From ‘Awkward Black Girl’ to star of ‘sharpest comedy of the year’


Issa Rae in “Insecure”

LOS ANGELES—For someone who was just dreaming of attending the Golden Globe Awards last year, and then showed up as a nominee at the event early this year, Issa Rae has no reason to be “Insecure.”

Time magazine recently paid Issa Rae and her HBO show, “Insecure,” the highest compliment: “Last year, the first season of ‘Insecure’—the HBO series cocreated by and starring the magnetic comic Issa Rae—was among a constellation of bright spots … The series introduced a sharp, fully formed perspective on the world, one from outside the class of comics (often white men) who historically gets the chance to create its own half hours.

“In its second season, which debuts on July 23, ‘Insecure’ stands on its own as the sharpest comedy of the year … Rae’s performance is incandescent and would make for a worthy choice to award should Emmy voters decide that Julia Louis-Dreyfus has collected enough hardware.”

“Insecure” was partially based on “Awkward Black Girl,” Issa Rae’s award-winning web series that debuted on YouTube in 2011. The show went viral and caught the attention of Pharrell Williams, who partnered with her in Season 2 and showed it on his YouTube channel, i am OTHER.

The Los Angeles native next worked on a comedy series pilot, which HBO picked up and was eventually titled “Insecure.”

The daughter of a pediatric doctor and a teacher, Issa Rae graduated from Stanford University with a major in African and African-American studies. She headed next to New York when she received a fellowship at The Public Theater.

Issa Rae is reportedly going to write a buddy comedy starring Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o, to be directed by Ava DuVernay.

Excerpts from our talk with Issa Rae, who was statuesque in a pink off-shoulder dress by Lavish Alice:

How confident, less insecure have you become? Knowing what I want to do professionally has helped, just in my journey to pursue television and film writing. The feeling like that [career] is coming along definitely adds to my confidence. My personal life is trash and a mess, but I’m getting there. I’m learning.

What do you think makes men insecure? Public failure is a big thing for men. I read somewhere that in a survey, men’s biggest fear was being laughed at. That’s crazy. But it’s funny, because you make a career out of being laughed at, in a sense.

Your show was well-received. Do people recognize you now? You’d think so, but not really (laughs). I still walk down the street. I equate it to being popular in high school, like that’s it. People know you from the articles. More people are like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen your good work.’ But I’m not [a] paparazzi [subject]. It’s not on that level by any means yet.

Issa Rae —Ruben V. Nepales

Where is your character at this season? She’s in a place where she’s figuring out who she doesn’t want to be. Last season, she made a declaration of, like, I’m going to be this type of person. I’m going to be this no f*** [person], then she went, I’m going to be Miss give all the f***s and give in.

Her life turned upside down at the end of the season. She’s now figuring out like OK, these are the parts of myself that I don’t like and don’t want to be anymore. I don’t necessarily want to be in this vulnerable position that leads to this “hurt” place that I’m currently in. So, we’re going to see where those decisions take her this season.

What did the Golden Globe nomination bring you? Oh my God, it brought awareness of the show. I watched the ceremony the previous year and was like, man, it would be so cool. Our show then hadn’t come out yet. I was sitting with my producing partner. I was like, one day we’re going to be there. One day (laughs), then it was the next year!

That was insane. It just dawned on me being there. I got a little emotional. I got sick because I was overwhelmed by who I was seeing and everybody being there. And of course, you have the alcohol on deck (laughs), so that contributed to it.

Just the awareness and being able to put “Golden Globe nominee” in front of my bio has made my publicist very happy, too (laughs).

How did you react when Pharrell Williams called to partner with you on Season 2 of “Awkward Black Girl” and show it on his YouTube channel? I felt a little nervous (laughs). When he called, I remember being in my apartment, and I was dancing while I was on the phone, trying to be calm. “So, you like the show?” “OK, yeah, thank you so much. That’s great.”

When I went to high school, Pharrell’s music was the soundtrack of so many of my experiences. That was the respect factor when someone you love so much gives you sort of a cosign. The excitement was there.

You also don’t want to let them down while thinking about, like, oh, more weight was just added to producing an entire second season.

Who are the most important influences on you as a comedian? Larry David. He’s so relatable. That’s the kind of comedy I love.

And among the women? I love Tina Fey, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres. You can watch Ellen with your family and relate to her.

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