Welcome to Gawker’s How to Be Funny week, a celebration of people and things who are making us laugh and teaching us how to laugh more.
Ayo Edebiri is very talented. An actor, writer, and stand-up comedian, you probably know her best from her work as Sydney on The Bear, where she plays a Type A chef thrown into the chaos of a divey Italian beef counter. Or maybe you know her as Missy from Big Mouth, a show for which she was also a writer. Or maybe you have an Apple TV+ account and watched Dickinson (good show!), on which she also wrote and played Hattie.
But to me, more important than all of that is that she is my dear friend of almost a decade. Or so I thought. As you will learn in this interview, becoming a Thom Browne girl and getting awards buzz has gone straight to her head, and she no longer remembers my face, voice, or name.
It’s great to see you.
It’s really nice to meet you.
We have actually met before.
I’m sure! I know these industry events can be so crazy and stuff. Pre-pandemic, right? I’m so face blind also, just because of the masks and stuff.
I want to talk about your work on The Bear. Were you big into cooking before the show? Or were you kind of a takeout girl?
I think I liked to cook. I come from a family where there’s really great cooks on both sides. And I would always try to dabble a little bit. But my area of expertise was more putting fun little things my Annie’s mac and cheese. That was where that was a lot of where I lived. And then during the pandemic, I started cooking more… what were you going to say?
I was going to say that I have been reading a lot of interviews with you and I have heard you say the Annie’s mac and cheese line. It seems kind of like your go-to.
Do you want me to say something else?
No, I was just like, hoping because we are kind of close that I would get maybe a more interesting, a less canned—
Oh, we’re close? Where are you? I’m in Los Feliz.
No, I’m in Brooklyn.
Then we’re not close. Right? We’re far away. We’re on opposite ends of the country.
Anyway, what does it feel like going from stand-up comedian — going even further back, improv comedian — to writer to actor?
You’ve really done your research.
I would say that I have.
That’s great that you would say that. I think it’s definitely a little bit weird. I’ve always loved performing, but I mean, I don’t know, especially going to NYU. That’s where I went. Where did you go?
I also went to NYU, we went there together, and we also lived together.
Oh my gosh, it’s such a big school. The city is, naturally, our campus, so I’m sure we crossed paths. But anyway, back to my answer. Going to a school like that, I guess I loved performing but in spaces with my friends. I had thought that my path would be one that ended up more behind-the-scenes, like in production and then writing. But then when I started doing stand-up, it did change a little bit, but I don’t think I was as known in that arena as I am in this one. There was a comfort and a niche-ness, like you know me if you know me, but if you don’t it’s chill.
How do you feel now that more people do, in fact, know you?
I would go back to that iconic word, “weird.” But grateful because it means that the people are watching the show and, like, responding to it. It is strange, that role [on The Bear] is definitely more dramatic. But the scenes were always really funny, and I think the hard part was like, I felt like my character was, like, the wet blanket. That’s how I needed to feel in the scenes, is like, Yeah, I’m just not fun.
In our relationship, I would say you are kind of the wacky one, and I am the straight man. So how does it feel to be on set being the straight man?
In this interview?
No, in our actual years-long friendship.
Okay, yeah. Um, do you have a manager?
What do you mean?
No, no, no, sorry.
What does my having a manager have to do with anything? Oh, you meant like a, like a person? Like in a Karen way? Not in a… who represents me?
Yeah. I mean, who might be representing you in a court of law?
I am looking for management.
And you’re the alleged straight man. This type of yukking it up? Hamming it up? It’s just interesting. It’s just interesting.
I am worried for your mental stability.
Worry is a two-way street, honey.
Have you hit your head recently?
This is — I’m really sorry — I really respect the institution for which you write and I was so excited. I’ve read many of your pieces. I found them so sharp and so funny. I think your voice is so incisive and singular. And I’m just, I’m just a little shocked at, I don’t know, maybe this is like your process. But I just thought this would be a bit more professional. Just what I thought. But I can answer your question if you want. If you want me to adapt to your reality.
For the record, my reality is reality.
Okay, and for the record, that’s what you believe.
The theme of this package that Gawker is doing is How to Be Funny. And, you know, I’ve obviously heard you be funny many times.
Thank you, that’s really nice. Always appreciate that from a fan.
Do you see yourself going back to stand-up ever?
It’s hard, like if I’m on location in Miami or something… When I’m studying and when I’m working on my craft—
What are you studying?
The scenes, the lines, the movie. The craft. When I’m studying the craft, it can be hard to sort of focus and switch gears back into that stand-up space. But when I’m still, then I do stand-up. I’m always doing random shows, like in LA or New York or whatever. I do want to keep doing it. I don’t know if I have goals in stand-up like I do in writing and acting. I just like doing stand-up as an outlet, I think, for ideas and talking and stuff. But I don’t have goals necessarily of like, by this point I would like a special and I would like this.
So you’re kind of like— Oh, sorry. No, please continue.
No, please interrupt.
You’re kind of a Kumail Nanjiani figure in that way, with acting and writing and stand-up. He was nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting—
I was there! I know, I was there. Alongside his wife.
We do not want to erase women.
When we hosted a podcast together—
You and I?
Yes, you and I. We had a bit we called “Vroom Vroom” where we would try to think of a vehicle for someone to get an Oscar nomination. So I would love to think of one for you.
That’s such a fun game. Thirty seconds on the clock, or something like that? I’m just trying to jump in. I don’t know.
Ready, set, go. I think you should play Michelle Obama in a biopic.
Young Michelle. Yeah, I think biopic might be the way to go. Or it’s like I co-produce a song with Diane Warren. Me, Diane Warren, and Lin-Manuel Miranda doing the music for the remake of Free Willy.
Just off the top of your head, what are the lyrics to that song?
“The heart is an ocean.” You can take that and run with it.