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Gina Yashere Is Black, British, Gay and Very Funny

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

This lesbian Nigerian-British comic is speaking truths and proving Black women can pack the house.

Some comics make the mistake of boxing themselves inside a nonthreatening paradigm in a desire to reach commercial appeal, but the best ones -- like Nigerian-British lesbian Gina Yashere -- use their comedy not only to pull audiences to higher ground, but to make room for other marginalized comedians in the white male-dominated world of stand-up.

London-born Yashere worked as an elevator engineer before hitting the local stand-up circuit, then crossed the pond to make appearances on Live at the Apollo and reached the top 10 on 2007's season 5 of NBC's Last Comic Standing. Named one of The Hollywood Reporter's top 10 rising talents, Yashere became the newest British correspondent on The Daily Show, and starred in four stand-up specials, two of which (Laughing to America and Skinny Bitch) are streaming on Netflix.

It's taken more than a decade, but audiences are finally catching up to her activist-driven messages about racism, homophobia, and womanhood. "Audiences are changing," she explains. "I feel like I can talk about stuff that I've had to work a lot harder to talk about in the past. I can get away with saying a lot more stuff that's on my mind."

Despite her message, at the end of the day, Yashere is a comedian first.

"I have to entertain you, I've got to make you laugh," she says. "I'm not being a TED Talk here. As long as you're laughing, basically, I'm sugarcoating a bitter pill. I'm telling you some facts, telling you some stuff about my life you might not want to hear. You might not be able to have the same [perspective] as a gay person. I've performed in the South where it's predominantly straight and Christian, and I'm just going to be who I am. But first port of call is to make sure to make you like me, make you laugh. Once you open up and trust me as a person, then you're more willing to open up and listen to what I'm saying."

The best comedians in history have used comedy not solely as entertainment, but as a mirror of social truth. Even in these politically polarized times, Yashere has found a way to seed her message.

"I feel like people are learning, and they don't even know they're learning," she says of her current stand-up routine. "I'll go up and do 15 minutes on micro-aggressions and racism, but they're laughing and they go, 'Oh shit, I've done that.' You know what I mean? But without beating them over the head with it and going, 'You people need to stop doing this.' And [by] making them laugh and telling them funny stories, I'm giving them a perspective that they might not necessarily have had."

The same could be said for her costarring role on MotherStruck! the series, based on Staceyann Chin's hilarious one-woman play about her journey as a single woman going through the process of in vitro fertilization. Yashere's role posits questions many have grappled with. The show has a serious message about the difficulties women over 30 -- especially single, queer women of color -- face while getting pregnant.

"As Black women, we can't afford to wait for people to hand us stuff because it's never going to be handed to us," Yashere says. "We have to make our own opportunities, and eventually... people will finally go, 'Oh, shit, we can make money from Black people!"

Yashere will soon be writing on a new Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom for CBS that features a Nigerian family. "We're bringing people of color to the screen," she adds proudly. "The industry is realizing now that by missing an entire race of people, you're missing a big chunk of money."

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