Making it in the comedy world is hard, especially for women. And it can be even harder when you’re trying to stay true to your religious beliefs.
Nigerian-American actress Yvonne Orji plays Molly on HBO’s “Insecure,” which ends its second season on Sunday. In addition to acting, Orji’s been working as a stand-up comedian for years. She’s also a Christian, and doesn’t compromise her beliefs for her comedy.
Business Insider recently talked to Orji about equal pay, the challenges of coming up in comedy as a black woman, and about staying true to her beliefs in a tempting atmosphere.
In season two of “Insecure,” Orji’s character Molly finds out that she’s getting paid less than a male co-worker. In the penultimate episode, she tries to negotiate a raise, but fails. Orji told Business Insider that she’s had a similar experience.
“Before ‘Insecure’ I was doing a lot of stand up and I did a lot of hosting,” Orji said. “An opportunity presented itself where somebody wanted to hire me to host something on a TV show. And I was like, ‘Oh that would be a good opportunity.’ They asked if I knew other people, and I knew a guy. I suggested him. Then I got my contract. And I was like …’Ooh. I don’t think I can do this for this rate.’ As luck would have it, I found out how much the other guy was getting, so I countered. Instead of them coming back with a counter offer, they just said, ‘Oh no, it’s OK, I think we’ll go with the guy instead.’ It sucks, but I would never do it for less. I understand because I’m willing to reject offers that are below my rate, that alienates some people from hiring me. But if you don’t start demanding what you want now, you will always be short changed. And that’s just how I flow.”
Pay isn’t the only challenge Orji has faced as a woman in the comedy world. “In the comedy community, the concept of being a female and pretty and skinny and funny, it’s like, ‘Uh, you can’t be all three.’ But skinny, pretty and actually hysterical? They’re like, ‘what unicorn are you?’ I would show up to comedy clubs early on in my career and I would get asked, ‘OK, what are you doing tonight? Are you singing? Doing spoken word?’ And I’m like, ‘No sir, I am not doing any of the above because this is a comedy club.'”
Orji, despite playing a promiscuous character on “Insecure,” is a devout Christian. A lot of comedians reject religion and talk about it in their stand up. But Orji embraces her beliefs and doesn’t compromise them for her jokes. And she made sure to point out that she doesn’t judge people whose beliefs differ from hers, either. “I’m so established in my beliefs and grounded in what is important to me, that even if no one appreciates it or has an issue with it, that is their issue,” she said. “There’s some times where people will be like, ‘Hey, you should do this joke.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, but I don’t curse.’ And they really think it will make it funny. And it would. I actually believe it would make it funnier, but I don’t curse so it’s not an option for me. I have a couple non-negotiables. For me, it goes against what I firmly believe in. And it’s fine, but my non-negotiable won’t impede on your well-being.”
The season two finale of “Insecure” airs Sunday night on HBO.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.