UK comedian Gina Yashere, who will perform at Pontoon tonight, worked as an elevator engineer before getting into standup. She’s been on the up-and-up ever since.
Speaking on the phone from a tuk-tuk on the road in from the airport yesterday, the Londoner said her career in comedy came as a bit of a surprise.
“I took redundancy at my job and was planning on just having a summer break before finding something else when I started doing a few club nights,” she said. “They went really well and it all just went from there.”
That was back in 1997. Since then she has become a regular on UK television shows including Live At The Apollo and Mock The Week while maintaining a near-constant tour schedule, selling out theatres around England and producing live show DVDs.
Yashere has also seen success across the Atlantic – her break came on the US comedy talent show Last Comic Standing – including a regular spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno appearing as Madame Yashere, the Surly Psychic.
Yashere said the character – who messes with passersby after luring them into her booth with promises of fortunes told – was an off-the-cuff creation borne out of desperation-induced creativity.
“They wanted me to come on to do some skits so I just came in with a bunch of ideas,” she said. “[Madame Yashere] was actually the last one, I pretty much made her up on the spot. I said: ‘How about a bad-tempered sarcastic psychic?’ and they went for it.
“It was supposed to just be a one-off but it ended up becoming a regular thing. I think I ended up doing about nine.”
She said that with so much experience in television under her belt, doing The Tonight Show wasn’t that big a deal.
“It’s really not that different,” she said. “I’ve done so much television now. I just come on, do my bit, and that’s it.”
Yashere said Leno’s chin was just as big in person as it appeared on TV.
“It really is enormous,” she said.
A regular visitor to Asia, Yashere has performed before in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia and loves Thailand so much she has a home there. This will be her first time performing in, and even visiting, Cambodia.
“It’s all going to be new to me,” she said, adding that she likes to incorporate a little local flavour into her touring routines – including her experiences in each country.
“Like, when I was in Singapore they kept on going on about the Malaysians being thieves and I was thinking ‘that’s a little bit racist’. And then I went to Malaysia and got robbed.”
Gina Yashere will be performing at The Comedy Club Cambodia with Emo Philips tonight at Pontoon (No.80, Street 172). Tickets are $10. The show starts at 8.30pm.