Gina Yashere: I Don't Think So

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

After a decade on the circuit, Gina Yashere now finds herself making the transition from club to theatre, a new environment which she seems reticent to embrace.

Her profile has never been higher. For precisely what, exactly, it’s hard to tell. She’s one of those comics who always seems to pop up – more often than not on a 100 Greatest Talking Heads run-down, but also on shows like Radio 2’s more-than respectable Powder Room. Her hard work has made her ubiquitous enough to be familiar, if not yet famous.

It’s a level of public recognition that means that the man making the announcements Canterbury’s Gulbenkian theatre can’t pronounce her name, even though it’s enough to sell several hundred tickets. Then againm even Yashere herself seems slightly suspicious of that fact. These are people who have come especially to hear what she says - yet she sometimes treats them like an undiscriminating comedy club crowd who need to be tamed.

Thus she frequently strides purposefully into the auditorium like a demented Trisha, desperately hunting banter and interaction, no matter what the effect raising the house lights and spreading the fear of being picked on has on the momentum of her show. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Her material, too, falls between two stools. Considered, intelligent material is constantly threatening to emerge. But she doesn’t quite have the courage of her convictions, and before the content gets too deep, she reaches for the safety rail of formulaic jokes and their guaranteed laughs: imagine the space programme… if run by Nigerians!

Yashere’s the queen of race-divide observational comedy of the kind most easily summarised as ‘black people do it like this, but white people do it like this’. For hacks, this set-up is a godsend, but Yashere mainly sidesteps the most obvious pitfalls – though her set still frequently demands the belief that every single black person acts in exactly the same way.

But then, as she points out, some stereotypes exist because they have a basis in fact. And she has got a fair few brilliant lines that rely on them – especially a real gem about black men’s supposed attitude to their children, however dodgy the assumption on which its based. That Nigeria, where her family originated, is as brutish, violent and corrupt as its reputation proves more rich pickings.

Mind you, Yashere is equally happy away from the topic of race altogether. She’s happy to play up her guilty pleasures as a slothful, celebrity-obsessed exercise-dodger who likes nothing more than vegging on the sofa in front of Big Brother or MTV Cribs. She’s fully aware of how trivial such shows are, yet is still engrossed enough to write jokes about its grotesque participants that go over the heads of those not similarly hooked. In a similarly mundane vein, chav supermarket Lidl remains a favourite topic, if only for the uniquely dismissive way she pronounces its name. The title of this tour, I Don’t Think So, neatly captures her zero-tolerance approach to the sort of rubbish she seems to go out of her way to encounter.

But for all these frivolous pursuits, Yashere is almost obliged to return to race. As she points out, as a black person in the media, however peripherally, she has to represent every other black person in Britain. Anything she does to embarrass herself, reflects on her whole community. It’s a burden white people don’t have to bear.

Touching on such topics are indications she has got depths that, for the most part, remain hidden. She seems to be nudging cautiously at more incisive material that would take her comedy to a new level, rather than grasping it wholeheartedly. It’s quite frustrating.

Personal tales best encompass both sides of her act – the crowd-pleasing and the social comment - and none more so than her exaggerated caricature of her no-nonsense Nigerian mother. Simultaneously protective, pushy, greedy and domineering, she’s surely a sitcom character waiting to happen.

Yashere’s inherited a touch of that overbearing manner herself, able to bully and cajole her audience. It may be playful, but we’re in no doubt who is in control.

So now you’ve got our attention, Gina, what is it you’ve really got to say…

Steve Bennett
Canterbury, Kent June 13, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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