Most people know Yvonne Orji as Molly Carter, the motivated but self-sabotaging partner of Issa Rae’s protagonist on “Insecure”, the HBO show about black friends of the millennial generation. in Los Angeles.
But as this series comes to the end of another season of meetings, breakups and growing pains (the finale of season 4 is June 14), HBO viewers will have the chance to know Orji as she- same, or at least the version it plays on the stand-up stage.
“Momma, I Made It!”, Which debuts on Saturday, is the first television special for the 36-year-old actor. Recorded at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, the hour-long performance finds Orji delving into life, love and finances through the prism of his Nigerian origin and is interspersed with Orji clips during a journey of back to Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria.
While “Insecure” became his calling card, it was comedy, not theater, that served as Orji’s entry into show business. Her journey, however, was unconventional. Born in Port Harcourt, in southeastern Nigeria, Orji arrived with her family in the United States in 1989, eventually settling in Laurel, Maryland. She then obtained several degrees at George Washington University before launching herself as a candidate for the Miss Nigeria in America pageant in 2006. She then played in clubs in New York and Los Angeles and opened for groups like Chris Rock.
“You can’t be Nigerian and tell your parents you want to do comedy without first having a few degrees under your belt,” Orji said recently.
In a telephone interview last month, she discussed the special, growing Nigerian American, the influence of her faith on her life, and receiving career advice from Rock. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You have obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in public health. This is not the usual route to stand-up comedy.
You have to give your parents what they want, and then you’re going to do the things you want to do. These are the rules. After graduating, I knew I didn’t want to go to medical school, but I also didn’t know what I wanted to do. Really, it was God who told me to do comedy, and I was like, “Okay, I can hear you. “
You cover many topics in your stand-up – meetings, finances, how your life has changed since “Insecure” – but your parents seem to be the theme you keep coming back to. We can even meet them on the special. Why are they so central to your act?
Growing up as a child of immigrants, you grew up to be community oriented; you never forget the house. It’s an endless quest to make your family proud. And although I have reached a certain level of success at this stage, I still want to buy a house for my parents or go to the village with a car.
I include my parents in my humor because they are the foundation of my perspective on many things. And no matter how old I am, I always find them very funny.
I also wanted my parents to have a say in a way that I don’t think many parents get. The comics talk about their parents on stage and in interviews, but when we say, “OK, mom and dad, this is your time. Here is your microphone “?
Parts of the special are also filmed in Lagos. As a kid, I used to go every two years and it was always too overwhelming. I like to describe the city as a life on steroids, good and bad. What do you hope people will see?
I wanted to include Nigeria in the show because there is no way to tell my story without showing you where I come from. People are trying to compare Lagos to New York, and I’m like, Lagos is New York multiplied by 25, bruh. It’s like Times Square, full of bustling brown people – contractors, movers and shakers, traffic. Over 20 million more people.
But Lagos is also magnificent. Nigeria is the place where anything can happen and everything is possible. There is paperwork in many areas and then there is no band in many areas. But that’s what makes Nigerians successful and uninhibited. Who will say no? And if someone says no, we find an ingenious way to get around the no.
You mention in the special that Africans have their moment in the spotlight now, but you remember that during your childhood in the United States, being African was not cool. I also remember; not so long ago.
The first thing to know is that Nigerians are very proud. We always knew we were stupid; you all made us feel that we were not doping, and now we are doped again?
It is also understanding that the things that differentiate you are the things that make you special. For me, I never thought I didn’t want to be Nigerian. I mean, I didn’t want to be bullied anymore. [Laughs.] But there never was a time when I didn’t want to be what I was.
It’s all about timing and changing pride. Last year, thousands of Americans traveled to Ghana for the year of return[aninitiativeofAfricannationscommemoratingthe400anniversaryof[aninitiativebyAfricannationscommemoratingthe400anniversaryofthe[uneinitiativedesnationsafricainescommémorantle400anniversairedela[aninitiativebyAfricannationscommemoratingthe400anniversaryoftheAfrican slaves arrive in Jamestown, Virginia.]. People loved “Black Panther”. You now hear Afrobeats on the radio. You like to see it.
In the special, you use a Nigerian accent everywhere. Given the sometimes contentious relationship between African-Americans and Africans, are you already afraid that your audience will laugh at culture and not with you?
I am not a caricature. So I don’t use the accent like a schtick. When I go to Nigeria, I don’t have [in an American accent] talk like that. To me, it’s not, “Let me use the accent and make people laugh. So, how people get it, that’s how they get it.
But I don’t necessarily immerse myself in relations between Africans and African-Americans. I recognize that it exists. I think: how can we be more unified? I’m not a history teacher giving a lesson. I’m on a comedy stage to give my point of view, and I hope it can create a little more understanding between us.
Tell me about your comic inspirations. Who did you learn from?
So: Wanda Sykes, Kevin Hart, Tiffany [Haddish] and Dave Chappelle, my God. I also grew up watching Sommore. She showed that you can be this confident and hilarious girl. I love it.
Speaking of influences, you opened up for Chris Rock for his “Tamborine” tour in 2018. Did he give you advice on how to navigate your career?
When I landed “Insecure”, I wondered if I should pivot professionally and be an actor. This is what I saw him and Eddie [Murphy] to do. And Chris said, “What? You never let go of comedy. You use it for other purposes, but comedy is the closest thing to a brother. You hold on to comedy. And he’s right: comedy is the thing that allows you to create your own path. You are your instrument. It’s just you and a microphone.
Have you thought about what the stand-up looks like after Covid?
We are all trying to understand what our new standard is. We are in a place where we know we need to laugh; it’s important, especially now. We need the lightness and the feeling of familiarity of what used to be. The gathering will certainly be different. The need for humor? It will never change.
Comedy is such a distinct art form. Standup needs an atmosphere to function optimally and requires feedback. Like many of us, I can’t wait to see what innovation comes from this new normal.
You say in the stage that as a Nigerian, you will always have several jobs. What’s the next step for you?
I titled the book because there is no me without my faith, to be honest. You won’t be able to talk to me if my faith didn’t support me during those times when I wondered if I wanted to have fun. Where I am today, and able to say, “Mom, I did it,” it was I who said yes to God. It’s bigger than anything my family or I could have expected, and my mind is almost blown away when I think about what is to come.