Today's interviewee is an actress and writer who is the creator of the incredibly popular and funny YouTube workplace-comedy series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, as well as Ratchet Piece Theater, The "F" Word, and The Choir. Her work has garnered over 20 million views and close to 160,000 subscribers on YouTube. In addition to making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list twice and winning the 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web Show for "Awkward Black Girl," Issa Rae has worked on web content for Pharrell Williams, Tracey Edmonds and numerous others. She developed a TV series with Shonda Rhimes for ABC and is currently developing a half-hour comedy for HBO with Larry Wilmore. Rae is also slated to release a book of essays with Simon & Schuster in 2015. And you can follow her on Twitter here!
You say that you were a class clown when you were in school--what form did that title take for you? How did you entertain your schoolmates?
I think I was a nerdy class clown. I would always try to make my school projects and presentations funny. Or make my teachers laugh with my essays. Sometimes my attempts to make people laugh would come at the expense of my work, which would make my mom super angry. Like, "Stop trying to be funny and just DO THE WORK!" So, eventually I just left the class clowning to people who didn't care about school.
Every time I read about you, you've got another project in the works. What's an average day been like you for lately? How do you organize your time between your various projects?
That's a good question. I really don't know. I set aside two days in the week for meetings, and 4 days in the week for creative work (writing, producing, shooting, etc). I leave my evenings and at least one weekend day for family and friendship time. But no day is the same and I honestly have no idea how I really get stuff done.
What have you learned in your career making Youtube series that you wished you had known from the get-go?
That it is very important to stay consistent. That can be in terms of release schedule, in terms of the quality of content, and in terms of the range of subject matter. Consistency is super key in anything really.
I read that you read all your Youtube comments (which sounds insane). Have there been any particular episodes of ABG (or any of your other series) that you were especially excited to or dreaded reading the comments?
There are always moments where I dread reading comments; it usually occurs when I first put something out. Those first batch of comments are always the scariest because they will make or break your content. But the internet's INSTANT feedback really makes it all worthwhile. There's so much constructive criticism in the comments section, if you can make it past the trolling know-it-all's.
To what extent do you let fan feedback shape how you create story arcs?
In ABG we did it a lot because our release and shooting schedule allowed for it. Now, not so much. When a season of a show is over, we definitely pay attention to what people responded to and what they didn't respond to, but for the most part we have to just stick to our creative guns and push forward with the vision.
What were the most immediate ways that having more funding to make ABG "fancy" impacted the show, IE when you had more money to put into the show, where did you first put it?
Well we got more money to put into the show, we had a home with Pharrell's i am OTHER channel. Immediately we put it in to the crew and cast, who had been basically working for free/pennies on the first season. Most of the money we got went into production and it was great to be able to have options instead of being limited to my free.99 locations.
Who is an artist or what is a show or project that you love that you think needs more exposure?
"Got 2B Real -- The Diva Variety Show" is one of the funniest and most genius things I have ever seen on YouTube. The creator of that series, Patti LaHelle is a genius. She has a loyal following, but I need the entire world to be hip. Also, shameless plug, but my brother enimaL is a music artist, producer, composer, writer who needs more exposure. He does a lot of the music for my shows and is just dope overall.
Why do you think you get asked by interviewers so frequently to weigh in on "Girls" and Lena Dunham?
I think because we're both young women speaking to a female audience/generation. But I think it's a pretty lazy comparison. I am a big fan of our work, but our styles aren't the same.
How has the definition of "awkward" changed for you over the course of your life?
Great question. I think in my younger days (middle school/high school) it was more of a stigma. I wanted to be like everyone else, and I didn't really want to stand out in a way that was weird or uncool. It wasn't until I got older where I was able to embrace my awkwardness and my feelings of general social discomfort as an absurdity that just makes me, me.
What advice would you give another writer who just learned that a network is interested in her show but there's nothing concrete beyond that? Television-deal purgatory sounds like a huge emotional roller coaster ride.
I would say to try to hold on to your intellectual property rights, if you can. It sucks when a network buys your idea or your television show and then if nothing happens with it, they get to hold on to it forever. Now, I'm determined to just build an audience for my own content so I own the IP, then let networks come to license it.
How much does Internet slang affect how you speak in real life and how you write your characters? (I feel like I read "YAASS!" more than I actually hear it, for instance.)
LOL! (I actually laughed out loud, I wasn't being ironic). Internet slang doesn't really affect how I speak as much (though I did find myself using, "... or nah?" for an obnoxious period of time.) What I DO find myself doing is actually THINKING in terms of 140 characters. Which is making me dumber.
I read that you're working on a book of essays: which topics so far have been the easiest and which have been the most difficult to put down in writing?
Yes! The book is done and it's coming out February 10th. The hardest topics to write about were the ones that were more personal; especially since I'm a pretty private person. The least hard were just the ones where I just told awkward ass stories exactly as they happened. But writing a book was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
What's the last thing or person that made you laugh?
I just laughed at the question about Internet slang. Before that, I laughed this morning at a text message Danielle Brooks sent me of Getty Images confusing me for her on the red carpet. Yayyyyy for all black people looking alike!
How does it feel to be the 395th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
I'm honored to be the 395th person! I'm so glad that I was the 395th person on your mind to be interviewed. How special. Thank you.