While the most immediate effects of the ensuing Brexit will affect Great Britain and the European Union, the diplomatic and fiscal split will ultimately spillover into the United States. That’s not just because President Donald Trump keeps talking about it, of course, but also due to its inevitable, world-ranging consequences (like HBO’s ability to finance certain filming locations for Game of Thrones). Like it or not, Brexit is a subject Americans should know about if they want to remain properly informed about the world — let alone their own backyard.
Enter Gina Yashere, an internationally famous British comedian of Nigerian dissent hired by The Daily Show to serve as its British correspondent. She appeared alongside host and longtime friend Trevor Noah on March 16th for her inaugural segment, “Ask the Brexpert.” Yashere’s hiring stems from the new Daily Show‘s efforts to attain a larger global audience than Jon Stewart‘s primarily American politics-focused heyday. As the London-born comic explained to us the week after her debut, however, her new gig has just as much to do with her and Noah’s shared love of comedy as it does with overseas shenanigans.
I know you have family and friends back in London. Is everyone okay following the attack?
Yes, everybody is fine. We’re on a chat group, because we knew that something like this may be coming. Soon as I heard, I texted the entire family, “Everybody okay?” Everybody texted back, so that was good. Because my brother works for London Underground — the Tube for everybody there. He manages a lot of stations in that area, so he was the first person I thought of. But everybody’s good.
I’m familiar with your stand-up from Live at the Apollo and appearances on American late night television. How did The Daily Show gig come about?
I’ve known Trevor a few years, actually. I first met him on Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand Up Revolution. I went down to Florida to record an episode for the show and Trevor was recording the same day, though he appeared on a different episode. I stayed to watch him. I thought, “I’ve never seen this kid before.” And he was fantastic! After the show, I told him I thought it was great. It wasn’t until later I realized, “Holy shit, this guy’s a superstar in South Africa!” I’ve been to South Africa several times for tours and comedy festivals, and I thought I knew all of the South African comics, but Trevor had become a superstar since the last time I’d been. I had no idea until I Googled him. Over the following years, we met each other all over the world. We were both in Australia once during the Sydney Comedy Festival, so we chatted backstage and had a laugh.
Later he was spending more time in New York’s Comedy Cellar, which is my home club in the city. We’d sit and talk about our careers and being outsiders in America. We just kind of hung out a lot, and that’s how The Daily Show eventually came about at the end of last year. I got a text saying, “Hey Gina, are you in New York?” I responded, “Yeah, who’s this?” I didn’t recognize him. (I think he changed his number since the last time we spoke.) He responded, “Trevor,” and I said, “I’m British. I know a lot of Trevors. Trevor who?” Once we figured it out, he said The Daily Show team “wanted to have a chat about doing some work on the show.” I’ve been a fan of the show forever, and it’s Trevor, so of course I said yes. I mean, what a great gig be to be a correspondent on The Daily Show!
So I came in and hung out on the lot one Tuesday, to sort out how it all works. Though only problem was, I was then about to go on a big tour in Asia for a couple of months, and wouldn’t be able to start until February or March. Trevor and his team didn’t mind at all, so I did my tour in Asia, came back to America and went straight to work for them.
It works out timing-wise, too, since Brexit’s not going away anytime soon. Neither, unfortunately, is Trump.
Yeah, the shared commentary is very apt. I’m sure there will be lots more to discover in the near future.
A large part of Noah’s coming on to host The Daily Show was his, and Comedy Central’s, plan to make it more global. I attended a taping in Philadelphia over the summer, and only then realized they would tape segments meant for European or Southeast Asian audiences. All in English, but with stories pertaining to those regions. With your hiring, it feels like this plan is expanding.
Exactly! I travel all over the world as part of my stand-up. In the last three months, I went to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Iran, Vietnam, and — of course — England. As a result, I’ve been developed a pretty good perspective on what’s happening in the rest of the world. Having expertise like that is good, I think, because that’s where I’m from. It’s a great concept.
Noah introduced you as the “new British correspondent.” Will you stick to the particular stories or segments that title implies, or do you think you’ll occasionally go more international with your bits?
I don’t know. Because I’m British, and I sound the way I am, I suspect most of my stuff will stick to a particularly British flavor. Things like Brexit and related stories from the region ought to come from a British perspective anyway, and since I’m British, it works perfectly. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t talk about events happening outside of England. With more appearances on the show, I’m sure we’ll expand to other subjects.
I’m glad you talked about being longtime friends with Noah, because how his crackups during your segment make sense. Comedians typically hate it when that happens, but I really enjoy watching performers laugh at others’ material — or their own.
I don’t think he knew I was going to do the whole slapping-the-chair thing. That was a last-minute ad lib in the moment, something I thought was too funny to pass up. He had no idea that was going to happen, so that’s probably why he was laughing so hard.
Right, but from an audience’s perspective, I think bits like that humanize the performers.
It also makes everything more fun. It’s nice when there’s an actual camaraderie between comedians. Random improv like that isn’t simply coming out of nowhere. We’ve had a mutual respect for each other for quite a while, and fun bits like that help it show, I think.
On the Last Things First podcast, you talked about the traditional model in comedy — performers do stand-up long enough to get on television, then drop stand-up altogether. You mentioned using television as a means for doing more stand-up. Do you prefer one to the other?
Stand-up is my first love. I love doing it, though a lot of comics see it as a means to an end. You know what I mean? They use it as a sort of stepping stone to get to other things. But I will never stop doing stand-up. Me and Trevor have similar thoughts on this. Even though he’s doing all these great things on The Daily Show, he still goes out on the road to do theater gigs. He’s always got a plan for doing more stand-up, because he loves it too. I think that’s why we bonded so well — talking about his love of doing what television work, of course, but also still loving stand-up. Even when he’s so busy, Trevor still finds time to go on the road and do more shows. I respect him tremendously for that.
Your Seeso special, Ticking Boxes recently came out. I noticed it was filmed in England, as were other specials like Skinny B*tch and your Live at the Apollo appearance. Any plans to film an hour stateside?
Already have! My second special, Laughing to America.
Ah, didn’t know that.
I’ve shot a few of my stand-up specials myself, Laughing to America included. Booked the camera crew and got my own director. We shot that one in San Francisco. So I’ve already checked that box, but I definitely want to do my next special in America again. Obviously this is my base now.
Even with places like Netflix buying up all these big names, a lot of comics I’ve talked to do the exact same thing. The Louis C.K. model, if you will. They develop and produce the hour themselves, and sometimes places it buy it up. Sometimes not, so they self-distribute.
That’s always my business model. I’m not going to wait for someone to give me a special, because I might not get that opportunity. What I’ve done is, with so much material, I just put it out there when I’m ready. I’ll make the special, and if somebody buys it, great. If not, I’ll sell it to a website or after shows on the road. I’ll make my money that way. I was able to sell Skinny B*tch to Showtime, which was great. The second made it onto Sirius, and now the third’s on Seeso. It’s a great model, doing it yourself.
And with more avenues like digital streaming and satellite radio available to comics these days, it feels like there’s a surplus of comedy out there. Maybe it’s too much, but it also affords audiences a lot of variety.
Well that’s it, you know? There’s such a community of work around the world, and maybe you’ve never heard of certain comedians because they don’t necessarily have the face, or whatever it is, to get on television. But that doesn’t mean they’re less funny, you know? I think these opportunities are good. There’s a lot of talent out there.
As for The Daily Show, do you have your next assignment yet?
Hopefully I’ll be appearing again soon, but I’m not sure what the subject will be. Since a lot of The Daily Show is very in the moment, with whatever is happening in the world that day or week, it’s hard to predict. So I can’t really prepare for it until the moment arrives. I’m just waiting to see what the stories are, then we’ll go from there.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs weeknights at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.