One web search for "female Nigerian comics" forever changed Gina Yashere's life.
Chuck Lorre was developing a show about a Nigerian nurse (played by Folake Olowofoyeku) who dates a Detroit-based compression-sock businessman (Billy Gardell).
CBS's comedy king needed a writer to create the woman's point of view. His team found Yashere's act on YouTube, where the British stand-up comic describes the rigors of being the child of Nigerian parents — and then introduces her regally attired mother, who's seated in the audience.
"That clip went viral," Yashere says. "It has like 4 million hits."
Lorre's office called and invited her to L.A. for a meeting. Long story short: Yashere became a cocreator, coexecutive producer and writer on Bob Hearts Abishola, which debuted in 2019 and was recently renewed for season three.
It was not Yashere's first TV gig. Decades of stand-up in the U.K. and U.S. had led to regular appearances beginning in 2010 on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (as the "Surly Psychic") and, in 2017, as the British correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. On Netflix, she can be seen in season two of the comedy showcase The Standups and in her own special, Gina Yashere: Laughing to America.
In the Bob writers' room these days, she considers herself the show's "cultural attaché," charged with keeping things real for the immigrant characters.
She also appears as a series regular. "My dream when I was a stand-up comic was to be the best friend or crazy neighbor on somebody's sitcom," Yashere says. As the pilot was being crafted, she created a small role for herself — that of Kemi, who chats with the nurse during their commute.
Lorre, who loved the character, eventually gave her a larger storyline: she works in the hospital kitchen and serves as Abishola's brash confidante. Elements of Yashere's own life have informed recent episodes, in which Abishola's husband (Dayo Ade) comes to America to persuade her to return to Nigeria.
"That is the story of my parents," Yashere says. "My mom and dad came to England, and my dad was a lawyer with a PhD. But England in the 1960s was segregated, and he couldn't work. He said, 'I'm not going to stay in England and drive a bus.' So he went back to Nigeria and my mom, who was a teacher, stayed with us. She said, 'Our children are British. I want to give them the opportunities that being British entails.'
"Everything that happened to Abishola, apart from her husband coming back — my dad never came back — all of those stories are straight out of my life."
Yashere, who lives in Los Angeles with her partner, has collected this and other stories in her forthcoming book, Cack-Handed: A Memoir. The title is British slang for left-handed (which she is). "If you look up 'cack-handed,' it means awkward and clumsy," she says. "Which is kind of what my career has been."
Maybe, but the renewal of Bob Hearts Abishola proves Yashere landed in the right place at the right time. "I cannot quantify how much I've learned from Chuck," she says. "I just want to crawl inside his head and grab what I can. He's changed the course of my life."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2021