Why is Ayo Edebiri everywhere these days? Because we need her awkward sincerity more than ever

Carmy trusts her on "The Bear." She's the voice of reason to four Ninja Turtles. And now, she convinces us to fight

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published August 29, 2023 5:30AM (EDT)

Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in "Bottoms" (Patti Perret/Orion Pictures)
Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in "Bottoms" (Patti Perret/Orion Pictures)

Ayo Edebiri's big brown eyes and soft, mile-a-minute cadence and goofy smile are enchanting — almost like when she appears on any screen she casts a spell on the audience to watch, trancelike as she cooks an omelet with potato chips sprinkled on it, tells a joke about having a panic attack on edibles or just be her proclaimed anxiety-prone self. She dares us to fall in love with her, and we do because she is obviously so loveable. There's a reason she's showing up everywhere on our screens.

Her charisma lies in her ability to make even the most dire, uncomfortable situations in a film into something optimistic and humorous.

Edebiri is in the new age of upcoming breakout millennial/zoomer cusp stars like her "Bottoms" co-star and real-life best friend comedian, writer and actress Rachel Sennott. The comedy duo went to New York University at the same time and also joined the local standup comedy circuit while they lived there. They both even starred in a digital series called "Ayo and Rachel are Single," which aired on Comedy Central in 2020.

Their raunchy and bloody teen comedy "Bottoms" is pegged as a queer, high school "Fight Club." Edebiri plays Josie, a bumbling, awkward nerd who is in love with her polar opposite, hot cheerleader Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and helps best friend PJ (Sennott) start a fight club for their female classmates to supposedly learn self-defense. In fact, that's a cover for their real agenda: to lose their virginities to hot girls before they head off to college. Even with all the blood, black eyes and straight-up broken noses — Josie is the sweetest character in the film. At the same time, she's also wildly funny in her anxious rambling moments as a self-proclaimed "gay, untalented and ugly" girl.

When everything in the film spirals out of control – you know, beyond starting a fight club for kids – like it does in high school, Josie steps up and realizes she has to rally her friends. She's pretty convincing and wins them over, chalk that up to most Edebiri's bewitching nature that's borne of honesty. One of her winning lines: "Annie, even though you're a Black Republican you're the smartest one." But she also has star power as a romantic lead in the film, yearning for an unattainable Isabel, who also can't seem to resist the earnest charms that Edibiri brings to the role.

What Edebiri showcases in "Bottoms" and her other roles — big, small, in front of the camera or behind it in a writer's room — can't really be taught or bottled into a vial and sold to recreate. Her charisma lies in her ability to make even the most dire, uncomfortable situations in a film into something optimistic and humorous. Maybe it's because she finds the lightness in her anxiousness and awkwardness. But somehow it's portrayed as inherently cool and original.

The star's other credits range from writing and reccurring in Apple TV+'s period comedy "Dickinson,"  writing "Big Mouth" while also voicing the sweet Missy during the fourth season after Jenny Slate pulled out of the role, playing Janet, an aloof camp counselor in Molly Gordon's "Theater Camp," and voicing plucky journalist April who helps her new reptile friends see the truth in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem." She also plays Janine's flaky, pothead older sister Ayesha in the second season of "Abbott Elementary" and serves as a writer for the FX comedy "What We Do In The Shadows."

But most importantly, Edebiri's allure with niche parts of the internet and the general public hit its peak magnetism when the high-stress, anxiety-inducing, half-hour restaurant dramedy "The Bear" dropped on Hulu last year. The show landed with critics and audiences across the country, with Edebiri receiving her first Emmy nomination for best supporting actress in a comedy series for her role of ambitious, anxious sous chef and now restaurateur, Sydney.

The BearJeremy Allen White as Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Chuck Hodes/FX)Passionate about cooking and food, Sydney is a professionally trained chef who is almost like a fish out of water in the first season of the show. She struggles to connect to the other older, untrained staff in the kitchen at The Beef restaurant and they rightfully find her condescending. But throughout the course of the two seasons, she is able to break through and showcase her ability to connect to people through the art of food, her vision for a successful restaurant and an elevated, supported staff. That is shown through a beautiful, loving scene of Syd cooking an omelet for her pregnant co-worker Natalie (Abby Elliott) in the second season. The character's methodical nature, her passion for food and her care for the people eating made the audience feel like Syd (and Edebiri) was cooking for them, caring for them too. 

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In the second season, Syd becomes second-in-command to Carmy, the lead chef and her co-partner played by the wonderful Jeremy Allen White. Edebiri's chemistry with White also has launched a larger shipping discourse around the two characters. It is impossible to be in Edebiri's line of sight without shipping her characters with someone because she screams romantic lead.

Her universality makes it easy to imagine her as a friend, sister or love interest, and that is what I call star presence. 

Did I mention that while Edebiri handles playing the co-lead in "The Bear" magnificently, she also serves as a co-executive producer on the critical and fan-favorite show? Her range of roles does not exclude that she is an incredibly talented person who exists outside of how she is portrayed in a scene — she is also part of making major decisions behind the scenes. She has only been in the industry for a handful of years. At 27, she wears multiple hats including actor, standup comedian, and writer with an ease that is almost comical. It's even more impressive when you look at how there aren't many young Black women in the industry who juggle this many roles while also being on the big screen in successful films and television shows. The only recent two that come to mind are Quinta Brunson of "Abbott Elementary" and Issa Rae of "Insecure."

Edebiri's starhood is shining bright right now because in her words "I'm employable!" She's even joined the Marvel train, playing a role in the upcoming 2024 film "Thunderbolts." But the larger context of her success this year is that she plays really sincere and loveable characters and while each one is different from one another — something about her charm and wit peeks through regardless of who she is playing. Her universality makes it easy to imagine her as a friend, sister or love interest, and that is what I call star presence. 

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Ayo Edebiri Bottoms Commentary Movies Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Bear Theater Camp Tv