It was a simple question posed by an article on that spurred 28-year-old actor/writer/director Issa Rae into action: “Where’s the black version of Liz Lemon?” Rae realized she needed to bring a character she’d been forming in her mind to life before someone else did, so in 2011, she launched a Web series she both wrote and starred in, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. During its two super popular seasons, Rae’s character J navigated cringe-y situations (like screening a call from the nerdy co-worker she drunkenly slept with while he was right behind her) with the help of her BFF CeCe. The show, with high-profile fans like Pharrell and Donald Glover, made Rae a Web comedy queen, not to mention a hot commodity in Hollywood. She recently worked on a pilot with Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, her book of personal essays is set for release in 2014, and her new Web series, The Choir, debuted in August. She’s also just been tapped to develop a pilot for HBO in which she’ll star. In fact, on the day we meet for coffee near her home in downtown L.A., she’s on her way to finish the first script and hand it over to HBO. The show is even closer to her real life than Misadventures was, Rae tells me, and it’s centered on her friendships. “I’ve had so many strong women in my life,” she says. “But I’ve met lots of girls who just didn’t have those female friendships. They would say things like, ‘I don’t fuck with females. Women are bitches.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talkin’ about?’”

“I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, because they are just regular funny women who tackle everyday issues. Then again, they are also white women, so I would like to see that field expand.”

After growing up in Los Angeles, Maryland, and even spending a couple of years in Senegal, Rae went to Stanford, where she studied political science and African American studies. But it was film that really piqued her interest, and after a stint at the New York Film Academy, she took to the Web to put out the kind of content she wanted to see—funny, non-stereotypical portrayals of people of color. Her sharp sense of humor places her among the ranks of other funny ladies that we’re thankfully seeing more of in mainstream television. “I think it’s getting better for women,” Rae says. “I think we’re getting our voices heard, and there are more of us in positions of power at the networks. I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, because they are just regular funny women who tackle everyday issues. Then again, they are also white women, so I would like to see that field expand.”

Rae is poised to make that happen. And she’s tackling race in a hilarious and frank way that’s all too rare in today’s pop culture. “It’s easy for me, because it’s my life. I’m not ‘writing black,’” Rae says. “A producer told me a story about a white writer who gave him an amazing script, and he told her he was going to cast some black actors. Her response was that she didn’t know how to write black characters. I think there’s this perception that we’re so different, but we’re not,” she says. “We can all laugh at the same things.”lisa butterworth


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  This article first appeared in our Dec/Jan print edition of BUST    Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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