US racism vs. UK racism? 'You know where you stand with American racism,' says comedian

q from the CBC
Gina Yashere on laughing in the face of bigotry

Comedian Gina Yashere has made a career of living in the face of bigotry.

British-Nigerian standup comedian Gina Yashere makes a career of using subversive humor to expose the eccentricies of modern society toward race.

The Los Angeles-based comic's jokes reflect the confusion of Americans toward her British accent and her whole being.

She says the accent makes people think she's smart. And exotic. Once, when asked about her origins, she said she had been part of a tribe of pygmies, but was kicked out for growing too much.

Yashere told CBC's q show that the bluntness of Americans toward race is often jarring, but that she has come to appreciate it. 

"I prefer good ol' fashioned American racism. 'Cause it's in your face. You know where you stand with American racism." Yashere told q host Shad.

"In England, the racism is very much more underground, more subtle. It's more insidious. You don't even know you're being discriminated against. It's, 'Hello. So nice to meet you.' Smile. Smile. Smile. And then you leave the room, and they say, 'We are never going to employ that woman.'"

A former engineer in London, Yashere said she would find bananas and pictures of monkeys at her job site. As a comedian for the past two decades, she's eager to distance herself from other black comedians who talk about their weight or spice their act with sexually suggestive references.

In contrast, Yashere has a bit about her sleep apnea, and often talks about being unafraid of police in America. One joke has her pulling over a policeman who has followed her for 12 miles. He, confused about her British accent, apologizes and said, "I'm sorry, ma'am, I thought you were black."

The edgy joke produces nervous laughter.

"Even though it's a joke, people are thinking about it. ... It brings up the issue of police attacking black people in America. I think I'm sort of helping," said Yashere, whose new DVD, Ticking Boxes, is out this month.

"I want to make people laugh first. If I make people think at the same time, great. But comedy is my first port of call."

Here's a clip from Ticking Boxes:

This story is based on an interview from the CBC radio show q.

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