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Get To Know: Yvonne Orji

Actress, author and comedian Yvonne Orji discusses new projects including Vacation Friends, her faith-led journey to success and how she’s embracing the beauty of individuality.

Photo credit: Allen

“We all want our big moments to happen immediately when we take that first step. But a lot of times that doesn’t happen.”

Yvonne Orji is booked and busy these days. Orji and the rest of the Insecure cast recently wrapped up the final season, but the actress and comedian hasn’t lost momentum: Among recent projects, she’s a co-star in the Hulu comedy Vacation Friends, which premiered last week, and her autobiographical comedy, First Gen, is currently in development for Disney+. 

It wasn’t always this way. The author of the book Bamboozled By Jesus: How God Tricked Me into the Life of My Dreams remembers first trying to break into the comedy world in 2006, but it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that she started booking big gigs. “We all want our big moments to happen immediately when we take that first step,” says Orji. “But a lot of times that doesn’t happen. It happens years later.” 

Sweet July spoke to Orji about her journey to embracing who she is, the impact she wants to make through her work and the process of dealing with bittersweet endings and exciting new beginnings.

How do you go about choosing the projects you pursue?

Yvonne Orji: I want people to have fun in life, that’s important to me. I think so many of us live, but so many of us are not living. With my content, if it’s a comedy special, if it’s a TV show, if it’s a movie, I want it to be entertaining. I also want people to be a little more free to be themselves and be a little more humane. 

One thing that attracted me to Vacation Friends was when I read the script. I got to the end of it and saw my character and Lil Rel’s character, and I was touched and impacted by this other couple that they didn’t think they had anything in common with or that didn’t have any value. And then they saw like, ‘wow, they really made an impact in our lives.’ I think that was what resonated with me. Being able to get that message at the end. We could all use a little bit of heart and humor, especially coming out of the last two years.

You recently wrapped up the final season of Insecure. What lessons in endings did you learn from this? 

“Knowing when to say goodbye is equally important as knowing how to say goodbye.”

YO: You just have to end things graciously. I think we had an amazing run. Insecure was a moment in time, that we can all appreciate it, that we can all enjoy, that we can all take with us to whatever our next thing is. It was such a launching pad for so many of us that had been working so hard in other elements. And now this kind of gave us a platform to be so much more visible.

Letting go is never easy, saying goodbye is never easy. We all kind of knew goodbye was coming. But we knew that we ended the season as best we could and the scripts that came in were really beautiful. Issa and the producers have always had a vision for the show and this last season is no different. Knowing when to say goodbye is equally important as knowing how to say goodbye.

What’s the story behind the launch of your book?

YO: My story can’t really be told without a faith element, because I would be in Laurel, Maryland right now, being somebody’s very horrible doctor without God intervening and telling me to do something completely different and out of my element. We all have those moments in a transition where we’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do. Is this even going to work out?’ That’s how the book was born. It was kind of me feeling like I had come to a very natural end of phase one of whatever this journey was. And the only way I could tell it was this way.

What do you mean when you say “phase one”?

YO: Well, I’ll take you through the journey of phase one. For me, a pivot happened in 2006 and again in 2009 and again in 2012 when I moved from Maryland to New York, and New York to LA, and just kept striving, really. I started climbing in 2006, but I didn’t book Insecure until 2015. And then, you know, really even get comfortable—either financially comfortable, or emotionally comfortable or personally comfortable until maybe 2018, which is when I got the book deal. And so that’s when I felt like it was a natural end [of phase one]. I worked hard, I believed, I hung on to faith. I had some really down times and I got right back up. And so that’s the button of the book. 

What do you hope readers will take away from learning about your journey? 

“The base elements in the things that I talk about are being a good human, adding drive and belief to your journey and maintaining your authenticity.”

YO: I think a lot of self-help books and a lot of books that have faith elements in it, sometimes they’re boring. I didn’t go to seminary, I’m nobody’s pastor, but I do have a real relationship with God. So yeah, I am going to mix in some DMX and Cardi B references. In addition to my real intense biblical knowledge, it is that mixture of entertainment, humor, pop culture and the Bible. I think that’s what makes the book really unique. 

I personally couldn’t separate my fate and my journey. But I think for the people who don’t subscribe to religion or Christianity, the principles work for anybody who wants them to work for them. I think the base elements in the things that I talk about are being a good human, adding drive and belief to your journey and maintaining your authenticity. Those are universal principles. 

What have you learned about yourself?

“I don’t know who else to be. It’s too much work trying to be somebody else.”

YO: I wanted to have fun in the process. I want to look back at this experience and just be like ‘yo, I did it my way.’ I don’t know who else to be. It’s too much work trying to be somebody else. For my book launch, I was like, ‘I want to do a Bentley book drive, I want to deliver the packages in a Bentley.’ Those are the moments that make you stand out. That’s the thing that differentiates you from anybody else. And so I’m continuing to lean into that. So for me, the process is honing in on doing it your way. Make it your own. Leave your stamp. And have fun in the process.

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