After four seasons of playing Molly Carter on Insecure, Yvonne Orji’s career is in a precarious position. Orji is incredibly good at playing Molly, the show’s type-A straight man to Issa Rae’s more silly and comical Issa Dee. The line between Molly and Orji is so thin, she even jokes that some of her family members simply call her “Molly.” The problem is that Orji’s work on Insecure doesn’t always showcase her comedic roots and leading woman starpower. While Momma, I Made It! presents a more thorough picture of Yvonne Orji as a person and actress, showcasing her many talents, it also suffers from a long runtime and repetition.
Orji is not new to stand-up comedy. She worked her way up through the New York City comedy scene by creating a distinct brand of humor based on her immigrant experiences, religion, and family. Orji successfully updates this material given her newfound success: “Don’t let those HBO checks fool you,” she warns. She’s still the same Yvonne, running the Howard Theatre with the same intimacy as the small clubs where she got her start. It only takes a little crowd work before the audience is on her side, quoting her tags before she can even get to the punchline.
Orji’s ability to deliver a joke, however, doesn’t add weight to some of the material. Her insights into the differences between African Americans and Nigerian Americans are funny, but after a while, you wonder about Orji’s experiences beyond some of these tired stereotypes. Rather than engage with that question through her jokes, Momma, I Made It! intercuts clips from a trip Orji took to Nigeria to visit her family. These clips help certain quips around Nigerian stereotypes land, but they’re more successful at introducing Orji’s family and friends. While the high expectations of immigrant parents isn’t particularly new material, the pride her family and hometown feel for her is simply infectious.
When the special stops using these clips to paint a more detailed picture of Orji’s jokes, things start to feel slow. At roughly an hour long, the second half of the special drags without the energy Nigeria and Orji’s friends and family provide. The early intimacy of the proceedings later feel claustrophobic, like a late night comedy show where everyone is just a little too ready to go home because they already get the joke. Orji’s examination of how African Americans play Taboo versus how Nigerian Americans play Taboo just isn’t as funny as watching her family.
Momma, I Made It! may not have a radically new message, but it does provide something new for Insecure fans and introduces Orji’s talent to those who may not know her. It’s a comedy special that will certainly gain her fans and proves to Hollywood she’s more than ready to take the lead in a romantic comedy or whatever she chooses to do with her career beyond Insecure. Yvonne Orji has made it, and she’s not letting anyone typecast her.