Always A Reason to Laugh: Our Conversation with Comedienne Yvonne Orji Thursday 01 March, 2012

YvonneOrji1

Yvonne Orji’s 2-word meteorology lesson about Africa: “It’s HOT!!!” For Yvonne, telling sexually explicit or raunchy jokes would just be too easy. As she says: “A LOT more happens in your day and around the world that provides humor than what random position your boyfriend had you in last night.” Her Nigerian roots, random everyday […]

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Yvonne Orji’s 2-word meteorology lesson about Africa: “It’s HOT!!!”

For Yvonne, telling sexually explicit or raunchy jokes would just be too easy. As she says: “A LOT more happens in your day and around the world that provides humor than what random position your boyfriend had you in last night.” Her Nigerian roots, random everyday experiences and Christian faith inspire her personal brand of clean humor, as with the video above, “Njideka in America,” she and her friend spontaneously shot. Yvonne has filmed a one hour comedy special for The Africa Channel, is currently the Entertainment Correspondent for Black Star News and performs stand-up comedy across the United States and internationally.

In addition to comedy, Yvonne is a humanitarian. She has traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and most recently to Liberia, where she spent six months spreading awareness on Teen Pregnancy and HIV prevention and testing.

Here, we discuss Yvonne’s journey to comedy, thoughts on some of her more controversial jokes and creative vision. If you checked out Yvonne’s tips for aspiring comediennes, you know that the politics and pressure of the industry can be difficult to handle. We love Yvonne because her comedy shows us that in this crazy world, there’s always a reason to laugh.

Yvonne Orji

How would you describe your brand of humor?

I like to say that my brand of comedy is a blend of good, clean humor with a Nigerian-American flavor. I use my background as an immigrant to point out interesting differences between life as an American and an African.

Mostly, I would describe it as observational–everyday life, whether it be riding the NYC subway or walking the streets of Harlem, provides sooo much material. Like, one sunny day in June, I was passing a group of guys on a stoop and of course they proceed to “holla.” One of the men actually said…”Daang Ma…Happy Motha’s Day! I’d like to be your next baby’s daddy!” 2 things wrong with this picture: 1. I’m definitely NOT a mom…nothing about me said “She looks like a mother!” 2. Um…Mother’s Day is definitely in MAY! It’s not a holiday like New Years, where you can still get away with wishing someone a happy new year in February–COMEDY! And, it’s all free.

How did you know comedy was for you?

Well, in 2006, I entered the Miss Nigeria In America Pageant, and I remember it being about 2 weeks before the competition, and I had just bought an expensive dress (1st time I opened a Macy’s Account, by the way), but I realized I didn’t have a talent. I prayed, “God…ok seriously…I need help here. You know how expensive that dress was, so I kinda want to win, but I refuse to tribal dance on stage, so I need a talent.” Loud as day, I heard this reply, “Do Comedy.” After laughing back at the Father, I said, “No, seriously, I said I want to WIN.” But again, I heard the response to do comedy. And a funny thing happens when you have no other options…you do as you are told.

Immediately, I went on a mission to write down everything I thought was funny about being Nigerian in America. After solidifying a hot 5 minute set, I performed at the preliminary round, and to everyones surprise the judges loved it! And, Nigerians are a tough crowd!

The incredible part of this whole thing, is while I never was really nervous about speaking in front of large audiences, I did have a severe fear of rejection, insecurity and low self-esteem, stemming from years of bullying as a child. So, the fact that God would have me enter a profession where you are judged the moment you step on stage was terrifying for me. Although, I was initially very successful, I ran from comedy for a long time, but it kept drawing me back in, until I couldn’t see myself do anything else.

 You’ve mentioned that some people have found some of your jokes controversial, even when that wasn’t your intent. What do you think has been the most misunderstood jokes you’ve told and why?

Well, I definitely try to be as politically correct as possible, but I do get lots of “ooohhh’s” when I tell my Mike Vick and 100 Black Men joke. In the Mike Vick bit, I talk about how crazy it is, from an overall African perspective, that this guy went to jail for killing dogs, because in certain places in Nigeria, people eat dogs. And If Michael Vick did what he did in Africa, he wouldn’t have gone to Jail. Rather, he would have been given the key to the continent for his donation of “food,” because our children can now eat three square meals a day.

A lot of dog lovers definitely don’t approve, but I’m not necessarily saying, I condone his behavior, but just drawing parallels to the distinct differences that exist in the two worlds. Back home in Nigeria, dogs are not considered pets, they are strictly protective animals. Most homeowners have German Sheppards that they let out of the gate at night to severely hurt any unwanted robbers. In America, stores like PetSmart and Petco can have exponential economic growth in the middle of a recession…that could never happen in Africa…if the people can’t afford to eat…Fido is DEFINITELY not getting a bone! If anything, the bit highlights the disparities and the focus of wealth that exist on the two continents.

Then there’s the 100 Black Men organization joke, which puts in perspective JUST how single I am. “I worked for 100 Black Men…and still couldn’t find one…Perhaps I should have asked the 100 White Women they were all married to for some advice.” It’s satire. But, anyone who knows me knows that I am an equal opportunity dater and have no problem with interracial couples.

Do you think it’s good that comedy makes people feel uncomfortable sometimes?

I think that people feel most uncomfortable when there is a direct element of truth that strikes a certain chord with that individual. Ironically, that same element of truth is what causes the biggest laughter in some jokes. As a comic, I definitely try my hardest to respect my audience, however I am well aware that I cannot please everyone, and to a certain extent, I have to allow myself to be free to genuinely express my thoughts.

 Is there anything you wouldn’t joke about?

My brand of comedy is clean, so I don’t use profanity in my sets. Nor do I discuss sexually explicit content. Nothing that disrespects God.

You’ve branched out into a lot of different entertainment fields, what is your big vision for your career and brand?

Currently, I travel between LA and NYC (and really everywhere in between) performing and hosting various events. Ultimately, the big picture would be to parlay a successful stand-up career into my own Emmy-winning sit-com on a prime time network, where I also serve as a writer, producer and director. I would also like to star in feature films.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained means being free to be ALL of who God made me to be and tapping into the resources and abilities it takes to pursue purpose and fulfill destiny. It means not being bound by other people’s limitations. It means charting new courses in life. Venturing out alone or with a truckload of supporters. Even if you’re trembling, being trusting, strong and courageous, simply going for it and leaving it all on the court!

Follow, watch, friend and support Yvonne here and here.

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10 Comments

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