Funny and poignant, comedian Gina Yashere’s memoir Cack-Handed chronicles her journey from a council estate in Bethnal Green to the upper echelons of US TV comedy, touching on themes of family and race.
Depending on how old you are, you may recognise Gina Yashere. In the noughties, she was big on British TV: Mock the Week, Live at the Apollo, and The Lenny Henry Show. Tanya and the iconic ‘I don’t think so!’? That was the brainchild of Gina.
In the last decade or so, Yashere has risen through the ranks of American comedy and now lives in California. She was a regular on Comedy Central; she has three solo stand-up specials on Netflix and since 2019 she’s been working on her own cable TV show Bob Hearts Abishola, as co-created with the King Midas of the American sitcom Chuck Lorre.
Yashere is the top brass in quintessentially American television. But with a distinct Cockney twang, the question inevitably arises – how did she get there?
Yashere’s memoir Cack-Handed reveals all. Yashere narrates her odyssey to the United States, starting off with her childhood in a Bethnal Green council estate, through to her turbulent adolescence, her time as an engineer transforming Canary Wharf into a business mecca, and her eventual emergence in the British comedy circuit.
Born to Nigerian parents, Yashere and her siblings grew up in a working-class, single-parent household. As an immigrant, the refined intellect and social status of her mother counted for little in England, being forced to work menial jobs for much of Yashere’s youth. Her father was absent, returning to Nigeria and only getting back in touch when Gina found success in comedy.
Cack-Handed is disarmingly frank. Yashere is brazen when recounting her adolescence, candidly discussing her mother’s unaffectionate and restrictive parenting style and her abusive stepfather. She bares all when depicting the relentless stream of racism and violence she suffers throughout her life, whether it be at primary school, as an engineer or at the BBC.
It is her experience at the latter that is especially sobering. In spite of selling out auditoriums across the country and writing for major television shows, Yashere describes hitting an impenetrable glass ceiling. Whilst the British entertainment industry upholds a facade of openness and acceptance, Yashere felt marginalised. There was no room for her and other Black comics to grow and reach their full potential.
It would be a mistake to think of Cack-Handed as a particularly difficult or depressing read. Yashere’s self-confidence and resolve shine throughout. It is after all her experience at the BBC that compels her to start afresh in the United States. Most importantly, Yashere is also very funny. Each and every anecdote, whether it be O Levels or performing at Hackney Empire, is laced with her acerbic wit.
Cack-Handed is a powerful and highly enjoyable coming-of-age story. Those who embark on Yashere’s journey will immediately engage with Yashere herself. Beyond her humour and dynamic personality, the book is written in an accessible style.
The idiosyncrasies of Nigerian culture are clearly and concisely explained. However, be warned – you will quickly find that the book was written for an American audience, so similar explanations of British colloquialisms might get a bit grating.
Whether you are interested in Gina, comedy, or the social history of London, Cack-Handed is a quick, funny and compelling book, perfect as a poolside read or stocking stuffer. This East Ender is one to keep your eyes on.
If you enjoyed this, you may also like Jean Fullerton: ‘The Queen of the East End’.
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