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15 September 2021

Gina Yashere Q&A: “This planet needs a good shakedown. Wipe it out, start again, Etch A Sketch-style”

The comedian discusses the work of Malcolm Gladwell and Nelson Mandela, and a missed career as an athlete.

By New Statesman

Gina Yashere was born in east London in 1974. She started her career as a lift technician before moving into comedy. She is also a writer and producer on the CBS show Bob Hearts Abishola.

What’s your earliest memory?

Me and my brother – I was three, he was 18 months – in a car wash, and we’d never been in a car wash before. We were licking the windows, trying to get the suds off.

Who are your heroes?

When I was little my hero was Bugs Bunny, because he outwitted everybody. I’ve never really hero-worshipped anybody as an adult though.

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What book last changed your thinking?

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. It broke down how people make snap judgements. I know that, as a black person, people make snap judgements when they see me. But he took that down to a molecular level, not just about race, but about class, about money – everything. That book blew my mind.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela. For the obvious reasons, and because, after 27 years in prison, he came out and didn’t just go, “Kill everybody!” I might have done that, out of fury and for revenge. But he came out so forgiving and made Africa at least a bit better as a result.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

I’ve been on Celebrity Mastermind and my specialist subject was the history and mechanics of the lift – or the elevator. I did well on that, even though I didn’t win overall. It’s pretty geeky.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

As a black gay woman, I don’t want to go backwards. Though, having said that, I would love to have been in 1970s New York, when Studio 54 was in its heyday, because that looked like mad fun and craziness.

Who would paint your portrait?

Bisa Butler. She’s a wonderful artist who does the most colourful, amazing portraits with fabric as well as paint. She uses art to accentuate the beauty of black people.

What’s your theme tune?

Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch” – not because I am a bitch, but because as a black, outspoken woman, we are considered aggressive bitches. I’m gonna embrace it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t compare yourself to other people. I didn’t start following it until four years ago. I wasted a lot of time not following it, but when I did, the universe opened up to me.

What’s currently bugging you?

Racism, misogyny, homophobia, mosquitoes.

What single thing would make your life better?

If I could eat all the sugar I want, in copious amounts, and not be sick or get fat – that would make my life so much more fun.

When were you happiest?

Right now. I live in a place where there’s sunshine all the time and I do a job that I love. I’m achieving things that, as a little black girl from Bethnal Green, I never thought I would.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

As a kid I was a pretty quick runner. If my mum hadn’t been so obsessed with my academic performance and stopped me doing athletics at school, who knows? I might have been a 100-metre sprinter!

Are we all doomed?

Yes. We are destroying the Earth and Covid-19 was a warning. The planet needs a good shakedown. Wipe it out, start again, Etch A Sketch-style.

“Cack-Handed: A Memoir” by Gina Yashere is published by Harper Collins

[See also: Richard Osman Q&A: “Do any New Statesman readers have a spare right knee?”]

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This article appears in the 15 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Fateful Chancellor