When I first heard that I’d be interviewing, Issa Rae the creator and star of “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl”, I went from instant joy to sudden sadness. Happy dance subsides. Cue the melancholy that is Coltrane now playing in the background. Suddenly my middle brain was hitting me with all sorts of questions. What would I ask her? Will it sound dumb? Has anybody seen my Spider-Man View-Master? Wait. What?
I was already familiar with the popular web series in which Rae plays “J”, a black girl who inexpertly moves through life predicting cause and effect with incendiary rap lyrics to match. Finally there was someone saying all or most of the things that I’d experienced. No sugarcoat. No bullshit. I became an instant fan. Fast forward to the present.
Friday night at The Grove in L.A. Throngs of shoppers and diners taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather in February. After settling on the patio of Barnes & Noble, Issa arrives a few minutes later casually dressed in jeans,a t-shirt, black Converse and a grey YouTube hoodie with three tiny ABG buttons stuck neatly in a row. She looked like a really cool teenager who wasn’t trying to be cool. With a disarming smile and sincere handshake she greeted me like an old friend.
Like most incredibly talented people, the 28-year-old began writing early on. “I would always try to make people laugh”. Always eager to please with a funny story, she would hound her mother for homework and paper to write down her stories. “I do honestly get a lot of this from my mom. My mom is definitely ridiculously awkward. But doesn’t know she’s awkward.”
Rae downplays her sudden celebrity, connections with Pharell and Shonda Rhimes and the tendency for people to lump her into this all-knowing category. You get the feeling that she believes this is all happening to someone else and she’s just along for the ride. “I’m still trying to perfect one craft. I’m being portrayed as this writer, producer, director. I don’t feel secure in one medium. I still have a lot of growing to do. I don’t consider myself an expert in this field by any means.” Not the usual outpouring you’d expect from someone in her position. Seems like she’s managed to perfect the ability to shun all the attention while embracing it at the same time.
She discusses growing up in Senegal her first two years then visiting every summer after her family moved to the United States. “I always had so much pride in my Senegalese background. I felt like it made me different. When I was in Africa…Senegal, the fact that I was American was highly coveted. I didn’t really know what that meant. But it made me feel cool.”
When her family relocated to Los Angeles from Maryland she came face-to-face with the usual stereotypes of being perceived as not being Black enough and the often stigma attached to all things African due to commercialization. “That sort of started my awkwardness. Feeling like a fish out of water definitely informs my writing.”
The writer admits not taking her gift for storytelling seriously until she got to college and begin taking African-American Studies classes. While attending Stanford University she quickly realized that she was not interested in being a political science major and opted for a more creative outlet at New York Film Academy. She would eventually graduate from Stanford. And the rest, shall we say, is web series history. Or at least it will be the way her comedic ball has been rolling lately. It’s pretty apparent that her sky is her limit. No one else’s. When speaking about her popular web series, Rae reveals, “People are witnessing me sort of growing and learning.” “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl” just recently wrapped its second season. Missed a few episodes? You can catch Seasons 1 and 2 on YouTube of course. Word on the street is I Hate L.A. Dudes, her Shonda Rimes produced sitcom about L.A.’s dating scene, is slated for pilot season. Two snaps and a Capri Sun. Wait. What? Okay, we’ll be watching.
Throwing all formality out the window, I decided to round out the interview with a series of questions and statements.
Socks or no socks?
Socks. Feet get real stinky.
Green eggs and ham
Shoot the TV
Cuz the internet is the shit!
Boil some water
So I can throw it in yo’ face, get chu a taste…(breaking out into a freestyle)
I’m goooood…(“J” appears briefly)
Is something you never get back. So use it wisely. Spend it wisely. Cherish it.