I don’t review comedy specials. Mainly because they’re extremely subjective experiences entirely centered around the performer. If you don’t like the person on stage, chances are you won’t like the following hour. A film can distract with the music, set design, supporting cast, or action. Compare that to stand up, and usually what you see is what you get.

MAMA, I MADE IT breaks the tradition thanks to Yvonne Orji’s understanding that comedy at heart is an embellished retelling of ourselves. The special, punctuated by interludes to her visit back to her hometown in Lagos, Nigeria, lovingly pokes fun and embraces the origins of her humor. From haggling to asking directions, cursing and being cursed, Orji’s performance is as uproarious as it is eye-opening. It’s one of the rare shows where you’ll come out smarter and more understanding than you walked in.

Orji is a superb comedian and her stage presence is remarkable. Effortlessly dancing between her American and Nigerian backgrounds, in turns loving and self-deprecating, she tears apart cultural norms and stereotypes. The jokes are endlessly sharp and her ability to turn a simple gag into a celebration of wordplay. Watch as she brings the entire audience to collectively shout out a punchline they’ve all heard growing up. It’s a communal experience that fills the soul. 

Elsewhere Orji’s characters and vocalization are nothing short of stunning. The imaginary conversations between her mother and younger self are consistently funny; often causing me to go back to catch punchlines I had missed from laughing too much. Even funnier are her side-eyes to the camera, reminiscent to ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, where a single wink brings the house down.

The footage from Lagos is gorgeous and heartfelt, allowing Orji and friends to discuss their upbringing in a world far removed from Los Angeles. The interviews with her parents bring a wealth of context and unexpected familiarity to her act. It’s a combination that makes all other introductory shows feel downright quaint in comparison. Orji arrives as a stranger and leaves feeling like a friend you already miss.

YVONNE ORJO: MOMMA, I MADE IT premieres on HBO Nordic 7.6.2020.