Gina Yashere on Her New Memoir and 'Not Waiting for the Gatekeepers to Validate You'

by Darian Aaron

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 18, 2021
Originally published on May 28, 2021

Gina Yashere on Her New Memoir and 'Not Waiting for the Gatekeepers to Validate You'
  (Source:Gina Yashere)

As a left-handed person, lesbian comic and actress Gina Yashere knows that everything in the world is set up for the convenience of right-handed people, which she says is just "cacky," or in American terms — shit. In her new memoir, "Cack-Handed," available June 8 from Amistad Publishing, the former British elevator engineer-turned successful-stand-up-comedian invites readers into her life in working-class London as a child of Nigerian immigrants before and after she became an international sensation.

"It basically represents the path that my life and career have taken. It's never been straight up. And that's why I called the book 'Cack-Handed,'" says Yashere.

"It's a British term, which means left-handed, and also awkward and clumsy. It's a right-handed world, and I'm the opposite of everything," she says.

Before skyrocketing to fame as a stand-up comedian, and now co-executive producer, writer and co-star on the hit CBS show "Bob Hearts Abishola," Yashere made history as the first female engineer for UK elevator company Otis. She says a job with transferable skills prepared her for a comedy career and served as a source of frustration on the slow-moving journey towards success.

"The work ethic, the focus, helped in a way," she says. "And then it also hindered me in another way, because as an engineer, my thought process was like, okay, I get this qualification, then I do this for this amount of time, and I should get this as a result of all these experiences," says Yashere.

But she quickly discovered that this formula didn't apply in the entertainment industry.

"You could be the best comedian in the world. And you might not blow up because you don't have the right look or your age isn't quite right, or people just don't like your face or whatever. So that kind of messed with me for a long time in my career," she says.

"Why am I not getting stand-up specials, and this person who's nowhere near as good as me is? So, I had that engineering brain for a long time. And it took a very long time for me to let that go and just put blinkers on and stop looking at what other people are doing and just concentrate on enjoying what I'm doing and the path that I'm taking," says Yashere.

Striking out on her own to finance three stand-up specials ("Skinny B*tch," "Laughing To America," and "Ticking Boxes"), two of which are streaming on Netflix, along with the creation of "Cack-Handed," represents Yashere's unconventional path towards success that had very little patience for Hollywood's approval, yet forced those in power to tap into her comedic genius through the power of Google and social media — first with "Abishola" co-creator Chuck Lorre who discovered Yashere during a Google search for a "female Nigerian comic" — and second, the throwback Thursday Instagram posts that caught the attention of literary agent Robert Guinsler (Sterling Lord Literistic), which garnered her a book deal.

"The universe works in amazing ways," says Yashere. "I'd post an old picture of myself, and I'd tell an elaborate story behind the picture, and I'd do it every week. And people kept commenting...' these stories are amazing; we didn't know this about you. You need to write a book.'"

Ironically, Yashere had already begun filing away her popular #TBT Instagram posts for what would eventually become the blueprint for her new memoir, which she says fan will be shocked to find out that no topic is off-limits, including a suicide attempt at 16 that she addresses publicly for the first time in the pages of "Cack-Handed."

"They're gonna learn some stuff about me they may never have known. I had an evil stepfather; there's a chapter based on him. There's a lot of stuff in there that people will never have heard of that hasn't made its way into my comedy," she says, which is synonymous with her public persona and has endeared her to audiences around the globe.

But with a television show, the new memoir, and future writing opportunities, Yashere says her stand-up career could come to an end.

"I've definitely got at least one more special in me," she says. "It might even be a farewell special because I feel like my career is moving in a different direction now with television, with the writing and the producing," she says.

And with the release of "Cack-Handed" serving as the second-largest career opportunity following her television show to be birthed from her authentic presence on social media, Yashere has used all the personal attributes that Hollywood has historically labeled as a death knell to an artist's career and played it to her advantage, acknowledging the power of social media in her recent success, but also "the power of believing in your own talent and not waiting for the gatekeepers to validate you."

Darian Aaron is Editor-At-Large of The Reckoning, a Counter Narrative Project blog covering Atlanta's Black LGBTQ+ community. He is also the creator of Living Out Loud 2.0 and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.