yvonne orji

Insecure’s Yvonne Orji Never Lets a Makeup Artist Touch This Part of Her Face

And other things we learned while getting ready with the rising comedy star.

By: Leah Faye Cooper
Photography: Alec Kugler

Imagine that it’s hours before your sold-out stand-up show at legendary NYC comedy club Carolines on Broadway, and you’re in a sizeable, comfy hotel room with one of your closest friends; your makeup artist has just given you a smoky eye worthy of a magazine cover, and your hair is so shiny that the writer there to interview you swears she can see her reflection in it. You’re smiling, right? Probably beaming, actually—just as Yvonne Orji was when she welcomed us into that exact setup.

Orji is known to throngs of television viewers for playing Molly Carter on HBO’s Insecure—a successful lawyer who is far less successful when it comes to matters of the heart. But tonight, in the hotel, she’s Yvonne—the Maryland-raised daughter of Nigerian immigrants who shelved her parents’ dream that she’d become a doctor for her own of pursuing comedy and acting.

Throughout the evening, Orji sings the praises of her hairstylist (she jokes that they “go together”), tells us about her favorite pre-show snacks (bananas, almonds, and lemon-pepper wings fried hard), and rattles off her most cherished beauty products (Black Up lip pencils and Inglot blush both make the cut). For the most part, she’s all smiles and laughs and hand gestures, and when we ask her how someone who, over the course of six days, will perform five stand-up shows in NYC, fly home to L.A. for the Golden Globes, and fly back to NYC for a friend’s birthday has so much energy, she replies glowingly, “Just Jesus!”

When the conversation turns to what it means to see her name in lights, though, her mood calms and the room gets quiet. “I remember when I used to walk by Carolines and not even know if I’d be good enough to open [there] one day,” she says, reflecting on the time she spent living in NYC early in her career. “So to come and not only headline, but all my shows are sold out? Like, what? It’s crazy… I’m trying not to cry now.”

Orji composed herself, looked in a mirror to make sure her makeup was OK, then went back to making us all laugh.

Click through for more on Orji’s pre-show getting-ready process, a look at how she organizes her jokes, and her strong stance on only wearing matte lipstick.

“[My stylist] Niki revives my hair. I was in West Africa for two and a half weeks, and we were texting, and she’s like, ‘What’s up? What style do you want?’ And I’m like, ‘Girl, I need everything. I need a rejuvenation—I might need a new scalp!’”

“This is my 22 inches. I tell myself I’m sitting on dubs—you know, deuce deuces. Sometimes I get really ignorant because no one knows how to act when they have 22 inches of hair. You should be uncouth. You should be ignorant [laughs].”

“We try to do a smoky eye, which is great because you still see the expression in my eyes, but it brings it down a little bit because they can go from zero to 1,000 really quickly. And then I like a wispy lash. I need them to look like they *might* be mine. [Tonight] we did like an angled lash, which exaggerates the eye just a little more.”

“[My makeup artist Camara Aunique] lets me do my lips. I’m really particular with my lips, it’s weird… [She’ll] finish my face and be like, ‘It looks great! We would love to do an orange!’ and I’m like, ‘We’re not gonna do that.’ I’m really into a black woman’s nude—like a light-hued pink; something not ashy. Or I like a deep burgundy. I don’t do reds unless it’s a bright fire-hydrant red that’s making a statement, as opposed to the red that all of our mothers wore every single day of their lives. I can’t. I’m so averse to that random maroon-burgundy, everyday color. It makes me mad. And I also like a matte because I don’t like lipstick on my teeth. And I don’t like the fact that nobody tells you [when you have lipstick on your teeth]. You’ll have a full conversation with someone and then look in the mirror like, ‘They allowed this? I talked to them for 20 straight minutes!’”

“I do Lancome for my foundation and Urban Decay for my highlights. Black Up lip liner is probably my favorite thing right now, because it’s not thin, it has a wide base. If I really wanted to, I could wear it as my lipstick. It’s also moisturizing. You know how some lip liners are chalky? This one is moisturizing. I found that on set and fell in love. L’Oreal has these matte paints—very inexpensive at the drugstore—they go on and stay on and look great. They come in a glossy and a matte; I love the matte. And I love Inglot for my blush, because it’s very concentrated. I have a palette, and it has purples and deep browns; I love a brown blush versus a red blush. And I’m more of a fan of eyeliner pots with an angled brush [than] pencils. I feel like the color is more potent.”

“Most comics have journals and notebooks, and I have all those, but I’m still using little pieces of paper. And it’s always the paper from the hotel. I can never lose my purse, because all of my jokes will be gone. It’s so old-school. People buy me journals all the time, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll just use these loose-leaf papers that at any moment can get stained or wet or lost.’ It’s living on the edge [laughs].”

“My good friend Chinedu Unaka came all the way from L.A. to open for me.”

“What’s crazy is when I lived here, I couldn’t even get a guest spot at Carolines. It was like, ‘Who are you? You need bringer shows.’ [That’s] when you bring five friends paying full price, plus a two-drink minimum, to see you perform for six minutes. I was like, ‘I’m gonna lose friends very quickly, because that’s a $40 night.’ And this is, for you, testing material to see if you’re good. I didn’t have friends willing to pay $40 every time I want to practice my set. So what I ended up doing was taking over an open mic night at the Limerick House. It was on 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue on the second floor of this Irish pub, and the manager was just like, ‘Sure, you can use the space every Thursday if you want.’ I went to Home Depot and bought an amp, a mic, and lights, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna create this like it’s a show.’ I called it Mama I Made It.”

“I always pray before every show.”

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