Rising Star: Issa Rae
By CLAUDIA GREENE
January 24, 2012
You may wonder, who is Issa Rae? She is a young up and coming writer, director, editor with her hit YouTube series The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl. Graduating from Stanford University, with a B.A in filmmaking, she has taken what she has learned in the classroom and is applying it into our modern digital world.
By doing so, she is now conquering the YouTube world by creating short films, music videos, and original web series. Recently, TheInsider.com caught up with Issa to interview her and break down who she is, and why did she create such popular web series that generates hundreds of thousands of hits per episode.
Insider.com: Can you describe yourself to fans of TheInsider.com who may not know about you?
Issa Rae: I'm a quirky, impulsive, producer/writer/director who loves to laugh with and at people.
Insider: Can you quickly breakdown what Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is all about?
Issa: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl follows the title character as she navigates through uncomfortable social situations that we all go through, like crossing someone in the hallway more than once, or not being able to dance at a party.
Insider: How did you come up with the concept of this series? Where did you get the inspiration to create your character and all of the other characters in your series?
Issa: My family is pretty awkward. We're awkward together. My mom, especially, is the Queen of Awkward. She'll do things like walk into the wrong funeral, or get confronted by road ragers, the list goes on and on. She's always in these strange social predicaments and I think we've all inherited that from her. The inspiration to create ABG just came from watching shows like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, 30 Rock and wanting to see something like that with a person of color in the lead. I appreciate that kind of humor so much, but I rarely see it portrayed in communities of color. It's almost like it's considered "white humor." In fact, one of my friends actually told me that I was "white people" funny once.
Insider: Were you afraid you would get backlash from people by doing such a controversial series?
Issa: I was afraid of backlash, for sure. It's always a scary thing when you create something and then put your face out there for the world to see. You never know what to expect, so you expect the worst. Or at least I do. But, I refuse to let that stop me from putting my work out there. Fear is so bad for creativity. (Unless you're writing a scary movie. Then fear is great.)
Insider: By doing this series, are you trying to break down stereotypes or barriers?
Issa: I'm definitely trying to break stereotypes. I wanted to create a character of color who isn't the typical "black woman" we see in mainstream media. I wanted to create someone that I could relate to. I never would have imagined that so many people felt the same way I did. When we needed to raise money to continue the series, people were treating our campaign like a movement to bring new archetypes of color to mainstream tv/film. I hope that, ultimately, this show will get the attention of creative execs and they'll start putting more diverse content on screen for people of color.
Insider: Thousands of viewers are watching your episodes; did you ever think your series would become as popular as it is now?
Issa: Absolutely not. It surprises me every time someone recognizes me in public. It's just weird.
Insider: We got to know Issa, will there be a second season? If so will "Boss Lady" be coming back?
Issa: Yes, we're working on securing funding for a second season now. And she'll definitely be back. We haven't seen the last of her, by any means.
Insider: We see you have been doing a lot of college tours; do you think your show is more receptive to the younger crowd rather than the other crowd?
Issa: It's odd because the age range of our show, according to YouTube, is 17-55. But, I do think that college students are the reason the show has spread so rapidly. They are the main users of social media and social networks are the main way the word gets spread about the series. Also, the college community is such a confined space that it's so easy for something like, "Hey, have you heard about this web series," to spread like wildfire.
Insider: Where do you see Awkward Black Girl going?
Issa: I just want the show to grow. I want to have millions of viewers. Whether online or on television -- it doesn't matter, as long as the vision of the series is able to remain the same.
Insider: What is the overall message about the series Awkward Black Girl? What are you trying to get across to viewers?
Issa: I just want you to be able to relate to this socially awkward character who happens to be a black woman. That's all. And to make you laugh.
Insider: With your growing fan base, do you read all of your fans comments? Do the fans influence you in writing plots for each episode? Do you cater to what the fans want?
Issa: We read every single to fan comment. We don't take them all into consideration, but sometimes we let them influence certain choices. For example, White Jay (or Jay, as he was originally written) was only supposed to be in Episode 5. But after the episode aired, viewers were already claiming Team WhiteJay. So we decided to keep him around for the season. The love triangle element of the story only happened because of the viewer input.
Insider: You are so funny and becoming such a rising star talent, can you tell us who are your top female comedians that have inspired you and why?
Issa: Thank you very much. I love Ellen, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and probably more that I'm going to kick myself for forgetting later.
Insider: Finally, do you have any future projects coming up?
Issa: I do! I'm working on more web series. I'm working on something called The Michelle Obama Diaries which I'm co-writing and directing and two other web series that are still in the works. I'm also working on trying to a couple of feature films. We'll see how that goes!