'Go online, get famous'

Issa Rae with co-star Yvonne Orji (far left) in Insecure.
Issa Rae with co-star Yvonne Orji (far left) in Insecure.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO comedy Insecure, encourages aspiring performers to put their content online

If you want to be a Hollywood star, YouTube is not a bad place to start.

So says Issa Rae, the creator and star of Insecure, the Golden Globe-nominated HBO comedy that sprung from Rae's acclaimed Web series Awkward Black Girl.

The 32-year-old - who has also landed a coveted first-look producing deal with HBO, where she is developing other series with diverse voices - encourages aspiring performers to put their content online.

"Now it's a resume more than anything - it showcases what you're able to do," she says, adding that she totally believes Web channels are a good way to get a foot on the show-business ladder.

Even with the legions of wannabe YouTube stars out there, it is still possible to get the attention of the decision-makers in Hollywood this way - acclaimed TV shows such as Broad City (2014 to present) and High Maintenance (2016 to present) also began life as Web series.

"People are still looking - there are a lot of Web series and scripts out there, and it's a bit more rare to be discovered, but it's happening. HBO just picked up Brown Girls, which was based on a Web series, and I'm seeing that every single day," Rae tells The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles recently.

I still upload content to YouTube. I think I miss the immediacy of putting something out.

ISSA RAE, who has about 287,000 subscribers on the social media website

She often goes online to scout for new talent. "I constantly look at Web series and find writing talent, and I was having conversations with some (talent) representatives and they're, like, 'We won't represent somebody if they don't have work online.

"So I think it's an important part (of a resume) and strongly encourage people to do it," says Rae, who reveals she is currently working on a new HBO show "with an emerging talent".

Since it debuted last year, her own series, Insecure, has been greeted enthusiastically by critics, who have praised its atypical and hilarious-but-sensitive look at the African-American experience.

In the second season now airing on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), Rae reprises her role as Issa, a young black woman navigating the ups and downs of life in Los Angeles.

The star, who co-writes the show, occasionally tests material for it and other projects online.

"I still have a strong digital presence. I love YouTube," says Rae, who has about 287,000 subscribers on the social media website. Awkward Black Girl has racked up more than 25 million views since its 2011 debut.

"I still upload content to YouTube. I think I miss the immediacy of putting something out. I get anxious - I want people to see this show, so to be able to have an idea and then just put it out there, and for it to be raw and received either positively or negatively, there is something special and humbling about that."

Rae says the Issa she plays on the show is an angst-filled 20something version of herself - last season, the character was seen questioning her career as well as her relationships with best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) and boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis).

"A lot of 'young me' is in this character. I've grown and am more confident and secure, and I have the advantage of having known what I want to do professionally - and this character does not.

"And when you're wondering in that way, you just have so much more angst and so many more questions and you're not necessarily as self-defined. So this is a version of me, but she's not me."

The show has been compared to two other semi-autobiographical series created by young comedians: Aziz Ansari's Master Of None (2015 to present) and Donald Glover's Atlanta (2016 to present), particularly for its depiction of the so-called millennial generation.

But when Rae is asked if the show speaks for this loosely defined demographic - which refers to those born roughly between 1981 and 2004 - she laughs and says: "Yeah, I didn't know I was a millennial until, like, a year ago.

"I guess that given the year, it makes this a millennial story, but that's not how I view it - I just view it as my perspective and a very specific story about two black female friends."

•New episodes of Insecure Season 2 air on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Mondays at 10.30am, with a same-day encore at 10.30pm. The show is also available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602) and HBO on StarHub Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline ''Go online, get famous''. Print Edition | Subscribe