt out of place. She faced racism at work and was discovering her attraction to women. When comedy came calling, she decided it was time for a life change. 

“My mom was, like, ‘So you want to be a comedian, a clown? You are leavin’ engineering to become a clown?'” she said. “And then that was 25 years ago. And I never went back.” 

Yashere launched a successful comedy career working the stages in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until she moved to the U.S. that she felt she had finally made it. 

“America is the holy grail for anybody in the entertainment industry,” she said. 

Gina Yashere performs at a comedy club in Burbank, Calif.

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Her biggest break came when Chuck Lorre — the creator of hit comedies like “Two and Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Mike and Molly” — told her he wanted to create a show with a Nigerian woman as a protagonist. That show is the CBS comedy “Bob Hearts Abishola.” 

“I was, like, ‘OK, if I’m gonna come onboard, these are my rules: I want it to be authentic. I want it to be real. I want to cast as many Nigerian actors as possible to make this thing.’ I want Nigerians to be able to watch it and feel proud of it and not feel stereotyped,” she said. 

She’s not only a co-creator and producer, but also a co-star. It’s a role that has helped Yashere feel like maybe she finally fits in — that being Black and British, that being gay, that being of Nigerian descent is all exactly what she is supposed to be. It’s also something that has made her toughest critic proud. 

“My mum only comes out for the big shows. And in fact, my mum is here tonight! Where is my mum?” Yashere said at a show at the Apollo. 

Yashere said her mother “doesn’t mind at all” being the target of some of her jokes. 

“She can feel proud when she sees me do my stuff about her. So yeah, she loves it ’cause she calls me up and goes, ‘Well, I need 20% commission of your earnings. You’re always talkin’ about me. So where is my commission?'” Yashere said. “She’s going around telling her friends now, ‘Oh yes, my daughter. I always knew she was going to be a clown.'”

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