What makes Brits laugh and not Americans? Funny woman Gina Yashere, who now lives in the States, decided to find out, writes Roz Laws.
She is a big enough name to be playing in front of thousands of people.
But far from embarking on an arena tour like her contemporaries, or at least gigging in 2,000-seater theatres, comedian Gina Yashere is appearing next week at The Drum.
The venue in Aston, Birmingham, has space for just 340 seats. But she specially requested it as part of a short UK tour because it’s one of her favourite places to perform.
For Gina, star of Mock The Week and Live at the Apollo, it seems small is beautiful.
“It’s a lovely, intimate room and a joy to play,” she says of The Drum.
“You have a real connection with the crowd. I had so much fun last time I played there that I had to come back.
“I’m just playing a few choice venues, in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and filming them for a documentary I’m making. It’s about my journey from Britain to America and comparing the culture of comedy in the UK and US. I’m looking at what you can get away with here that you can’t in America and what you need to change to work in the US.”
Gina, 37, moved from her native Bethnal Green in London to Los Angeles four years ago and quickly became a regular on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“I have to speak differently there,” she admits. “I had to change a few words and to slow down my speech – they don’t understand my broad Cockney accent.
“I have to explain myself – yes, I’m black and I speak like this. They haven’t really seen anyone like me before and many Americans don’t realise there are lots of black people in Britain. They know Idris Elba from The Wire, but they think he’s American.
“I do love living in LA. I’m a sunshine, flip flops and palm trees kind of girl.
“But I spend at least four months of the year in England. This is my home turf and where my main audience is.
“I pay tax in both the UK and US, depending on where I’ve done the work, and I have to have two accountants.”
For all the good weather she gets in LA, there are some things Americans will never be able to do properly. When asked what she misses most about Britain, Gina doesn’t hesitate.
“Chocolate,” comes the immediate response. “It’s disgusting in America, so sickly.
“When I come back to Britain I go crazy on Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, Kit Kats and Crunchies.
“But it’s good that the chocolate is so horrible in America because it keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
Gina now follows a mostly raw food diet which she adopted to help her conquer the autoimmune disease of lupus.
She was diagnosed with it in 2005 after suffering terrible pain in her hands and knees. She has an aunt who was thought to have died from lupus.
Gina was treated with steroids and the drug hydroxychloroquine but she didn’t like the side effects, which included her weight ballooning from ten to 15 stone.