Stand-up comedy still scares 'Insecure' actress

Nigerian-American actress Yvonne Orji went from performing stand-up in a beauty pageant to starring in HBO's "Insecure."

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 8:49 PM
Updated: Jan 2, 2019 9:21 PM

Ordinarily, you won't hear a lot of comedians crediting Jesus for getting them into comedy. Of course, there's very little that's ordinary about Yvonne Orji.

The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she entered the Miss Nigeria in America pageant as a young woman, unaware there would be a talent portion of the competition. Partly, that's because as a self-admitted tomboy, she didn't watch a lot of pageants.

"I was raised in a Nigerian household," Orji recalls. "We just don't sit around having talents. Our talent is getting straight A's, that's what my talent is. They were like, anyone who competes needs to have one, so I found myself stuck because I already bought the dress. I was really geared to win."

A devout Christian, Orji says she prayed on it and actually got an answer. The Holy Spirit, she says, told her to perform comedy.

"I said, 'No, you meant me? Where did that come from? Try again, it's me, Yvonne, your other daughter, how many do you have?'" she remembers asking God.

But Orji listened. Her performance was a hit and she was quickly hooked on comedy.

At the time, she was pursuing her master's degree in public health, and her parents wanted her to become a doctor -- not a "jester," as her mother called comedians.

She decided she'd stall and signed up to volunteer in Liberia.

"It was easier to go work in a war-torn country than just confess and tell my parents I'm not going to do medicine. I don't even like blood. I was like 'No, take me to the war,'" she remembers.

That only bought her so much time. Eventually, Orji surrendered to her passion, despite the fact that stand-up comedy still scares her.

"Stand-up is the thing that I know God wants me to do, but we want to do the safe thing," she said.

Comedy may not have been the safe bet, but it turned out to be a good one.

Orji's animated and hilarious stand-up work led to a starring role as creator Issa Rae's best friend, Molly, on HBO's "Insecure."

"I have the opportunity to have this phenomenal human being that I get to portray and I get to tap into," Orji says of her brilliant but romantically challenged character. "Every time I meet the real life Molly, it's like thank you for being so messy, I appreciate you for just figuring life out because now I get to figure life out through your mistakes."

For all those "Insecure" viewers waiting on Molly to figure out love, Orji is too.

"I don't need a whole season of happy Molly, but two, three episodes," Orji recalls telling the show's writers. "They in no uncertain terms told me that'll never happen, because if Molly's happy, then the show ends. I was like, really?"

Orji, however, radiates happiness. She says she feels fortunate to be living a dream that once seemed crazy and out of reach to a young Nigerian-American woman.

"I think we need comedy now more than ever, because there is just so much hatred. It's not even division, it's just actually hate," Orji says about the political climate in America. "We need conversations that are real and honest and hopeful and hope filled, and I think we need comedy that's bred in peace and in love to really kind of pierce through some of this hate."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31257

Reported Deaths: 1114
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds253640
DeSoto162016
Madison131434
Jones112849
Neshoba99271
Rankin95112
Harrison93311
Lauderdale91079
Forrest87842
Scott77315
Jackson63816
Copiah60715
Washington5919
Leake57819
Holmes55741
Lee55219
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51618
Yazoo5136
Lowndes49413
Leflore49151
Grenada4905
Lincoln46634
Lamar4657
Pike44112
Monroe40330
Sunflower4008
Lafayette3934
Attala36123
Covington3595
Panola3526
Bolivar34014
Newton3399
Simpson3233
Adams31318
Pontotoc2926
Tate28810
Marion28411
Chickasaw27918
Claiborne27910
Noxubee2678
Winston2666
Jasper2636
Pearl River25732
Clay25111
Marshall2343
Smith21811
Union2109
Clarke20724
Walthall2045
Coahoma2016
Kemper17914
Lawrence1782
Yalobusha1737
Carroll16611
Humphreys1509
Tallahatchie1374
Itawamba1368
Montgomery1352
Calhoun1324
Tippah13111
Hancock13013
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1124
Jefferson1083
Prentiss1083
Greene1058
Tunica1053
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George893
Tishomingo831
Quitman780
Choctaw744
Alcorn712
Perry674
Stone651
Franklin452
Benton380
Sharkey380
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 97°
Columbus
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 94°
Oxford
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 90°
Starkville
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 87°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather