Bursting onto the comedy scene with her web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl in 2011, Issa Rae is moving up in the world. The Los Angeles native’s project has garnered over 450,000 viewers and won a Shorty Award for Best Web Show, and Rae recently inked a production deal to air Awkward Black Girl on YouTube via a new channel owned by Pharrell Williams’ creative firm, iamOTHER. In addition, fans can catch Rae’s hilarious bungling at the 2012 ESSENCE Empowerment Experience on Saturday, July 7, in New Orleans, where she’ll be a panelist.
Between shooting her show’s highly anticipated second season, debuting on June 14, Ms. Rae spoke to ESSENCE.com about meeting Pharrell, deflecting awkward moments and why she gets sweaty upon meeting fans.
ESSENCE.com: Congratulations on linking Awkward Black Girl with Pharrell’s iamOTHER Google/Youtube channel. How did you two meet?
ISSA RAE: Mimi Valdes, the Creative Director for Pharrell’s company iamOTHER, contacted me, said that he was a fan and organized a call between us. He raved about the show and I was freaking out. It was unreal. When I told him about the issues I’d had in meetings with television executives and how they wanted to change my show, he said, “I don’t want to touch it, I just want you to do you and be part of my channel.” He just got it and he’s funding our entire season.
ESSENCE.com: Your ABG character J raps a song called “Booty Shorts,” which gained its own popularity. Will there be an album now that you’re buddies with a superproducer?
RAE: Ha! We’ve talked about doing a mixtape… it’s really funny when people tell me, “Yo, you have flows!” I write these rhymes as a joke. When I have to take it seriously, for example, I wrote a rap for the show’s promo clip to recap season one, it took me all day.
ESSENCE.com: How does it feel to be an Internet celebrity, amassing such a large following since the show’s 2011 debut?
RAE: It feels great but it’s embarrassing. Every time I’m recognized in public, I’m super grateful and appreciative but I also get hot and nervous.
ESSENCE.com: You recently did a U.S. college tour to promote the second season of Awkward Black Girl. We hear you had an odd moment at University of Michigan?
RAE: It was an awkward and racist moment, actually. During the tour, we screened a bit of show and then had a panel discussion. We showed some of episode three, where J’s trying to ward off the nerd who’s bothering her by pretending she didn’t ignore his calls so I say “I call my phone ‘Senor’ because I hate my phone just like I hate Mexicans.” Then in a whispered voice-over, I say “I don’t hate Mexicans” — that usually gets a laugh and the last line gets drowned out. During the discussion, a Puerto Rican girl said, “I can really relate to your character, but I especially relate to her when she says she hates Mexicans because…” and describes why she feels that way. The entire room was dead silent and I had to say, “Well, the character doesn’t hate Mexicans, second of all, I don’t support that.” Then she tried to clean it up and it was just so uncomfortable! Everyone was like “Oh my God, this chick just outed herself as a racist.” But I felt good about myself because, you know, racists can enjoy ABG too.
ESSENCE.com: Is there pressure in gearing up for season two of Awkward Black Girl?
RAE: I’m really excited — this season has gone smoothly. We’ve got that Pharrell money and we can pay people what they’re worth. But now there’s a lot of pressure because people are anticipating the second season. With season one I was just putting it out there.