Accessible podcast transcript: autistic stereotypes in Atypical and an interview with Insecure’s Yvonne Orji.

Read What Two Autistic Self-Advocates Thought of Atypical in This Slate Represent Transcript

Read What Two Autistic Self-Advocates Thought of Atypical in This Slate Represent Transcript

Shining light on the overshadowed in TV and film.
Aug. 30 2017 12:08 PM

Atypical and Yvonne Orji of Insecure: The Transcript

Read a full transcript of Episode 57 of Slate Represent.

Keir Gilchrist in Atypical
Keir Gilchrist in Atypical.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Netflix.

This is a lightly edited transcript of Episode 57 of Slate Represent, in which host Aisha Harris interviews actress Yvonne Orji about playing Molly on Insecure, how her character has evolved, and more.

Also, Timotheus Gordon Jr., creator of the blog Black Autist, and Sara Luterman, founder and editor of NOS Magazine, join the show to talk about how Netflix’s new series Atypical reinforces negative stereotypes about autistic people.


Episode 57 of Represent:

Speaker 1: The following podcast contains explicit language.

[scene from Insecure]

Speaker 2: I like that! You going to do it with the—


Speaker 3: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Speaker 2: And then the ...

Speaker 3: Duh.

Speaker 2: What about the ...


Speaker 3: You know I can’t move in those.

Speaker 2: You right.

Speaker 3: And tonight is all about me ...

Speaker 2: And the dance floor.


Speaker 3: Hey!

Speaker 2: I said, me ...

Speaker 3: And the dance floor.

Speaker 2: Hey! It’s going to be about you ...


Speaker 3: Uh-huh.

Speaker 2: And get it ready.

Speaker 3: Hey!

Speaker 2: You. And get it ready.

Speaker 3: Hey!

Speaker 2: We singing that all day.

Aisha Harris: What’s up everyone? I’m your host, Aisha Harris, and this is a new edition of Represent. If you’ve been watching and debating HBO’s Insecure as much as I have this season, we’ve got a treat for you. Yvonne Orji, AKA Molly, joined us in the studio recently to talk about season two and much more. It was a very fun conversation and I’m looking forward to you all listening to it.

But first, we’re going to turn to Netflix’s latest attempt to take a sensitive issue in an original series. Atypical, created by Robia Rashid, centers around autistic high-schooler Sam Gardner, played by Keir Gilchrist, and his quest to find a girlfriend.

Before the show even dropped on the streaming platform a couple of weeks ago, it was already a source of controversy, with folks accusing the trailer of making fun of its protagonist, and concern over the perceived lack of creative involvement from people who are actually autistic.

Now that the show is out, I wanted to speak with a couple of people who can relate personally to the frustrations autistic people have with representation, and get their takes on where Atypical falls within the limited number of onscreen portrayals that exist.

The first person I spoke with was Timotheus Gordon Jr., a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the creator of the blog Black Autist, which explores issues surrounding autistic people of color.

When I asked him about his thoughts, he took issue with the way in which Sam’s relationship with his therapist, Julia, played by Amy Okuda, is portrayed. Sam develops an intense crush on her, even breaking into her house at one point, with the intentions of declaring his love for her. This eventually causes a rift between Julia and her boyfriend, as Timotheus mentioned in our chat.

Timotheus: After I watched the whole season, within one or two days, which it was kind of brave on my part.

Aisha Harris: Yes.

Timotheus: Very brave. You see how Sam navigates his world from his point of view, and how he sees friends’ situations, like for instance when Julia was showing him dance moves at the parking lot.

Sam (Kyle): When I was doing social skill sessions in elementary school, we used a hula hoop to learn about boundaries, and how people don’t like it when you stand too close. But I can’t slow dance with a hula hoop, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to know how close to stand.

Julia (Amy): OK, try this. Think of personal space on a scale of 1-3. Three would be with your arms out, fully extended, like how you would dance with your sister. And then you would put your hands on my shoulders as well.

Sam (Kyle): Oh, OK.

Julia (Amy): Then you just kind of sway back and forth.

Timotheus: We see how, in his mind, how Sam reacting to it, and how Sam was thinking is “Oh, she’s dancing with me. That means she likes me.”

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Timotheus: As a professional, knowing that we have an autistic person who does not know what boundaries are, why be that close? And then, fast forward to the last episode ...

Julia (Amy): Are you asking me if I wanna start a romantic relationship with my teenage patient?

Sam (Kyle): Yes. Exactly.

Julia (Amy): OK, fine, say I agree to be your girlfriend. Then what? We start dating? Have sex? I’d lose my job for sleeping with a patient, so I won’t have any money pay to my bills or my rent, and I have $200,000 in student loans. Do you have an extra $200,000 lying around?

Sam (Kyle): No. I don’t know. You’re talking really fast.

Julia (Amy): Because I’m upset. What you did is very inappropriate. You really have no sense of that, after all the work we put in?

Sam (Kyle): So, you don’t love me?

Julia (Amy): No. Oh my God, no. No.

Timotheus: I mean, [inaudible] you saw he broke into the house, so she had a right to be mad. But it was the implication that it was Sam’s fault that Julia and Miles broke up reinforces the idea that autistic people are a burden. They cause trouble in relationships. It’s kind of like a theme throughout Atypical, where, who’s gettin’ blamed for Elsa cheating? Sam. Who’s gettin’ blamed for why Doug is absent, even though Doug [inaudible] his days off is on him. It’s pretty much putting all the problems on the autistic person, as opposed to the people around him.

Aisha Harris: I wanna shift just a little bit. You write about the invisibility of autistic people of color, and I’m curious ... I think we only see one person of color whose son, I think, or whose child is autistic, and they mention it in the group session for the parents. At one point, they say something along the lines of her child is not as high functioning as Sam is. I thought it was an interesting kind of moment to see, because they make her feel bad about it.

Timotheus: The divide between “high functioning” and “low functioning”, which in the autistic community, we don’t see it as divide. We mostly see it as a spectrum. There’s moments where they could function, there’s other moments where they need assistance. That could be anybody.

Aisha Harris: Are there good portrayals for people to look for of autistic people who are people of color, as well, besides Atypical? Because it’s clear we’re not gonna see that in Atypical, at least not in this first season.

Timotheus: Unfortunately, I would have say from personal experience, no, besides reading the current anthology called The Weight of our Dream, where autistic people of color actually written about experiences being on the spectrum. But as far as movies, or series, I do not know.

Aisha Harris: Now, is there any particular story from that anthology you mentioned that you would recommend?

Timotheus: Oh, God. There’s so many ... Reading Lydia Brown’s piece on their obsession with terrorism and the fact that even though it was more an obsession, it applies to their work later on. A lot of people see it as, “Oh no, they are bein’ a terrorist, they support terrorism.” Which is nothing more than just an interest, not an actual attempt at terrorizing people. I relate that to my own life as being interested in anime, where a lot of people say “Well, anime is garbage. Anime is perverted.” Which, there’s some anime out there that is questionable but there’s a lot of anime that has changed so much, and enjoyed. So I think their story reminds me of how our interests could be scrutinized, especially if you’re comin’ from another culture.

Aisha Harris: I also spoke with Sara Luterman, the founder and editor of NOS magazine, a publication that centers around neurodiversity culture and representation. She actually recapped each episode of the show on the blog, and I asked her thoughts on whether early concerns about it were warranted, or premature.

Sara Luterman: I think that Sam, the main character, who is autistic, was designed to be laughed at, and not with, which was really disappointing.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. You do a very good job on your blog of pointing out the items on the checklist that tend to occur whenever autistic people are portrayed in film, TV, or any sort of pop culture. Can you talk a little bit about the clichés of the way autism tends to be portrayed onscreen, and what are a few of the check boxes that Sam definitely hits throughout the show?

Sara Luterman: I think the stereotypes about what autism looks like, and what Sam is, while they overlap considerably, are sort of different things.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sara Luterman: On one hand, Sam isn’t a character so much as a list of symptoms, which was really frustrating. He doesn’t just check off every box, he checks off every box to the extreme. He doesn’t miss some social cues, he misses all of them and they’re comedically timed. He’ll manifest new compulsions based on plot preference. There’s this instance where he asks his parents to explain love, and he’s making a list of rules, which he’s been doing throughout the series, and he cuts them off at three rules, which he’d never done before. And I understand that the writers wanted to cut the scene short, but that’s not how it works. You don’t just develop a new ritual or compulsion suddenly for convenience.

On the other hand, I think that Sam’s representation of autism in terms of symptoms, and in terms of not really being a full person, and then there’s representation of autism in general. Basically, almost every representation of autism in media is of a white, cis-gender, heterosexual man. There’s Rain Man, obviously. Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, although they never make that explicit. Hugh Dancy played that kind of character in Adam. Most of these storylines tend to revolve around this autistic man who wants to fall in love but somehow repeatedly confuses romantic behavior with misogyny.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sara Luterman: It’s really frustrating as an autistic woman, because there’s so many other stories out there. It affects how people see autism, in a way that affects whether people get diagnosed at all. There’s some pretty huge diagnostic and service gaps for people of color and for especially black people and latino people and women. The reason for that is that for the longest time, people thought that autism was a male disease. It’s actually why Autism Speaks has blue as its color.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sara Luterman: What happened was, there’s like an entire generation of women, including me, who weren’t diagnosed as children, because girls don’t have Aspergers. I think that this show reinforces that, again, it doesn’t change anything, which I just thought was really frustrating. There’s so many stories that aren’t being told, and instead we get the same story over, and over, and over again about basically the same person over, and over, and over again, written by people who aren’t autistic.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

It sounds like, for you, this doesn’t move the ball forward, it just kind of keeps it where it was. Do you think it even, maybe, moves it back a bit, in terms of what we kind of hope and expect from these portrayals?

Sara Luterman: I was talking to my friend, Eric Garcia, who is a journalist at Roll Call and he’s also autistic, about my frustrations with the representation in Atypical, and he said something that was really interesting. Which is, is it better to get shot in the head or the chest? Is it better to have no representation whatsoever so people don’t even know you exist, or to be represented extremely poorly so that people think things about you that are unkind at best?

I don’t know the answer to that.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Sara Luterman: It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Aisha Harris: Yeah, I haven’t even really thought of it from that perspective, or from the perspective of the fact that this ... I’ve always thought about, and the whole point of this show is to discuss these things, that aren’t just from the white male cis perspective, but then when I think about when we’re talking about something like autism, where people can be diagnosed or not be diagnosed based on these reinforced stereotypes, that’s something I just hadn’t really thought about, and I wasn’t aware that it used to be mostly associated with boys, and men, and not women. I can see how this incredibly problematic in that way.

Sara Luterman: It’s also problematic for people of color in that, on average, black families in the United States, their children are diagnosed years after white children.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sara Luterman: Once again, a lot of that has to do with this image of what autism is, that Sam reinforces.

Aisha Harris: We have this show that you and many people agree is not very good at what it does. Can you think of any, I know the options are limited, but can you think of any alternative films or TV shows that people might want to check out instead, there are more enlightening, more interested in the humanistic traits of autistic people, then the sort of wrote by the numbers painting that we get with Sam and Atypical?

Sara Luterman: I know some people in the community don’t agree with me about this, but I actually think Julia on Sesame Street is very well executed. I think they were very sensitive with her, and they consulted actual autistic people in forming her character, which really changes a lot of how people treat her and her storylines. Additionally, she’s not diagnosed, and they sort of have it as a one off joke in the pilot episode, but I really love Tina from Bob’s Burgers.

Aisha Harris: Aww.

Sara Luterman: I relate to her a lot. Tina is me as a teenager, and I think she’s great because she has these intense interests, she’s really concerned about breaking rules, she has these intense reactions. I think ... But it’s not laughing at her, it’s sort of laughing at this teen awkwardness and angst that everyone experiences. I think that was really successful. They’ve never clarified whether that joke in the first episode means she’s actually autistic or not, but I really like Tina.

Aisha Harris: I love Tina, too. She’s my favorite character on Bob’s Burgers, for sure.

Sara Luterman: But yeah, there really isn’t much out there. I think there’s that character from The Killing, but I haven’t actually seen that. There’s really nothing, which is frustrating.

Aisha Harris: Now, it doesn’t help that Atypical is creative team seems to be lacking one crucial component for a project like this, the input of actually autistic people. Per the show’s official twitter account, only one actor in the show is on the spectrum.

Sara Luterman: His name is Anthony Jack.

Aisha Harris: Do you know which character he plays?

Sara Luterman: He plays the other autistic boy that Sam interacts with, when his mother’s cutting that woman’s hair and they’re told to go-

Aisha Harris: Oh, right.

Sara Luterman: Find something in common. And I appreciated that it highlighted that just because you have the same diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re going to have anything in common or even like the person.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sara Luterman: But that scene really showed a lot of cracks, because Anthony Jack is actually autistic, and the way that he portrayed autism was much more natural, and real, because that’s his life.

[scene from Atypical]

Speaker 8: What are we supposed to talk about?

Speaker 9: Why don’t you try and find some common interests? Upstairs.

Speaker 8: Dirt bikes?

Sam (Kyle): No.

Speaker 8: Wildlife?

Sam (Kyle): Ugh.

Speaker 8: Sex?

Sam (Kyle): Yes. I’ve never done it before, but I expect to soon after the winter formal dance at school.

Speaker 8: What? With who?

Sam (Kyle): My girlfriend, Paige.

Speaker 8: Have you gone through all the bases?

Sam (Kyle): What bases?

Speaker 8: The bases. First base, kissing. Second base, boobs. Third base is the privates. And the home run, sex. That’s the order it goes in.

Sara Luterman: It was just so much more unforced with him. According to an interview Robia Rashid says that he auditioned for the part of Sam, but they chose not to cast him because they felt Keir Gilchrist was the right person for the role, and that scene really highlighted their mistake, in my opinion.

Aisha Harris: Save for Anthony Jack, who’s one character in the show, a minor character in the show, as well as, I think, the social media person for the show-

Sara Luterman: Yeah, but not the social media person. They said that it was the social team, which I have no idea what that is and I actually tried to contact Netflix to ask, and they never got back to me. Whatever it is, it’s not credited on IMDB, so it can’t be that important.

Aisha Harris: Right, right. Even the thing with that is that the social, whoever social person, social media ... I don’t think they’re involved at all with the actual creation of the work, so whatever they do probably comes after. It’s not so much a question, as I think that just highlights how important it is to have people in the room creating these things, it’s not enough to just have a consultant like they had on the show. Her name is Michelle Dean, she’s a professor of special education at Cal State University. She’s done a lot of studying on autism, but there’s a difference between having someone who studied it, and written a lot about it, and someone who’s actually living with it.

Sara Luterman: I think that really showed, because Sam is so hollow. He just seems like a pile of autism symptoms, plus boobs and penguins. He just is so hollow, he doesn’t even seem like a person, and that’s not how it is at all. We’re people. I know that seems like it would be really obvious. I’m not actually, personally a stickler for like, autistic people can only be played by autistic people but I do believe that when you’ve never actually had an autistic person play an autistic person in any mainstream media, that’s maybe something to think about.

Aisha Harris: One final point Sara made to me was that the show wasn’t really supposed to be about Sam, but about autism, and the way it which it affects not just autistic people but everyone around them. In the case of Atypical, as both Sara and Timotheus echoed, this focus contributed to a negative representation of autism by making it seem as though all the other characters’ bad behaviors were caused directly by Sam’s disability. Basically, if you haven’t watched this show yet, you might just wanna skip it. Hopefully there will be better portrayals to enjoy in the very near future.

Yvonne Orji: Cause you know it’s hard out here for a pimp, when you tryin’ a get the money for the rent. [inaudible] You know it’s hard out- Yep, how I feel. Turn that up in the headphones.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: What’d she say?

Aisha Harris: She said, “I hope she knows we’re gonna be using that.”

Yvonne Orji: Oh, are you guys recording? That’s hysterical.

Aisha Harris: So, if you haven’t been watching Insecure this season, you should fix that. For long time listeners, I’m sure this is not the first time you’ve heard me say this, as we’ve discussed season one in earlier episodes of Represent, and had show runner Prentice Penny on just a few months ago.

This time around, we were lucky enough to catch Yvonne Orji, who plays Issa’s best friend Molly, while she was in NYC. We had a great conversation. We discussed her audition for the role, how her faith plays into her work and personal life, and we even discussed what character we think suffers the most from their own insecurities in season two.

Check it out.

Aisha Harris: I’m just really excited to have you here today!

Yvonne Orji: Hi!

Aisha Harris: Welcome to the show, Yvonne.

Yvonne Orji: Thanks for having me, guys.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. I’m a huge fan of Insecure, and your character, I think, all the characters are very fascinating but yours especially. There’s just so much going on, so many layers going on there. Let’s just start off, take us back a little bit first.

Yvonne Orji: OK.

Aisha Harris: What was your audition like [inaudible]

Yvonne Orji: Oh, bless those auditions. It was funny, because Issa told me about the show getting picked up by HBO, in like January. In my mind, I’m like, “Oh great, I’m gonna be seeing breakdown soon. In two weeks.” Then like seven months later, in July, was when the first audition actually happened. I had already released the trailer for my pilot, FirstGen. So Issa was like, “Oh OK, you gonna be doing that?” She was very gracious and sent it to the awkward black girl folks and my friend was actually the one who was like, “Oh yeah, they’re casting for Insecure” so I hit her up, “Girl, congratulations, casting is starting!” She was like “Yeah, were you still interested?” And I was like “I’m sorry, why would I not be interested?”

Aisha Harris: And you guys were friends, right?

Yvonne Orji: Yeah, we’re friends. She was just like “Oh, cause FirstGen, and you’re doing your thing.” I said, “Sweetheart, nobody has paid me for my show so I technically am a non-working actress, so how do we make this happen?” She was like, “Oh my gosh” Literally the next week, I submitted to audition and I got the audition the next time. It was five auditions before I actually booked it, and each time ... Issa’s so no confrontational, and I don’t ever wanna put her in an awkward position. After every audition, I was like “Girl, hey, listen, I just wanna let you know, it’s cool if it’s not me. I get it. There’s so many people, and you know a lot of people, and I just wanna thank you for the opportunity.” And she was like, “What are you talking about? No, you’re doing good job, just keep doing what you’re doing” I was like “Cool, also, if it’s not me, it’s cool, don’t feel like you can’t ... I’m not gonna take it personally. I’m just very happy.” I think I sent her that text every single time.

Aisha Harris: Were you just like, I don’t want her to feel obligated, or was it more for you?

Yvonne Orji: I think it was for her. If someone’s like an awkward black girl, you don’t want them to be like “I just cannot, I just because, we’re friends and” I literally was like I’m giving you ... We grown. It’s cool if I ain’t get it. I’d rather hear it from you than not hear at all, and be like “Oh I guess they went with somebody else.” You can literally be like girl, you did a good job but I think we’re gonna go a different direction. I’d be like “Oh my God, I appreciate you.” I wanted to give her that opportunity to be like, “It’s not you.” But each time, she was so reassuring, she was like “Keep doing what you been doing.”

Also, this was like my first major thing, so I’m like “I don’t know how this goes. Is four normal, is five normal, how many more do we go?” There was only one time that I actually ever felt like this is mine to lose, which was the fourth audition when we have the chemistry read. It was me and Issa. We’re auditioning together because ... Other times, it was me auditioning with the casting director and then Issa, our show runner Prentice, our EP director Melina, and some other EPs that are on the couch, and you’re just performing for them.

This time, it was Issa right next to me, we reading lines together, we’re feeding off of each other’s energy, and because we were cool, it was just so natural and so easy. I could ad lib and improv, and that was the only time I walked out, I’ll never forget it, we were in Beverly Hills, and I was like, “Listen, if they don’t want me, they don’t want me, ‘cause I killed that.” And every other time, I was like “I just don’t know if it’s me they want.”

Aisha Harris: Nice. And then you got it.

Yvonne Orji: And then, yes. The test, whenever you test, you’re in a room with like suits, all the suits from the network and no one’s giving you ... It’s a dark room, no one’s giving you anything. The laughter, or the responses you would hear from those intimate auditions were gone.

Aisha Harris: Right.

Yvonne Orji: And now you’re in an auditorium with people you’ve never met before, you’ve just signed a contract. If it’s you, you already know what you’re gonna be making, and all that. You get in ... “Whenever you’re ready.” “Oh OK, yeah, OK cool.” You do the lines, I’m performing with Issa as well, and I think I may have heard one chuckle. Maybe like a ‘ha’. Oh my God, oh my God, oh. In that moment, I went into “You’re a comedian, and right now you’re bombing, but you finished your set.”

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: That was the mindset. I was like “You know what? Your material works and it’s worked somewhere else. It’s maybe not working tonight, but you still have a job to do. So finish your set and walk out of here and then you can cry.” Which is exactly what I did, so I was surprised and shocked when I booked it. I was like, “What? [inaudible]” Yeah, it was crazy.

Aisha Harris: Well, it’s funny because now this is your breakthrough role. A lot of people, most viewers, this is the first time they are seeing you.

Yvonne Orji: Yeah.

Aisha Harris: When that happens, and you have a role like this with Molly, where it’s very ... This show is very much a game changer in many ways. It’s coming out at a time when we have so many different shows being headed by black people and showing different types of black people. You’re part of this wave and this movement. Do you have a lot of people confusing you with Molly? Thinking that you are Molly? What about you is Molly, and what isn’t?

Yvonne Orji: I have a lot of people confusing me with a lot of other people. I have people confusing me with Brandi, Jill Marie Jones ...

Aisha Harris: I saw a video clip of you with Jill Marie Jones.

Yvonne Orji: Yes, I was like “Girl, we have to meet because I know you gettin’ the tweets, I’m gettin’ the tweets, let’s just figure this out.”

Aisha Harris: Well, it’s crazy because Toni Childs from Girlfriends, as soon as I saw this show, I was like “She reminds me so much of Toni Childs.” I kind of see the resemblance physically too, but really it’s mostly just your characters feel very similar.

Yvonne Orji: Before this show came out, I think it was mostly just physical because, I’ll never forget, Issa sent me a screenshot of a Facebook post and it was like, “Yo, I cannot believe Jill Marie Jones is on this show, I cannot wait for Insecure to drop.” She said to me, with the crying emoji, like “Bahaha” I was like “You rude, where they gonna know it’s me. My name is Yvonne Orji. My mother named me Yvonne, I’m gonna call her Yvonne.”

But then, I don’t think I have people confusing me with Molly, but I did get a tweet this last episode. Apparently me not accepting SZA tickets was a big deal for a lot of people. They were like, “Girl, what is wrong with you? You always say yes to the tickets! And it’s Sterling K. Brown.” I was like “Everyone, calm- It’s not real!”

Aisha Harris: You know, people do get in their-

Yvonne Orji: They were very upset. And this one girl, she was like, “If I ever see Yvonne Orji ... I know Yvonne Orji and Molly are not the same, but I feel like I ever see Yvonne Orji, it is gonna take everything for me to not sock her.” I was like “Well, if I ever see you, I’m gonna cross the street. I just want you to know, if I ever see you, I’m gonna cross the street.” She was like “I’m gonna try to show restraint, girl, I’m gonna try to show restraint.”

Aisha Harris: What? That’s funny because Dominique Perry, who plays Tasha on the show, has also said that she’s had women say “I wanna fight you.”

Yvonne Orji: Tasha did nothing wrong, and it’s so funny, obviously, because we know what’s coming up, I was like “Y’all wait ‘till episode three. She’s gonna read Lawrence.”

[scene from Insecure]

Speaker 12: My whole family was here and you just ghosted. Do you know how embarrassing that was?

Speaker 13: Yeah, I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted me to be there.

Speaker 12: Quit actin’ like you give a fuck about what I want.

Speaker 13: Yo, Tasha.

Speaker 12: You don’t think I knew what this was? I knew it wasn’t nothin’ serious. But see, you fronted like it was. Apologizin’ for shit you wasn’t even sorry for.

Speaker 13: I was sorry.

Speaker 12: You a fuck nigga.

Speaker 13: Yo, come on.

Speaker 12: No, you know what? You worse than a fuck nigga. You a fuck nigga who thinks he’s a good dude.

Yvonne Orji: Tasha didn’t do nothin’ wrong. Until finally, I think when she read Jay, I was like “Where y’all at now? Where’s the hive? Excuse me? Yeah?” Because she was very accurate with her read of him.

Aisha Harris: Yes.

Yvonne Orji: But yeah, no, I don’t think people confuse me ... There’s been enough interviews where they’re like “Oh, they’re different. OK. Cool.”

Aisha Harris: Yeah. One of the things that I find really fascinating about you is that you talk very openly about your dating life. You gave that TED Talk earlier this year where you talked about dating as a woman in her 30s and as a virgin, and I’m curious as to what makes you want to be so open about these things? And I’ve also seen some of your stand-up is also very much about dating and all that stuff, so why?

Yvonne Orji: I don’t think it’s a conscious decision to be open or closed. As a comedian, you’re vocal about a lot of different things. Pre-Insecure, I had a t-shirt company that says “Keeping it locked ‘till I get that rock.” Or I worked for the Passion of Christ movement and we used to have YouTube shows, where we talked about dating and Christianity. For me, it wasn’t like a “I’m gonna get on my soapbox now, that I have a platform, and I’m gonna cheer.” It was just like, whatever I was doing before, we’re just gonna continue it. Now more people are watching, or listening, or whatever, but if you go back to 2008, I was talking about the same thing, beyond further than that.

It’s not even a thing that I consciously think of just to be open about, but I think based on the responses I’ve gotten, it’s just kind of like “Oh my God, I’m glad that I’m cool enough to be open to talk about some of these things” ‘cause there are a lot of people that have questions, or there are a lot of people that are in a similar boat and are just like “OK, well, we thought we were alone in this, but it’s so cool that we’re not, because you are sharing openly about it.” It’s kind of like “Well, by the grace of God, if anything I’m saying helps you, then turn up.” I’m very excited about that, or adds more clarity, or gives you more hope, or whatever.”

Because for me, at least, exposure was a big thing for me. I wasn’t always this person that knew everything that I know now. For me, there were people who came before me that exposed me to more, that exposed me to a different way of thinking about things. Once you’re exposed, you can’t unsee or unknow the thing that you now know. That opens up your world to believe for more to go after more. If you’re in 2017 and you hear something from me, and that exposes you to think about things differently, turn up. You can now walk in the truth that you now know of, that you didn’t before. That’s a win for everybody.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. That’s one of the things you talked about in the TED talk. I think you called it being bamboozled by Jesus.

Yvonne Orji: Bamboozled by Jesus. He got me, y’all.

Aisha Harris: Because you heard another woman talking about her experiences. How is it for you, I realize this is sort of a loaded question, but Hollywood is not exactly the place of moral virtue, per se, and in terms of ... There are obviously people who in Hollywood, especially black Hollywood who are religious, but how’s it been to navigate that world of being much more, maybe devout is the wrong word, but strict and holding to your values while being in Hollywood?

Yvonne Orji: Again, it’s not even a thing I think about.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: What I found is it’s ... It’s not closing any doors, and if it does close any doors, then those are not the doors that I’m supposed to walk through.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: For me, having a relationship and not just religion. Because it dictates what I do. Religion is just do this and do that and don’t do that and that. Relationship is like I’m not gonna do this because of this, or I can’t do this because of this, or I actually will do this. My character is one I have to be to this person because I can’t separate the two. It’s a consistency thing. It’s not like this is me on Sundays and every other day is like, “I do anything else I want.” My life is literally spearheaded by what I believe. It’s never in a forceful way. It’s never a way that’s like “You, too, should believe the same thing I believe, or if you don’t believe what I believe, then I can’t mess with you.” Guys, live your best life. The same way when people say ... I remember when I did an interview and someone was like “Well, why do we know this about you? Why do we know that you’re waiting?” I’m like, “The same way that we know so-and-so had a one night stand. They’re not keeping that to themselves so I don’t have to- People always share everyday!”

Aisha Harris: Yes.

Yvonne Orji: I was like “We can share about that, why can’t we know this about me?” It’s not even that I’m ashamed of, because it’s just part of me. It’s the same way that when I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to be African, and so people calling you African booty scratchers, but now I’m like, “Yo, I get more love because I’m Nigerian, I get more love because I genuinely love Jesus, I get more love for all the things that you would think could separate you or could alienate you.” I’m also like “Y’all, nobody puts me in a box. I am only here by the sheer grace of Jesus.” I can’t stop. I can’t stop talking about him. I can’t stop loving him, because then I would stop being the best version of myself.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: Literally, for me, all I know how to be is myself.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. Do you feel as though ... Is there anything about the representation of people who are religious in film and TV that you think could be improved upon? Or do you just wish you could see ... Because even your character, not that obviously, you’re acting, you’re not supposed ... Not every character ... The point of acting is not to always be yourself. But I’m curious because we haven’t really seen any sort of religion from Insecure at all, in any way. Most of these shows that we have with black people are not necessarily dealing with them in a direct way.

Yvonne Orji: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Aisha Harris: Even though it is still a very huge part of a lot of black people’s lives.

Yvonne Orji: I think what TV is able to do is present authentic experiences. If that’s a thing for a creative ... That’s an important part of them that they want to share, that feeds into the narrative that they want to show, then by all means, show it, or do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be forced. My whole thing is whatever the experience is, let it just be balanced. There’s a narrative that you can talk about religion, if you’ve had a negative experience with it, then that’s gonna be your per view, that’s gonna be how you relate to it.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: The show that I’m creating called FirstGen ... Nigerians, by nature, are just very conservative people, and when we’re thinking about storylines and plot points with it, there’s gonna be ... The first episode is the mother character calling a pastor to pray over her daughter whose broken her heart, because that’s what you do in a Nigerian house, “We are calling Pastor Cooley because this is ... He will come and lay hands on you.” You’re like, “Wait, what? Why is Pastor Cooley on deck? It’s 10:00. Why do you have him on your phone’s speed dial right now?” That’s a thing that I’ve experienced. Literally, I’ve come down from my room and my dad is like, “Sit down. We are going to have prayer.” Like why is this man here? He not touching me. No, I’m leaving guys, no.

That’s one asterisk, but at the same time, I also have a relationship. Even in my comedy, the things that I’m able to talk about ... I can’t [inaudible] because that’s not even representing me, my brand, or him in a good light. Nah. I just can’t ... There are certain jokes that I’m like “Yo, that’s hysterical. But that’s not my brand. And I can’t even go there.” So I think it just all depends on the creative, and if that’s not ... I’d rather you be truthful and honest in your portrayal, then try to contrive something that you think it is, because I think we were seeing a lot of that from shows that portrayed black people. It was like “Well, which black people do you know that are only thugs? Why are we always slappin’ ho’s? This is crazy!”

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: Is this a truthful, honest representation or is this just what you think this community does? And I think when you see shows like Atlanta, or Insecure, or Queen Sugar, you’re like “Oh my God, these black people are just really normal and regular, and they live great lives.” It’s like “Yeah, these are the black people who we know.”

When it comes to faith, I would love a portrayal that is just authentic. And I can’t dictate to anybody else what that portrayal should be, or is, because that’s their experience.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: Something like Green Leaf is talking about a megachurch, and I’ve been at megachurches. For better or worse, there are things that happen behind the scenes at every church, and you’re like “Wait, what in the world?” And there are things that you’re like “Oh, this is really good about this church.” There’s no story that’s perfect. Even when our show came out, black people were upset, like “HBO gets her and they call it Insecure, see this is why I can’t stand-” And it was like-

Aisha Harris: Wait, people really said that?

Yvonne Orji: Oh my gosh, yeah. Why is it the first time a black girl gets a show on HBO, it’s got to be Insecure. Why can’t there be a better portrayal of us?” It’s like “She’s awkward! She was awkward before, you were OK with- Awkward’s taken!”

Aisha Harris: My people, my people.

Yvonne Orji: It’s OK because ... But I think that narrative, and Issa was great about sharing we’re all insecure about stuff. There’s nobody that wakes up every day winning. Why do we need to self-circumvent the image that’s out there as like, “We are saviors. We are warriors. We get it. Black girl magic is all day long.” But at the same time, there’s black girl pixie dust that you have to have before you get to the magic, and pixie dust ain’t fully formed yet. You gonna make some mistakes on your way, and you’ve made mistakes, and you are in insecure, but then you’re killing it in other aspects of your life, too. And it’s OK. But I think there’s just this fear, “Well you can’t let white people know that we got insecurities, because then the narrative about us is gonna be justified.” It’s like “We not stuntin’ nobody. They’re gonna think whatever they’re gonna think about us.” So let’s just walk in the truth of who we are. And again, this may not be your story.

Aisha Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Orji: And that’s OK. And that’s the beauty of having more seats at the table, more voices to say “Well this is not your story.” That’s cool, we gonna have this story. Then you can get in where you fit in.

Aisha Harris: It’s funny because I had not heard that argument, which is a terrible argument to make. But then I also have co-workers who have said that they think Issa’s character is not insecure enough, and I was like “I don’t know where that’s coming from.” This is a woman who psychs herself up in the mirror and raps to herself, in order to ... She’s pretty insecure.

Yvonne Orji: There are other people who said Obama wasn’t black enough, so I don’t know what the scale of insecurities or blackinies or anything -ies is enough.

Aisha Harris: Well, question for you, who do you think right now in season two is the most insecure character?

Yvonne Orji: I would say Lawrence.

Aisha Harris: I would agree.

Yvonne Orji: I would say Lawrence, because I think Lawrence is trying to find himself in a way that he hasn’t before, and it’s also finding himself while on the up and up. You should find yourself before you get on the up and up, because then you’re solidified in who you are.

Aisha Harris: Right.

Yvonne Orji: Before the rise. But when you’re trying to figure it out as you’re rising, that’s problematic.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: That’s problematic. I think that’s what he’s experiencing now, he’s like “I’m a good guy, but I’m tryin’ to be a single guy, all I know is relationships” so that’s why he messed things up with Tasha. Ahhh, I’m jumping from one relationship to another, and for the last four years, I’ve been in relationship mode, so I don’t know how to be Chad, his friend. Chad is, I don’t know what Chad is. Chad is not single, and yet he is single, then he’s engaged, but then he’s flirting with the real estate- I don’t know what Chad is. Chad is a mess, is what he is.

Aisha Harris: Chad’s a fuckboy. Lawrence is trying to be a fuckboy.

Yvonne Orji: Well, Lawrence doesn’t know how not to be a relationship boy, and because of that, and by default, because he doesn’t have the best people around him right now, he ends up an F-boy.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: There’s that.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. I would agree Lawrence is the most insecure right now. Let’s actually talk about Molly this season, because she’s going through a lot ... She’s kind of evolved a lot. In the first season, her and Issa have that huge falling out, and then they reunited by the end of it. But that changed. One of the things you fell out over her suggesting that you go to therapy.

Yvonne Orji: Yeah.

Aisha Harris: So this season, you’re attempting to go to therapy.

Yvonne Orji: I’m in therapy, y’all. Well, Molly’s in therapy, y’all.

Aisha Harris: Well, now, as of-

Yvonne Orji: As of the [inaudible]

Aisha Harris: She’s trying to find a new therapist.

Yvonne Orji: Yes.

Aisha Harris: Is there anything about your character this season that surprised you? And how much input do you get into your character?

Yvonne Orji: I think we are seeing ... It’s so funny because, like I was saying earlier, people were really upset with Molly for not going to dinner or the concert with Lionel.

Aisha Harris: It is Sterling K. Brown, I’m just saying.

Yvonne Orji: The Sterling K. Brown. Molly’s doing what Lawrence probably should have done, is taking a beat. It’s like when you like somebody, but you don’t like them enough, let’s not waste each other’s time.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: Yes, I could use you for a cool night out and I might even enjoy myself, but if I don’t feel like it’s gonna go anywhere, why am I wasting your time?

Aisha Harris: Yeah, yeah.

Yvonne Orji: I think she’s trying to process that, which is very different than Molly’s first season. Molly would’ve been moved in with Lionel. Molly would have been like, “So what color arrangements do you want for the wedding? No, we can actually go to Vegas today.” Now, she’s just taking a beat, and people who aren’t OK with that, it’s like “What y’all want Molly to do, y’all?” She tryin’ to figure things out, and she’s trying not to be that person, obviously, yes, there are extremes and maybe she might have gone from one extreme to the other, but that’s the thing when you’re trying to find the sweet spot in the middle. Goldilocks was like “Nah, this is too hot. Nah, this is too cold.” OK, well you have to go through the two extremes to figure out, “Well I kinda like it warm.” I think that’s where Molly is right now. Molly is trying to figure out what that sweet spot is.

Aisha Harris: Yeah. You, I’m sure, are also learning. You’ve learned a lot about yourself, being someone who is out dating. What is the one thing that you’ve done that you regret in dating?

Yvonne Orji: That I regret in dating ...

Aisha Harris: Or something you just feel like you’ve learned from. Maybe regret’s a strong word.

Yvonne Orji: I was like hmm. What I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, is it’s OK to want what you want. I call myself a hopeful romantic. I have, not like a bleeding heart, but I’m always accommodating. You like what you like. You can try to put the square peg into a round hole because it’s like if Molly tried to get with Lionel. I like what I like, and now I can’t ... I told someone, I consider that relationship like 500 Days of Summer, the movie. He was great, but he wasn’t her great.

Aisha Harris: Yeah, yeah.

Yvonne Orji: She couldn’t put her finger on it until she found the dude, and it was like instantly, “Oh my God, of course I love you, let’s get married tomorrow.” He’s like “What the? We were in this for so long.” And when I saw what I liked, I had to go for it.

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

Yvonne Orji: I think for me, it’s there are good people, and there are good people who wanna be with you, but if they’re not your great, I’m sorry.

Aisha Harris: Yeah, yeah. My final question for you is when is the last time you saw yourself in a film or TV show, something you weren’t a part of, whether it was you saw a character who really resonated with you, who you felt like, “Oh that’s me, or my sister, or my brother”, you just felt really connected to that movie, or TV show, or character.

Yvonne Orji: When I saw the Black Panther trailer, I was like “So, Black Panther 2?” I’m from Africa, what you need? I’ll bring the whole village, I’ll bring the whole squad. I could do some high kicks, some back flips or shit, whatever y’all need.

Aisha Harris: We can bring you to Wakanda.

Yvonne Orji: Whatever language I need to learn ... You best believe, call me. I definitely was like, “Listen, we not gonna let this moment pass us by a second time, OK?” Yeah, I think that would just be fun.

It’s funny, I have podcast called Black Girl Magic, and we interviewed Susan Kelechi Watson. I was actually telling her, what advice can Beth give to Molly because I feel like Molly can learn from Beth. I just think that character is so beautiful and beautifully done-

Aisha Harris: Oh and just to clarify for listeners, This Is Us.

Yvonne Orji: This Is Us. No, I’m sorry. They were like, “What show is this?” I think she plays that character so well. It’s so weird, the Randall character is the patriarch. Beth just comes in as like, “I’m a soldier, too. I’m gonna let you have your moment, I’m gonna let you have your midlife crisis, but I call marriage.” When that episode, when she says “I call marriage”, I was like, “This is some grown folk stuff. These folks are out here using all their words.” And it’s just like “No, you’re gonna listen to me and this is why ...” And I especially loved when she found that Mandy Moore’s character actually knew Randall’s dad. She was like, “You got X amount of time to tell him before I do, because you not about to have me lying to my husband.” I love the real of that moment. It’s like, “I’m gonna let you have your moment but you not about to mess up my marriage. Because I can’t keep secrets. We don’t do that here.” And I just loved how open and honest and raw and heartfelt that character was, too. I was like, “I don’t know if this is a lesson in acting and marriage but I’m taking notes.” Whatever it is, kudos to Susan Kelechi Watson on that one.

Aisha Harris: Nice. Great choice. I don’t think we’ve had ... We haven’t had a This is Us yet on this show. We ask everyone this question and we’ve had lots of other answers but not that one. That’s a good one.

Yvonne Orji: Thank you! I feel it. I’m like, “Hey, what up Beth? How you doing? We should have a crossover, Beth. Since we have Randall in common, right?”

Aisha Harris: Yes!

Yvonne Orji: Somebody actually tweeted and was like, “OK, are we not gonna talk about the elephant in the room? Randall’s out here with Molly when he should be at home with Beth.” I was like “It’s a different show! It’s a different show!”

Aisha Harris: Well, it was an absolute pleasure to have you on, Yvonne.

Yvonne Orji: Thank you, I had a great time.

Aisha Harris: And everyone, check out Insecure.

Yvonne Orji: 10:30, Sunday nights.

Aisha Harris: Yes. Thanks so much!

Yvonne Orji: No problem.

Aisha Harris: And we are out. Represent is produced by the lovely, awesome Veralyn Williams. Our great social media assistant is Marissa Martinelli. And thank you, Marissa, for your extra special assistance on this episode. Our intro/outro music is performed by the sweet San Francisco funk soul band, Midtown Social. If you missed our other conversations about Insecure and want to hear more, go back in your feed and check out Prentice Penny in Episode 39. Oh, and speaking of Insecure, Veralyn and I were actually just on another great Slate podcast that everyone should check out, Slate’s Culture Gabfest last week, also talking about Insecure. If you are not already tuned in to Culture Gabfest, you should check it out. It features Slate culture critics Steven Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner, debating the week in culture, and they cover a whole spectrum of things from film to TV, to music, to podcasts. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time.

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.