In 2023, Ayo Edebiri was everywhere.
This year alone, the 28-year-old Emmy-nominated actor starred in “Bottoms,” “Theater Camp,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” guest-starred on “Abbott Elementary” and “Black Mirror” and returned for the second season of “The Bear” — the show that initially shot the stand-up comedian and writer-turned-actor to fame.
With roles in everything from bawdy and brutal live-action teen comedy to animated film to kitchen-based dramedy, Edebiri landed a spot as one of The Associated Press' Breakthrough Entertainers of 2023.
“I think it’s like not the reason why you do any of this, but it’s very humbling and moving that it’s happening because I think that it means that people are responding to my work,” Edebiri says of all her newfound recognition during a video call while filming on location in New Mexico. “And that is all you can ask for as an artist, for just people to pick up what you’re putting down and in whatever way possible.”
Edebiri grew up performing at her parent’s church and would often perform stand up with her friends at open mics when she was in high school.
“I think (church) was my first exposure to everything, really, to music, to performing, to speaking in front of people,” she says. “I think I really have a love for live performance, especially that feeling of just like being in a communal space.”
Edebiri had always imagined taking on a more practical job like teaching, which she majored in at New York University, performing stand-up around the city in her spare time. It was not until she met other successful Black female comedians who were making a living from the art and still able to obtain heath insurance that she began to entertain the idea of pursuing comedy professionally.
“They have these things that to me — especially as a child of immigrants — I need cold, hard proof,” said Edebiri. “I don't need a dream. I need to know that I can have dental and I can get an eye exam once a year."
She switched her major from teaching to playwriting: “I realized I would rather do that and be happy than always be wondering,” she said.
She would soon begin booking writing jobs on shows like “Sunnyside,” “Dickinson,” and “Big Mouth,” along with minor acting roles. Edebiri later became Missy’s voice on “Big Mouth” and landed a recurring role on “Dickinson.”
“I was really fortunate to have people in my corner who were like, ‘We’re going to help you. Like, why wouldn’t we?’” Edebiri says.
As she rises to the top, one can’t help but notice the creative community she surrounds herself with, a constant throughline that seems connected to her early days as a performer who loved the communal aspect of the arts.
“I’ve just been lucky to be a part of all these different folds, and I’m fortunate the people that I love also love each other and, you know, have people they love and introduce me,” she says.
She and her longtime friend and working partner Rachel Sennott (“Bottoms”) have been creating together since they studied at NYU. She also counts among her friends Molly Gordon ( “Theater Camp,” “The Bear”), Quinta Brunson ("Abbott Elementary") and Christopher Storer, the creator of “The Bear."
“I’ve known Chris since I was like 21 or 22. I feel like I’ve also been watching him grow, even though he’s older than me and so accomplished and such a genius,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, like I’m watching you grow; you’re watching me grow in my confidence as a performer, in my taste.’”
After being nominated in the outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series category for the upcoming Emmys, recognizing her work in the first season of “The Bear,” she's submitting in the lead actress category for Season 2. Edebiri says she's grateful for the change — not because it's an elevated category, but because it makes room for her co-stars.
“It also means that Abby (Elliott) and Liza (Colón-Zayas) could potentially be recognized for their work on the show in the supporting category. We really are just such an ensemble piece,” she says.
Like the young girl growing up in church, Edebiri’s love for the arts still revolves around creating a communal space with her fellow artists.
“I think we’re really lucky to have that type of alchemy with each other,” she says of the cast of “The Bear.” “I really love working on it and I love everybody who is a part of it.”
When she wins, everyone else does as well.
For more on AP’s 2023 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, visit https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers