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Yashere brings color to campus comedy scene

December 1, 2017

As part of Bowdoin’s No Hate November programming, Africa Alliance and the Student Center for Multicultural Life co-sponsored a performance by Nigerian-British comedian Gina Yashere on Thursday night. The show brought a full crowd of students, faculty and community members to Kresge Auditorium.

The show was something new for Yashere as she doesn’t perform at colleges very frequently and had not been to Maine before.

“I had no idea what to expect, I’ve never been out here, I’ve never been to Maine so I had no idea,” said Yashere. “I was expecting probably all white people, I didn’t expect so much of a beautiful mix of people so that was a very pleasant surprise.”

One of the goals for the event was for students to enjoy themselves, but also recognize the relevance of the comedic material and become more aware of bias on Bowdoin’s campus.

“I think being able to laugh and hear jokes that really hit on some nerves that maybe you have dealt with as a person [is] another way that you can interrupt bias, so I think comedy has a great role in that. Comedy can be, if thoughtful, very effective in raising awareness of some things [and] making it acceptable to have a conversation about,” said Benjamin Harris, director for the Student Center for Multicultural Life.

Ann Basu
Laughing out loud British-Nigerian comedian Gina Yashere performs in front of a packed Kresge Auditorium Thursday night as part of No Hate November.

While aimed toward the introduction of critical conversations, the show also promotes more representation on campus and exposes individuals to perspectives that they may not have experienced firsthand.

“[Yashere] is a Nigerian comedian out of the U.K., […] so I think representation is important,” said Harris. “It’s great to see folks of color of all different talents on the Bowdoin stage, from speakers to comedians. I think it’s important to see the representation, and I also think it’s important for students to hear voices that are different than the norm here at Bowdoin.”

Both Sophie de Bruijn ’18 and Collin Litts ’18 are members of Office Hours improv, and appreciated the diversity Yashere’s performance brought to the Bowdoin comedy scene.

“Bowdoin comedy is very white. So I think that’s why events like this are so important and so successful,” said de Bruijn, also a member of Purity Pact. “It can be hard if you don’t see yourself reflected doing something to envision yourself doing it. And comedy comes from perspective, and so the more perspectives that are represented, the funnier shows are.”

“It can pave the way for others to be inspired by comedy and it doesn’t have to be such a white thing. She was so great and I wonder if she will inspire others to participate in the Bowdoin comedy scene, because I know Office Hours improv for instance is looking for that,” said Litts.

President of Africa Alliance, Anu Asaolu ’19, said one of the primary reasons she and Harris decided to bring Yashere to campus was because they were looking for an innovative approach to address the main ideologies of No Hate November.

“When I was organizing this with Ben Harris, we were talking about how the idea of [No Hate November] is to be willing to step out of the comfort zone,” said Asaolu. “How do we use someone in a different medium who is talking about things that are relevant but in a more accessible, approachable way?”

The addition of a comedian for this year’s No Hate November programming follows a trend of last year’s keynote speaker, Aasif Mandvi, who approached these tough topics in a lecture style with humor that was more severe.

“I think [Yashere] does an incredible job of walking a fine line of being very humorous and funny about really sensitive things but knowing where that line is. She knows the line, as opposed to Aasif [Mandvi] whereas he said some things last year that were cringeworthy,” said Mohamed Nur ’19, BSG vice president for academic affairs.

For Asaolu, Yashere offers a relatable perspective, which she feels not only benefits herself as a woman of color, but most students at Bowdoin.

“I’ve been here for three years now, and seeing somebody coming to campus not only to give a talk, but somebody who’s relatable, who looks like me, who’s shared similar experiences and that is good to see as a trajectory—it’s just getting better in terms of trying to raise awareness and increase representation on campus,” said Asaolu.

From her playful crowdwork to her prepared material, Yashere’s show succeeded in this goal of being very relatable to Bowdoin students.

“Her crowdwork was really incredible and I thought it was actually the best part of her show because it really brought her down to the Bowdoin students’ level and was able to speak with us directly,” said Litts.

“Sometimes comedians are not relatable to everyone but she was really relatable to the black community, which I very much appreciated,” said Bethany Berhanu ’20. “I got all her jokes and didn’t feel excluded in this, which is great.”

To all potential comedians out there, Yashere offered a few words of advice:

“Work hard. Pull experience from your own life. And don’t do it for the money, do it for love, the money will come if you’re good enough and you follow your dream properly and you’re not just doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Anjulee Bhalla contributed to this report.

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