Issa Rae Is Afraid To Fail: I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet.
With a booked schedule, never-ending script reads, and an unwillingness to be better than the day before, Issa Rae is making it an effort to be consistent when it comes to providing a sense of authenticity to her work. As she tries to juggle creating new shows, shooting for the third season of Insecure, and staying grounded, Rae gives insight on what it is to become the Issa Rae many know of her today.
During an interview, the 33-year-old creator/actress discusses the lessons she has learned while in the entertainment business, her thoughts to the flak Black-ish received, and the biggest misconception about her. Peep the excerpts below.
Why she created Insecure:
The takeaway [black people missing on television] was ‘Agh, black people are so dope. Where are they at on TV right now? Now I want my own version.’
How she got involved with acting on Insecure:
I had another friend of mine in mind, and then she couldn’t do it. So I was like, ‘I’m running out of time. I’m just gonna do it myself.’
What really surprised her about the viewership of the show:
I think what most surprised me was that the audience wasn’t 90 percent black. I think only 30 to 40 percent of the audience are black people. But I’m like, okay, HBO isn’t accessible to everyone. Like, I didn’t have HBO. I used my friend’s password until the show got picked up.
Why they only shoots in certain parts of Los Angeles for Insecure:
Growing up here, nobody lives in Hollywood. Nobody lives north of the 10. This is a blanket statement, but most of my friends from L.A. are black and they live south of the 10 or, like, along it, or Mid-City. That’s the L.A. that I know, and that’s the L.A. that I want to represent and portray.
How she has to combat with being related to a television character to who she is in real life:
In naming the character Issa and in going out and about and minding my business in the world, people still, no matter what you do, are gonna associate.
A consistent misconception about her:
I do feel like people expect me to be entertaining, and I’m not. I’m not an entertaining person. I don’t put on for anybody. I think about someone like Tiffany Haddish, who’s just naturally entertaining, who always has a story. And that’s just not my lane. I’m always gonna be the shy one.
What she wants people to understand about her:
I only want to make my presence felt when I feel like it’s necessary. So much of that is such a hard balance, especially when the narrative is about getting noticed and getting attention for a specific product. And in that way, yeah, I want the eyes to be on what the product is—meaning Insecure. But after a while, you become the product.
Reflecting on the details of her book “Awkward Black Girl”:
Just being such a private person, going back, I wouldn’t ever write about my stuff. There’s no doubt that it worked, but books live forever.
Her thoughts on the moment when Shonda Rhimes helped get her show picked up:
I was a mess. I was just like, ‘Yeah, I have this shot, but I don’t want to f*ck it up, so I’m just gonna listen to what everybody says.’ And I just became like f*cking clay for people to mold.
She discusses her experience with Shonda Rhimes:
The Shonda process was, like, the best sh*t that happened to me, because it gave me confidence to feel like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ And I feel like ABC took the confidence away.
The lessons she took from that experience:
Like, I need to know what the f*ck I want to say before I say yes to any opportunity. I need to have a clearer point of view and clear voice.
What separates her writing from others:
I feel like I’m emotionally intuitive. I sense things and observe certain things about people. I try to pay attention to clues as much as possible.
Rae shares her thoughts on the Black-ish episode (that never aired) of football players kneeling and police brutality:
That would infuriate me. You know? Like, I’m out here telling the truth, and I’m telling my authentic experience, and you pride yourself on having this show that exposes the plight of a black family in the United States, and then you’re censoring: ‘No, not that. We don’t want to see that part. The world isn’t ready for that. America’s not ready.’
That’s crazy to me…. Kenya tries to couch so much in a family show, and get so much across, in a way that I really respect and admire. But a lot of the time it is just mired in the Disney, ABC of it all.
She speaks on the reality of failure and the show failing:
That could go to shit. This could be the worst season we’ve ever had. And then what? Then people are all of a sudden like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then the calls stop. It’s like stand-up comedy: In order to eventually succeed, you have to bomb. That’s what every comedian says—that’s when the fear goes away. And I feel like I’m still fearful because I haven’t publicly bombed yet, in terms of my career. Yeah, Insecure is successful now, but where’s my bomb coming? Where are my Will Smith bombs coming? Where, where is that happening?
She elaborates on Will Smith:
He went through a period when he was depressed, when three or four of his movies in a row weren’t number one at the box office. So for him that was terrible. And now he’s talking about, ‘You gotta fail, you gotta fail.’ And I don’t want to make Instagram speeches about failing. I don’t.