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Yep, Odinaka Ezeokoli’s Episode of Easy Is His Real Life

If you thought the story line of a rising Chicago comic juggling two part-time jobs sounded too real to be fiction, you were right.

In Joe Swanberg’s Easy, Ezeokoli talks about finding his Nigerian identity and his two side hustles.   Photo: Courtesy of Odinaka Ezeokoli

A year since its original release, the Netflix show, Easy, has returned for a second season. The short episodes depict the nuanced life and times of fictional Chicagoans, from burlesque shows to marriage therapy to organic dog treats.

Odinaka Ezeokoli, a rising Chicago comic, plays the character of Odinaka in an episode of Easy that hews much closer to reality. The audience follows Ezeokoli attending open mics, hosting his regular monthly show, Congrats on Your Success, and managing his two part-time jobs. After the show’s release, we got to talk to Odinaka and how Easy bridged into his real life and why comedians should come to Chicago.

How did you get involved with Netflix’s Easy?

I actually met [Easy creator] Joe Swanberg at a bar. I’ve been working on this TV show concept about a boarding school in Nigeria with my friend Billy Bungeroth and Billy says he’s meeting up with his friend Joe this one night after we’re done writing. I stay around and we all just sit talking and shooting the shit. I start to tell him about my life in Chicago and he becomes very interested in my connection to Nigeria and also just fascinated with this idea of the “side hustle” or what artists have to do to make ends meet.

How exactly does Easy recreate your life here in Chicago?

Oh man, it could be a documentary. It’s exactly my life. The scene at the beginning where I’m talking about growing up in Nigeria and America, that’s my life. When I was 15, my brothers and I were sent to boarding school in Nigeria. I really could start identifying myself as not only a black American, but as a Nigerian as well. I’m becoming equally informed by both sides and it definitely reflects in my comedy. It just took me a while to figure out.

What about the “side hustle” that Joe Swanberg is so fascinated by? In the show, you drive for Uber and work as a tour guide.  

Yeah, those are my real jobs. Actually, that was my actual car that they rigged up for the Uber scenes and my very real co-workers and boss in our morning meeting for Chicago Trolley and Double Decker. My co-workers actually played the tourists on the bus too, just acting the part and it ended up being super natural for the show. Comedy is what I love, but I obviously have to pay the bills. I used to work a full-time, nine-to-five job, but it didn’t give me enough time to do what I needed. The important thing, I think for any artist, is time. If I work two part-time jobs, then I can kind of make my own schedule and make the time I need. And that’s what I’ve been doing the past two years.

Has it been difficult to do comedy and the two jobs on the side?

Oh, hell yeah. It can be incredibly stressful. It was crazy that Joe wanted to focus so much on stuff that I thought was taking me away from my comedy, when it was actually all that mattered for that episode.

Have you ever wanted to move on from this lifestyle?

No. I had to ask myself again and again if comedy was it for me, and the answer has always been a resounding yes. I’m going to do it no matter what happens.

What do you hope other Chicago comedians gain from watching this episode?

I did not envision that this episode would mean that much to the comedy community, but since it came out, I’ve actually had a lot of strangers reach out to me on Twitter and Instagram like “hey this is really inspiring, it was so cool to watch.” I had no idea that this would be the reaction, but I’m glad the episode functioned that way. If you come to Chicago to do comedy, it’s a great place. It’s amazing to be creative and make shit and collaborate with other artists. Listen to yourself, write as much as you can, get up on stage as much as you can. Keep making dope stuff with dope people.

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