Both celebrating and poking fun at her strict formative Nigerian-American upbringing, Orji shares her unique journey from pre-med to comedy, talks about parental pressures to get married, and takes us along to Lagos to meet her family and friends in her first HBO comedy special Yvonne Orji: Momma, I Made It! now streaming on Showmax.
Orji is best known as Molly on Insecure, a role that recently earned her a fourth Black Reel nomination in a row. While it may come as a surprise for Insecure fans to discover that Orji is first and foremost a stand-up comedian, this is hardly news to her fellow comedians. Orji has killed it in clubs from LA to New York, and even opened for Chris Rock during his 2018 Tamborine tour.
Orji’s path to comedy was a textbook case of destiny calling. From birth, she explains, it was understood that she would become a doctor, and she did, in fact, complete her bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in public health. But she believes God had other plans for her.
“When you’re a child of immigrants,” she says in HBO’s Backstories, “you’re not allowed to have talents. Your only talent is just to get straight A’s. So, I was like, ‘God, I need a lifeline,’ and, loud as day, I heard the voice of God say, ‘Do comedy.’”
“And I was like, ‘No.’ ‘Cause what? Am I funny? Then I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘What else do you have?’ I said, ‘I got nothing.’ So He said, ‘Well, one day you’re going to trust me, or you’re not.’”
Lucky for us, she did. Momma, I Made It! was recorded before a live audience in Washington, D.C, during her Lagos to Laurel tour, and gives us an intimate, hilarious look at what being Nigerian-American means to Orji – from her international haggling addiction to having her phone tapped by her parents as a kid, to the fine line, as she puts it, between cursing people out and putting curses on them.
The show is woven together with documentary footage of her most recent trip to Nigeria – her first since Insecure became a global sensation.
Taking to the streets of Lagos and Ihiala, Orji gives us a behind-the-scenes tour of the people, places, and culture that built her sense of humour. Along the way, she introduces us to her proud, loving, highly opinionated parents, her brothers and uncles, comedian Chioma ‘Chigul’ Omeruah, DJ Obi, and social enterprise and tech exec Tosin Durotoye.
“I wanted to include Nigeria in the show because there’s no way I could tell my story without showing you where I came from,” she said in an interview with The New York Times. “People try to compare Lagos to New York City, and I’m like, Lagos is New York multiplied by 25, bruh. It’s like Times Square, filled with brown people hustling, entrepreneurs, movers and shakers, traffic. Plus 20 million more people.”
“I think it’s important to normalize access to African countries where everything isn’t charactered or fictionalized,” she says. “It’s not Wakanda; it’s not x, y, and z. It’s like this. You know, we have beautiful homes, and we have dirt roads. We have super successful people and poor people. It wasn’t to show a perfect version of what Nigeria is, it was to show a real version of it and to normalize what the people look like and sound like. Because I think that’s how we actually make progress.”
In a decidedly un-funny year, Momma, I Made It! might just be the laugh everyone needs right now.