Rising Star Ayo Edebiri Makes Her Mark on 'Big Mouth' and 'Dickinson' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
As both writer and performer, comedian Ayo Edebiri is leaving her mark on the Netflix animated series Big Mouth, which returned for season 4, and the second season of the Apple TV+ original, Dickinson. “It’s very exciting and very strange now that it’s all starting to roll out,” she tells ET.
As her profile continues to rise -- Vulture and Time Out New York listed her among the “Comedians to Watch in 2019” as she has cultivated a growing and dedicated social media following -- Edebiri has gone from a writer on the short-lived NBC comedy, Sunnyside, to a co-producer on Tina Fey’s anticipated Netflix animated series, Mulligan. And over the summer, Edebiri was thrust into the spotlight when it was announced that she would be replacing Jenny Slate as Missy on Big Mouth after previously joining the writers’ room for season 5.
The news came after Slate shared she would no longer voice Missy, a biracial preteen, amid the country’s cultural reckoning and renewed Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The actress acknowledged that her “original reasoning [for taking the role] was flawed,” she wrote on Instagram in June, adding “that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy.”
Soon after, it was revealed that Edebiri, who auditioned for and eventually won the role, would first be introduced during the penultimate episode -- a clever parody of the Jordan Peele film, Us, that showcases Missy’s continued evolution in season 4 -- and take over the role full-time in future seasons. Edebiri describes the moment as “a baton pass more than anything else.”
A self-identified awkward Black girl, Edebiri is not just a natural fit for Missy, but she brings a level of authenticity to the character that was missing before and even harder to get around as the show, notably its writers, wanted to explore her Blackness. Just don’t expect Missy to suddenly be from Boston and start playing the oboe, Edebiri says, clarifying that they won’t be retrofitting the character to fit the comedian.
But for a series that started off about puberty, with jokes about erections and periods, it’s grown into a hilariously funny and nuanced exploration of gender, sexuality, and now, race. “As a viewer, it’s exciting because you see something that you loved kind of grow alongside you and just continue to set the bar higher for itself,” Edebiri says, adding that as a writer and performer on the show, “I feel like I’m in good hands.”
With season 4 now streaming, Edebiri says it’s been “really cool and really exciting and overwhelming in the best way” to have people like actress Cree Summer and others within the industry share their praise and adoration. And Edebiri should expect that love from her peers as well as fans to continue to grow with the January return of Dickinson, the coming-of-age comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld as American poet Emily Dickinson.
Like Big Mouth, Edebiri joined creator Alena Smith’s writers’ room for season 2 before she was cast on screen as Hattie, an employee within the Dickinson household, “who is a little of an instigator and definitely opinionated,” she says, teasing that audiences will soon “realize that there’s a little bit more to the story with her.” It’s a character that came about after Smith suggested Edebiri for the role. “I was not angling myself to be in the show in any way, but was very excited when it unfolded in that way,” she adds.
While Edebiri identifies with the poet (“The sad truth is that I’m a depressed child from Massachusetts,” she quips) and was taken by Smith’s specific vision for the show, she was most excited about getting to “explore the inner lives of the Black characters in the show, and make sure that it wasn’t lip service.”
Without giving anything away about the new season, Edebiri says, “We actually got to give them storylines that were both poignant but also fun and cool.”
For her, that is largely seen in episode eight, which she co-wrote with Smith and marks her first writing credit. “It was a labor of love,” Edebiri gushes, adding that the achievement just makes her “want to keep writing and hopefully get to do more TV that’s celebrating Black people, and eventually stuff that’s even more than that.”