Comedian Issa Rae Makes Awkward AWESOME

While many comedians used to rely on comedy clubs as their training grounds, the new guard has taken to the Internet, using YouTube and Twitter to craft addictive personas that oftentimes are much more relatable (at least to us) than Peter Griffin on TV. One of our favorites, Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl fame, manages to deliver award-winning, LOL IRL comedy — she won the 2011 Shorty Award for Best Web Show — while slipping in dialogue regarding sexism, racism, and ageism without batting an eye.
Never before has it been such an awesome time to be a hilarious, awkward, whip-smart woman… and with women like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Lena Dunham at her side, Issa Rae is showing the fuddy duddies what being an opinionated, thinking, slightly dorky woman means. And with a new ABC show in the works, I Hate LA Dudes, Rae's right on the cusp of name-in-lights fame. We sat down together to discuss current projects, gossip about her Fairy Godfather, Pharrell Williams, and why "pretty girls can't be funny."
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Tune in this Thursday for the newest episode of season two of Awkward Black Girl.
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Tell us how your very first webisode of Awkward Black Girl came about?
"I wanted to create a web series in the vein of The Office and 30 Rock with people of color and so I called up my friends, and voila."

How much of your series has been scripted? How much has been improvisation?
"About 90% is scripted and 10% is improv."

Congrats on your deal to bring I Hate L.A. Dudes to network TV! What was your first reaction to hearing that it had been picked up by ABC?
"Thank you! I had just landed back in L.A. and turned on my phone. I listened to a voicemail from Betsy and Rachel (Shondaland Executives) telling me to call them back because they had 'good news.' My fingers were shaking calling them back and when they told me, I wanted to scream, but had to contain it because I was still on the plane. It was the most exciting news EVER. Containing it in that claustrophobic plane was torture."
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I Hate L.A. Dudes is a pretty strong statement. When did you realize that L.A. dudes really need to shape up? Have you gotten any backlash/praise for airing out these grievances?
"I realized it after living in New York and moving back to Los Angeles. The guys I’d meet and hang around just made it clear to me that I just can’t stand them. I’ve gotten some backlash from guys, but mostly praise from women. They get it. And they know the truth."

If you could play any sitcom character in history who would it be?
"Ooo…Liz Lemon."

Who's your dream comedian collaborator?
"Tina Fey."
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How would you describe your personal style? What's the costume process like when prepping to shoot a new video?
"My personal style varies. It honestly depends on where I’m going. I’ve only just now started to really pay attention. But I’m MOST comfortable in a T-shirt, jeans, and Chucks. That’s not to say I don’t LOVE to dress up. When prepping to shoot a new video, I prefer to seek the expertise of stylists. There’s such an art to clothing that I have yet to master. I leave it to the experts and I focus on acting/directing. When it IS left to me, however, the simpler the better."

How much of your material is based-on real-life awkwardness? And has there ever been an experience so awkward you couldn't bare to put it into script?
"Most of the awkward moments in the show have happened to me to some extent. There will ALWAYS be awkward moments that I will never put in the script, either because: A) they’re super personal and not funny OR B) they involve people I know and will call me out if they see it on-screen."
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Tell us a secret about Pharrell.
"He’s awkward. And black. And super humble. And the best."

In the very first episode of ABG, we can't get over that J's boyfriend dumps her for cutting her hair super short (um, ow!). What's your philosophy on your hair and how you style it?
"Cutting my hair is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. My boyfriend was so mad when I cut it, but I have never felt so free in my life. Hair is SUCH a big deal and, in the black community especially, hair length is major. So, to be like, 'Eff all that,' and just get rid of it all was so liberating for me."
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It seems like this is a conversation people are still having, and we want you to have the final word. We have one male comedian friend (name withheld in case he gets mauled after this gets published) who says that pretty woman are rarely good comedians because they never get exposed to the same level of heckling that novice comedians go through when doing stand up. As a pretty lady comedian (gorgeous, even) how do you respond?
"Hahaha! Thank you for the compliment. I didn’t grow up feeling pretty at all. In fact, my mom would ALWAYS scold me for not putting effort into my appearance (even when I thought I was). I was (and kinda still am) a tomboy, so my looks don’t really play a factor in my comedy. I think funny is funny. If you’re looking for reasons not to laugh, you won’t — plain and simple. Comedy is just as subjective as beauty."

While your work is universally hilarious and relatable, it's also been entertainment that breaks racial stereotypes. Was that something you specifically set out to do or did it just happen organically through your story telling?
"I definitely wanted to break racial stereotypes. Repetitive stereotypes in the mainstream have been irking me for a long time, so I wanted to create something to combat it. I never imagined that my portrayal would catch on as it has, but I’m really happy to have offered something different."
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