If you have not have heard of Issa Rae yet, her name will be familiar soon enough. The multi-talented creator and star of the popular online web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has just landed a deal with television maven Shonda Rhimes and ABC. The show, I Hate L.A. Dudes, which she will write, marks Rae’s mainstream break—and it’s very welcome news for those of us who have been rooting for Rae to find a wider audience.
Awkward Black Girl has been Rae’s greatest success so far, winning her attention from the likes of NPR and CNN. The show, currently in its second season, centers on Jay (played by Rae), a young woman trying to balance an unfulfilling job and eccentric co-workers with a complicated love life. The premise may not sound particularly original, but its point of view—that of a black woman—is. As is its portrayal of that black woman. Many loaded adjectives have been used to describe black women in the entertainment world (“sassy,” “angry”), but, in contrast to white comediennes (Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, et al), they are rarely cast as weird or charmingly inept. But that is a fair description of Jay—as illustrated by, for instance, her borderline stalking of workplace crush Fred. (“It’s not stalking if you don’t mean any harm,” she says.) In one sharp scene, Jay’s awkwardness plays out in her head as she encounters a colleague in a long hallway:
What am I supposed to do with my face? Am I supposed to look at her the whole time? Do I act like the blank walls are interesting enough to stare at? Do I make eye contact? Do I have to smile at her again?
When ABG takes on race as an explicit subject, it does so in original ways. In one storyline, Jay ventures into her first dating experience with a white guy (who is also named Jay—or “White Jay,” as she calls him). Neither of them knows what to expect. She shows up at their initial date in an outfit she normally wears to the gym, because her best friend has convinced her that white guys always look casual, even when they’re dressed up. Meanwhile, in an effort to cater to his black date, White Jay plans an evening of soul food and spoken word.
The comedy is mined from the clumsy interactions of two people trying to feel out the possibility of a relationship, with the inherent awkwardness of that situation further complicated by racial differences. And yet their coupling is not solely played for race-based laughs. As of late, Jay has been fretting about the universal question of when she and White Jay will finally consummate their relationship.
Rae has stayed busy producing other web projects as well, including mockumentary series The ‘F’ Word and her homemade “Ratchetpiece Theatre” video posts. In the latter, Rae provides smart commentary on raunchy, silly (and NSFW) songs, which sound, in her words, as “if ghetto and hot shitty mess had a baby and that baby had no father and became a stripper, then made a sex tape with an athlete and became a reality star.” If you’ve not yet given any of this material a try, now is your chance to catch up before the rest of the world does.