(Living Well With)

Actor & Comedian Yvonne Orji On Discovering Her Most Authentic Self

She stays true to her convictions.

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Before starring in Insecure as the smart and steadfast lawyer Molly Carter, actor and comedian Yvonne Orji was traveling around the world doing stand-up comedy. She first discovered her skill for making people laugh when she entered the Miss Nigeria in America pageant, which had a talent portion. “They asked me what my talent was and I was like ‘oh, I don’t have one.’ I’m a type of immigrant. I just make straight A’s and I don’t know how I can do that on stage,” Orji recalls, to TZR. “I remember just praying — hey God, I need help — and loud as day, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say, ‘do comedy.’”

Orji had her doubts, noting she had never done a stand-up routine before. You might’ve guessed this next part, however, as one does not ignore the spirit: She wrote a five-minute set and delivered it to the audience, with laughter soon filling the room. After that experience on stage, she shares that people she knew asked her to perform at weddings and Bar mitzvahs. “It’s fake it until you make it — I have a talent now that I didn’t know I had five seconds ago. Sometimes, you just have to do things that shake you to your core for you to discover what your purpose is. And that’s exactly what happened to me,” she adds. (You can catch the comedian’s latest stand-up special “Momma, I Made It!” on HBO.)

From this pageant, Orji then embarked on a process of self-discovery — leaving behind a possible career in health (she earned her Masters in Public Health from George Washington University) for a less predictable life in entertainment. She had to develop her voice and point of view as a comedian, which brought her to New York City, and later, she made a short video that would catch actor and producer Issa Rae’s attention. When Orji eventually made her way to LA years later, Rae invited her to a game night at her house — and the rest, as they say, is history.

From speaking with Orji, you understand that the idea of purpose and sense of self are important, reoccurring themes in Orji’s life. During the pandemic, she recalls having that time to check in with her mind and soul, to become even more in tune with herself. “I was working to find my most authentic self,” she recalls. “I was like: Ooh, yeah, these things [of self-sabotage, people-pleasing, and certain people] are not serving me to be my most full version, my most authentic version. So I did the work. I did the therapy. I did the journaling, the solo traveling and all that jazz. And now I feel like I am the me that I was always supposed to be, that was yearning to burst out.”

Somewhere along this journey of self-discovery, Orji decided to write a relatable and humorous book, Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me Into the Life of My Dreams, to encapsulate many of the life lessons she’s learned from her personal experiences and from the Bible. (The multi-hyphenate is outspoken about her faith, having been raised a Catholic and is now Christian.)

Orji’s confidence in having discovered her most authentic self and imparting this journey on to others certainly correlates nicely with her next project: the star teamed up with T.J.Maxx to launch Find Your Maxx, a mentorship program where one lucky person will be able to receive all the tools and resources, which includes $50k, that they need to achieve their goals. And ... guess who the mentor is? Yes, it is Orji. “I know the pleasure that comes from living in your freedom, so I want to invite someone else to find that version of themselves,” she says.

Motivational speaker duties aside, Orji has several other upcoming projects, including a new Netflix drama, that will undoubtedly excite her fans. Although she’s keeping those details under wraps for now, you can peer deeper into how Orji stays self-assured and grounded in life with her wellness practices ahead.

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Why did you want to write a book?

I started [writing the book] in 2019 and it came out in 2021. As I got to know myself, especially in the pandemic, I discovered what I really wanted to write in the book and the voice I really wanted to have in it. I wasn’t trying to write from a place of like, listen to me. It was more of a place of like, ‘yo, I was you five seconds ago, so I’m pretty certain we’re on the same page.’ Like I’m here, because I’ve crossed the bridge, but baby, listen, my car is still on the other side. So let’s walk this journey out together. And I know sometimes it gets rough, but I promise you’re going to get to the other side.

Why are you excited to be a mentor in the T.J. Maxx initiative?

Now I know there are professionals who [can coach people in life], but I am also a young lady who has lived life enough to understand what it’s like to want to be your best self. You want someone who understands [you] like, ‘hey, I may not know everything you’ve gone through, but here are the themes.’ Every life has themes. Mine was doing things scared when there was no guarantee of success. There are a lot of fears, anxiety, and uncertainty in that [for me], but you push past that and the best that can happen is you’re living your life to the max.

The worst is that you pivot, and that’s all life is. As long as you’re alive there’s always going to be pivots, so I want to help [the winner of Find Your Maxx] figure out [their goals], blockages to be their best selves, and get them on their way.

How would you describe your humor?

For me, I look at what has happened, what is happening in my life, then try and relate that, or not, with the distinct point of view that I have as a first generation Nigerian-American woman. And as a single woman, too.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I say a quick prayer and I grab my phone.

What are you listening to these days?

Snoh Aalegra, Giveon, and Maverick City.

When you have the chance to treat yourself, what do you do?

Eat and go on vacation.

One thing you can’t live without is...

Love. Yeah, I don't want to live without love.

Where are you dreaming of traveling to? Why?

I need to go to Bali. I’ve been saying this and it’s never a good time because I’m working or it’s rainy season [in Bali], but if I don’t spend two months there, something is not right.

What’s your go-to secret weapon when you want to look and feel good?

Eight hours of sleep because if I’m rested, then baby, I’m Gucci.

Do you have a favorite workout/wellness practice?

I give myself a facial every week, so on Saturday or Sunday depending on which day is less busy. I’ll do a sheet mask [for hydration] and then I’ll wash my hair/deep condition it, and exfoliate. I’ll have music playing in the background. [Sometimes] I’ll have someone come to the house and do my nails because I love getting a pedicure and a full massage. I’ll get a massage that night — I will just do all the things.

What’s the best piece of relationship advice you’ve ever received?

Marry your friend.

What’s a healthy meal you always make/order?

I love a kale and arugula salad together, so something in that realm.

Do you remember your first big splurge? Do you still own it?

My first big splurge was on food. When I booked Insecure and that first check came, I took two of my very good friends out to this very expensive restaurant, [Katana]. And I was like, ‘It’s on me, y’all’ because they had been there for the whole journey. And when the check came, I just like, ‘it don’t even matter. I was like, ‘this is what we're doing.’ And then my very first big splurge was an Alfa Romeo.

What’s the small stress-saving luxury you swear by at home?

I don’t know if this is a splurge or a luxury, but I love my fireplace and I have to turn it on at night. It just brings me so much joy to watch the flames.

What are you saving up for at the moment?

Nothing, because my husband’s going to buy my next house.

One thing you want to go back and tell your younger self?

You’re doing all the right things.