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Gina Yashere: A fearless, British queen of comedic proportions

(Editor's Note: This is the third of a three part series on the Queer Queens of Qomedy event to benefit HRC.)

SAN DIEGO -- Be in store for some crazy and fearless fun this Saturday, March 24, 2012, when Gina Yashere headlines the Queer Queens of Qomedy show at the Birch North Park Theater.

When Yashere (pronounced "Ya-sher-ay") decided to leave her native Britain five years ago, she had but "two suitcases and a pocketful of dreams" and was in search of the ultimate source of vitamin D: the sun.

She headed straight for Los Angeles and hasn't looked back.

"I'm a sun worshipper," Yashere told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in her adorable cockney accent. "I love it, I absolutely love it. I have no regrets. The world is a small place, I can jump right back on a plane and be home in London in no time."

And she does. Yashere returns to the UK at least three times per year, but even though her heart and home are now in LA, she's constantly on the road elsewhere.

In the past year alone, Yashere has had gigs all over the world in such far away places as India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand, and also in more familiar places, like New York and London. She's even performed for the troops in Iraq on two occasions, one time literally dodging rocket blasts en route to the base.

"That was scary, but then I realized this happens to these guys every day."

All this world travelling means her comedic material must adapt well, and she says it does. As such, her comedic genre could be easily described as all over the map, or as she says, "anything and everything."

"I have a set number of jokes but I never know if [any of them] will pop in," she said. "I generally go into a city, spend a day, then it becomes observational. I talk about myself, what's in my head and go from there … my [comedy] travels quite well."

She's known around the world, was the first British comedian to perform on DEF Comedy Jam, appeared on the Australian version of "Last Comic Standing" and now even has a regular gig on network television -- but it wasn't until a 2009 gig at The Dinah in Palm Springs with Margaret Cho and Jessica Kirson -- that she began to seep into the consciousness of the lesbian community.

"The people from Olivia caught my act there, so I got invited to do a show and that's where I met Poppy." (Poppy Champlin is the producer of Saturday's Queer Queens of Qomedy.)

When asked point blank whether or not she was indeed part of the community (since many of the acts at The Dinah are not) she jumped right into her stage persona.

"Yes. I am. I'm not just gay for pay," she quipped. "I've never been marketed as a lesbian comedian, just a comedian, and I'm quite fine with that. I'm out, I just don't scream it from the rooftops."

Academia tugged, but comedy awaited

She's certainly never hidden the fact that she's a lesbian. Even her first career choice would probably trip the most closeted person's gaydar -- as a "lift" (elevator) engineer.

Raised as one of five children in an academic household, nothing other than an academic career was expected of the young Gina.

Her English and drama teachers had always seen the performer in her as a child and always offered encouragement, but Yashere knew a career on stage would not be acceptable to her scholarly parents. Instead, she settled for the lift engineer position, a job she says she "clicked" with and even enjoyed for a time.

Several years later, however, she decided to take the summer off to "do whatever I wanted." Some of that included a few open mic nights, which led to invites and guest spots opening up for more well-known comics at a flat rate of 20 quid a shot.

Not surprisingly, she didn't return to her lift job at summer's end; but for the next seven years, she kept an eye on the engineering want ads, never expecting the roll she was on to last.

After 17 years she is still going strong.

"I'm completely unemployable now," she laughed. "Seventeen years of not getting up, or having someone tell me what to do. Seventeen years of freedom. I could never go back."

Yashere got a huge break several years ago when Jay Leno was looking for "pop comedy" talent to supplement his own on the new The Jay Leno Show. Her manager sent in her DVD and she was given a shot. Her "Madame Yashere: The Sultry Psychic" debuted to great reviews, causing Leno to bring her along when he returned to The Tonight Show. She has since become a recurring character.

Her bucket list is quite full, in fact she doesn't think there is anything left to do. A thrillseeker at heart -- something she blames on her mother for giving her such a strict and sheltered upbringing -- she's tried it all.

"My mother calls me crazy as a loon, but it's all her fault," she said. "I've jumped out of planes, raced cars, raced motorcycles, flown helicopters, and even scuba dived but I can't swim. I have a whole routine about that so if someone reminds me near the end of the show, shout it out and I'll tell the story."

Venue sizes to not discourage or intimidate her. "I like small rooms with low ceilings and I like big venues. I can play to 12 people or 5,000. As long as it's an audience facing the right direction, I'm happy," she said.

She does love audience participation, and she's looking forward to her first lesbian audience in quite a while. San Diegans are not to worry, she is quick to point out that she doesn't like to pick on people or make them uncomfortable. "We will have a laugh, but it won't be at your expense."

Today she is just enjoying the sun, loving the LA lifestyle, making new friends and living her dreams. She's looking forward to sharing her style of humor with a new set of fans in San Diego.

Producer Champlin knew she wanted Yashere as part of her QQQ the first time she caught her act.

"I met Gina on an Olivia cruise or resort I'm not sure which," Champlin explained. "And what a breath of fresh air it was to see her perform. Unique style -- funny jokes -- British accent -- nice body -- stylish fashion sense -- unapologetic. It is all her own style, I loved it and laughed my ass off.

"Her life experience has been so varied, that she has so much to draw from -- it is a pleasure to work with her," Champlin said.

Giving back to the community

Since starting the Queer Queens of Qomedy, Champlin has made sure each event had a benefactor, where 10% of ticket sales go to a non-profit.

This year, she has teamed with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as the official 2012 sponsor. The idea came to her after participating in an HRC event last year.

"Sponsors come and go," she said. "But with money going to HRC, we can laugh while we fight for our rights."

According to the HRC mission statement on their website:

HRC seeks to improve the lives of LGBT Americans by advocating for equal rights and benefits in the workplace, ensuring families are treated equally under the law and increasing public support among all Americans through innovative advocacy, education and outreach programs. HRC works to secure equal rights for LGBT individuals and families at the federal and state levels by lobbying elected officials, mobilizing grassroots supporters, educating Americans, investing strategically to elect fair-minded officials and partnering with other LGBT organizations.

For more information about San Diego's local HRC Chapter, visit their Facebook page.

Where to purchase tickets for the March 24 show

The Queer Queens of Qomedy, presented by PoppyCock Productions and sponsored by HRC, will perform at the Birch North Park Theater on Saturday, March 24, 2012, beginning at 8 pm.

"These [QQQ] shows are Class A entertainment," Champlin said. "If you can't get to Olivia or The Dinah to see this level of comedy, these shows are so worth the money."

The Birch is located at 2891 University Ave, in the North Park community of San Diego.

To get tickets, visit the The Birch North Park Theater website or call the Box Office at (619) 239-8836, ext 3.

Ticket prices are as follows:

  • VIP: (50 seats in first few rows -- be ready to be part of her routine!) $35
  • General Admission: $25
  • Discounts are available: for Seniors, Students and Military (active, reserve and retired - must show ID at Will Call) -- $30 for VIP and $20 for GA.

Note: All tickets are subject to a $2.00 "Birch North Park Theater Restoration" fee. If you wish to have them mailed, there is a $1.50 fee.

Tickets are also available at the door.

Check out this video of Gina Yashere on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: