What’s the secret to landing a hit show on HBO?
Issa Rae, the creator, co-writer and star of HBO’s “Insecure,” will tell you it’s not about following the crowd, or even doing things the “traditional” way.
“Your individuality is such a currency, because it makes you rich. It makes you, you,” Rae said on a recent episode of ABC Radio’s “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis”, adding, “In all of my work now I just try to tap into everything that makes me, me.”
Her formula seems to be working. In addition to the success of “Insecure,” Rae, whose web content has garnered more than 23 million views, is the founder of Issa Rae Productions and also a best-selling author. She first gained notoriety with the web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” The show, which she wrote, directed and starred in, caught the attention of writer/producer/comedian Larry Wilmore. They worked together to create “Insecure,” but getting to HBO wasn’t simple.
“For a while … I was like, ‘What is hot right now? What do people want to see? What do I feel like I can write?’ as opposed to ‘what do I want to see, what is it about my voice that makes me very specific and very unique?’ And once I tapped into that, things started changing rapidly,” she explained.
“Awkward Black Girl” was the result. It was most personal thing she had created, Rae said, and it was that authentic and personal feeling that resonated with the audience.
“It really just showed me the value in having a specific voice and tapping into a very specific audience,” she told Jarvis.
The 32-year-old Stanford graduate developed an interest in acting when she was cast as Demetrius in her elementary school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was also around this time that she started writing short stories. But it wasn’t until her family moved to Los Angeles when she was in 6th grade and she attended a live taping of “Moesha” that she realized she could have a career in Hollywood.
“It was a pink script. I want to say that I won it and I was like, “Wow, I have a real episodic script in my hand and this is basically, a template for me to write my own TV shows,” she said.
Shortly after the taping, the then 12-year-old Rae wrote her own television show and sent it off to TV executives.
“The naiveté of being a 12-year-old … I looked up the addresses for, like, NBC and ABC and just sent them to [the] CEOs.”
She went on, “You know, some of the networks wrote me back and said, ‘we don’t take unsolicited scripts.’ And so then I was like, ‘OK. Well, I guess I’ll just go to school then.'”
Rae may be sending her content out a little differently these days, but her perseverance and passion have remained the same. Her motivation?
“I just couldn’t picture my life and happily living my life not doing what I love,” she said.
Hear Issa Rae’s full interview on ABC Radio’s top business podcast, “No Limits With Rebecca Jarvis,” available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, Spotify and your ABC News app.