Yvonne Orji is on a run right now with her career. The stand-up comedian & actress just wrapped another successful season of HBO’s Insecure and is adding film to her credits. As mentioned previously, Orji recently landed her first studio-film by joining the cast of ‘Night School’ alongside Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Taran Killam, and Megalyn Echikunwoke. Comedy Hype caught up with the Nigerian-born talent to talk about her roots, Insecure, set life, and her rise from a weekly stand-up show in NYC.
Orji will be at Atlanta’s Punchline Comedy Club on Oct. 11th. For those interested, unfortunately the show has already sold out.
Let’s talk about the come up. Many people don’t know about the work and grind that goes into comedy. How has your come up experience been so far?
YO: The grind is real. My process started in Maryland to New York to LA. I got a lot of early success in Maryland doing corporate shows. I didn’t know that a life of a comedian was $20 performance spots. I only knew about making $400 per performance. I knew I wasn’t going to go the traditional route. I’m Nigerian, and we’re resourceful. I had an opportunity to take over an open mic night in New York City. I could have kept it as an open mic or I could have turned it into a weekly show, and that’s what I did. I bought my own amp, lights, and mic stand. Turned it into a real comedy spot at a top-level restaurant. For me I looked at it like at least I can perform once a week, and at least I can meet some comics to build my network. I did that for a couple years in New York. I later ended up reaching out to a Nigerian writer in LA. He saw my footage and was like, “You know what I’m writing on a show called, Love That Girl… we’re looking for interns… If you’re interested we can put your name in a hat.” I got the internship and turns out that one of EP’s saw me perform a few years earlier. Before I knew it I was punching up jokes for the script and then I told them my life story. Then they suggested I should write something about it.
Was that the moment when you were inspired to create your First Generation series?
YO: That conversation was it. She was like, “You could blow up…. the power in Hollywood is with creatives… you could write your way to your success.” It was tough at first to write because if you don’t know anything about Nigerians, we’re really conservative. I didn’t know if i was going to tell the story because I didn’t know how my mom or family would feel. They ended up asking me to come back for the next season of the show. When I got to LA, I had to start over again.
“Every time I get on stage, I felt I had to be excellent because this could be my audition tape that I didn’t know I was auditioning for. That’s how I carried it.” – Yvonne
How conscious are you with maintaining your Nigerian roots as you ascend?
YO: I wear Nigeria on my sleeve. That will never end. It’s part of the reason I made it. I have two tattoos, one says in Nigerian, “We don’t finish second place” and the other tattoo is a scripture verse that really helped me out. God and country, thats my heartbeat. Yeah I represent Nigeria to the fullest.
CH: Saw you made a recent trip to South Africa, what inspired that trip?
YO: I do a podcast with ‘Uninterrupted’, which is Lebron James’s digital platform. The NBA was doing NBA Africa out there. Me an my co-host Rosalyn Gold-Onwude decided to go to be apart of their initiative. Just because we’re both Nigerian didn’t mean we knew everything about the continent. The trip was very eye-opening to me.
Now one of your biggest roles to date has been Molly on Insecure; guys like Rapahel Saddiq have went on to express they would date a Molly-type. What about Molly do you think guys are attracted to?
YO: I don’t know if guys are attracted to Molly. On the internet they say, “She’s a mess.” Here’s the thing, I think Molly would make a phenomenal wife or girlfriend. She just has to get to that point. I think she’s just grappling things on all ends right now between work and her life. Hopefully guys like a Molly because she is a strong independent black woman. I hope you’re right that a lot of guys like Molly.
Speaking of strong women, what have you learned being around someone like Issa Rae?
YO: Issa is a constant professional. I really think every female actor on our set are strong in their own way. You have Amanda Seales who plays Tiffany, she’s very opinionated and smart on black education & culture. You have Natasha Rothwell, and she’s funny & comfortable in her own skin. I think we are definitely strong in our own way. I think Issa as the leader of this vision is so gracious. She has a very distinct view. She means what she says.
Everyone has been loving Insecure so much that there’s a Trivia card-game floating around, testing people about it. Have you seen those?
YO: I have and was like I didn’t want to take the test because what if it told me I wasn’t Molly. [Laughs].
Well we have 3 questions from the Insecure Trivia Cards (Created By Republican And Co.); Care to try it out?
YO: You want to try it out? Ok [Laughs]
1. In Season 1, each episode title includes what phrase?
A. As Hell
B. As F*ck
D. As Sh*t
YO: As F
2. In the first episode, what does Lawrence neglect to celebrate with Issa?
B. 4th of July
C. Her birthday
D. Her promotion
YO: Her birthday [Laughs]
3. Ok last one… How long have Issa and Lawrence been dating?
A. 2 years
B. 5 years
C. 7 years
D. 10 years
Yvonne: 5 Years
Correct! [Laughs] You got all three right.
The next big project will be your first major film, Night School. When you heard the news, did you celebrate?
YO: This is my first film period. It happened very quickly. I got the word I booked it and had to leave for Atlanta three days later. It was very quick. It was good times then it was like, “Oh I have to pack up.”
You’re working with 2 heavy hitters in the film; Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. What’s the energy like?
YO: The energy is so dope. The first day…. it was laughs. Tiffany was just giving us all her hair and makeup regime. The first time Kevin met me he was like, “Hey listen think you’re doing great on the show, what all you guys are doing….you’re really doing great and that’s the last compliment you’ll get from me.” [Laughs]
So you’re reportedly playing a principal in the film?
YO: Yes. I’m actually playing the best friend to Kevin’s girlfriend. I just don’t trust Kevin’s character in film. I’m trying to figure out what his angles is and there’s some back and forth there.
You just shared the stage with Chris Rock in Atlanta a few months back, and we can’t help but wonder when your comedy special is coming?
YO: You know, it’s coming. I’m actually back in Atlanta with two shows on October 11th at Punchline Comedy Club. And I’m also headlining Carolines Comedy Club in January 4-6. I don’t want to rush it (a comedy special). I want to put out a special when I’m suppose to put it out.
Now that you’re seeing this recent success, what was the first gift you got yourself?
YO: I got a new car. I was driving a 2001 Honda accord…. But the very first thing was getting out of debt. I paid off all my student loans during season 1. I cut Sallie Mae that good check. It felt phenomenal. It was a fulfillment. It felt good to be able to pick up my phone. [Laughs] I don’t have to make up a story on why I don’t got it. I put all my bills on auto-pay. Before I couldn’t do that [Laughs]. But yeah I got me a nice little whip and pulled up to set.
Get ready for more Yvonne, and come back to see her latest.