From Awkward to All That and a Bag of Potato Chips: Issa Rae on Living the Dream

Today is the first Thursday in November. A lot of people are excited, some high off of the re-election of President Barack Obama, others just glad that the weekend is one more day away. But some are geared up for another reason all together: today marks another installment of season 2 of “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” an internet comedy created and starring Issa Rae. Before the last episode dropped the ABG Facebook wall read like a drug addiction movie script – “grr..where’s the new episode? I feel like a crack head!”, “bitches be trippin’, where’s the new episode?! ;D” – and today’s release will likely be no different.  ABG’s fans have propelled the show to cult status.  Because of their support Rae was able to raise over $50,000 on Kickstarter to finance the show, and has drawn the attention of high profile supporters. They demand their ABG fix. They crave it.

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I clock her when she comes in. It’s Dream Day at Howard University and the room is full of people who, in some way or another, found a way to realize their dreams. She’s hard to miss in an electric blue blazer and silver earrings. Most of the other female panelists gain their height from killer heels, but Rae opts for shoes that are a bit less dramatic, as she is already one of the taller people in the room. The Young Dreamers Movement organized the event, with the intention of motivating students towards academic excellence by having them hear from speakers who have forged their own success. Issa Rae, then, is the perfect panelist.

Howard carefully arranged all manners of fancy finger foods (grilled Portobello mushrooms and peppers, crabcakes, fruits and cheeses) in preparation for the event. In every corner of the room young black creative types are listening and laughing and chatting, the atmosphere electric with – inspiration. Issa Rae is eating when I pounce on her.

In between bites of her food she explains what it’s like to be held up as an alternative to what black women usually see on TV. “It feels crazy,” she says. “It’s like, amazing, and at the same time overwhelming.” Things have moved swiftly for Rae since the first episode of ABG debuted in February 2011. Blasting off that quickly means that she finds herself trying to adjust accordingly. “Even though I’ve worked for a long time to get to this point where I feel like things are progressing, it’s still like, you can never really prepare.” She’s also grateful for the opportunity to be where she is. “But I’m so happy to be in this position because I’ve complained so much about the media that I see, and the images of women or the lack thereof, and to be able recognized for the images that I’m putting forth, you can’t ask for better support.” Support from her romantic relationship has been a stabilizing force in the wake of her success as well.  So how has her awkward fame impacted her love life? “It’s been interesting,” she says of how guys approach her now. “Most people are kind of, they’re more aggressive, more forward, but I’ve been in a relationship for a really long time so luckily I’ve had that rock, and being in a relationship and having that support system has been very, very great.”

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Issa Rae is among her “people” on Howard’s campus – young, educated black folks who feel their lives are reflected in her work. She went to Stanford and has never been to an HBCU Homecoming before. She wants to stay, but has to leave for a taping of “Don’t Sleep With TJ Holmes.” These are the sacrifices of a young go-getter. “It’s a good problem to have, but I wanted to be here.” Right now Issa Rae is laden with good problems – Shonda Rhimes, of “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, signed her to do a comedy series.  I ask if she got a chain the way Kanye West did when he joined Jay-Z’s Roc-a-fella Records. “That’s hilarious because my older brother said the same thing. No, I didn’t get a chain. I wish I did so I could rock it,” she laughs. “But, just to even be acknowledged by her, because I just respect what she’s doing in the industry, is just an honor in and of itself. It’s just been great that she’s taken me on and taken me under her wing and the entire Shondaland crew they’re just amazing. It’s just great to be nurtured under an expert.”

Rae has a number of projects she’s involved in outside of ABG, including Fly Guys Present: The F Word, The Michelle Obama Diaries, and my favorite, RatchetPiece Theater, which is a comedic deconstruction of ratchet songs. She cites Riskay’s hood ballad about smelling a cheating boyfriend’s member as her top pick. “I used to have a huge R&B ratchet collection. A lot 90s R&B is undercover ratchet, like it was disguised,” she says. And even though Issa Rae is a chronicler of all things ratchet, when she’s not jet-setting around the country or creating new shows, she’s trying to do something she hasn’t been able to do in a while – read. “I just read The Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden, she says. “I picked it up from the airport, I just wanted to start reading again, because I haven’t had time to really read, and it was the perfect first choice to dive back in.”

Issa Rae is both intelligent and off the hook, at the same damn time, which why people love her the way they do – she represents the complexity of being human, of showing the intersection of blackness and womanhood and intelligence and humor in a way that’s real. It’s refreshing. Issa Rae’s aspirations, along with the support of her loved ones and rabid fans, paved the way to her current success. From the looks of things, it appears she is living the dream.

One thought on “From Awkward to All That and a Bag of Potato Chips: Issa Rae on Living the Dream

  1. Pingback: On ‘Scandal’… « DopeReads

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