‘Saturday Night Live’ Star And NAACP Image Award Nominee Ego Nwodim On How Earning A Biology Degree Laid The Foundation For Her Acting Career

‘Saturday Night Live’ Star And NAACP Image Award Nominee Ego Nwodim On How Earning A Biology Degree Laid The Foundation For Her Acting Career | Photo: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images
‘Saturday Night Live’ Star And NAACP Image Award Nominee Ego Nwodim On How Earning A Biology Degree Laid The Foundation For Her Acting Career | Photo: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images
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There’s no limit to what Ego Nwodim can do.

When she isn’t bringing sketches to life via Saturday Night Live, she may do bougie ratchet activities alongside friends. For the comedian, life is all about having balance.

Growing up, Nwodim thought everyone was as quirky as she was, but it wasn’t until early adulthood that someone took the time to comment on how funny she was.

“Back when I lived I lived in LA, one summer, we lived in a townhouse, my sister and two of my best friends from college, and one of them had to be away for the summer, so she found someone to sublet her room,” Nwodim recently recalled during an interview with Blavity’s Shadow and Act “And that person was a girl named Rose, and Rose was the first person to be like, ‘You’re funny,’ and spell it out for me that way.”

The moment was special for Nwodim because she was fresh out of college, working to pursue her acting dreams.

“I was embarking on my journey as an actor,” she said. “Trying to find my way and to find my place. I was in dramatic acting classes at the time, and I remember getting that label of being like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ That this person who doesn’t know me and is meeting me for the first time and living with me and seeing how strange I am is like, ‘You’re funny.’ That stuck out for me.”

As a first-generation Nigerian American, Nwodim’s parents had dreams of her becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer, so she was unaware of the range of possibilities available to her creative nature.

“My mom’s a doctor, and so I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a doctor.’ But I was also a ballerina from age 6 to 16. I did it for 10 years, and I really enjoy performing a lot,” Nwodim shared. “That is when I felt like I came alive and came to life, so probably around the age of 12 or 13. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be a performer.'”

While she was still determining the layers of that, Nwodim knew she was ready to set out on a path without a blueprint or a linear career.

She studied biology at the University of Southern California to get to Los Angeles. Despite it being the opposite of her creative vision for her life, Nwodim admitted the two also have parallels.

“I think there’s some similarity there in terms of the path to acting,” she said. “You can follow directions, and you can take people’s advice, but things might not pan out in the timing or the way that you want them to, and I think dealing with that, I don’t even know if I’d call it a failure, but those sorts of hiccups in the journey and expected outcomes has prepared me for acting in the terms of it being so unpredictable.”

“You audition for so much, and you get told ‘No.’ Or it seems like it’s close, and you’re following steps closely, and it seems like you’re just about to have a breakthrough, and it doesn’t happen that way. So, I think in that way, science prepared me. I also think it was incredibly challenging to be doing something I wasn’t totally in love with. I got my degree in biology, and it was good training and resilience because I do think that you need that for a career in acting.”

Today, Nwodim’s existence on SNL alone is historic as she is one of the few Black women to hold her position for as long as she has. 

Since 2018, when the actress joined during the show’s 44th season, Nwodim has been taking her career to greater heights — higher than even she could’ve ever envisioned.

Fast-forward to 2024, and she is now nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on SNL. 

“I’m so honored. Deeply, deeply honored to be recognized by my people. I’ve been wanting to get nominated, and it feels pretty surreal to be like, ‘Oh, it happened.’ And then to be nominated among the people in my category like Sheryl Lee Ralph, someone I grew up watching on TV, now I’m nominated in the category with her. That is absolutely phenomenal and surreal to me.”

As she continues encountering those pinch-me moments throughout her career, Nwodim plans to create a television show to share her story and space for fellow underrepresented and marginalized voices to share their narratives.

Most importantly, as Nwodim would advise the 12-year-old version of herself, she is all about enjoying the journey.