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'Wild Card' with Issa Rae


Issa Rae has had a massive year. She was in three Oscar nominated movies - "American Fiction," "Spider-Man: Across The Universe" and "Barbie," where she played none other than President Barbie. Before she was a regular at awards shows, Rae made her mark with the YouTube series "Awkward Black Girl" and went on to create and star in her Emmy-nominated HBO series, "Insecure." Both these shows showcased her unique mixture of charm and, well, insecurity.

Despite having huge success, Issa Rae can still tap into that insecurity. She says in many ways, she feels like an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, which is just one of the many insights that rose to the surface when she spoke with Rachel Martin on NPR's Wild Card. It's our new show where guests choose questions at random from a deck of cards, questions about the experiences and beliefs that shape who they are.


RACHEL MARTIN: OK. We're breaking this up into rounds, and the first round is memories. You pick a card - one, two or three.

ISSA RAE: Three.

MARTIN: What's a moment when you felt proud of yourself as a kid?

RAE: A moment when I felt proud of myself was definitely making my older brothers laugh. My entire family is funny, but my older brothers in particular are so funny to me. And they are closer in age, so they have a rapport. And I was the third sibling, the middle child, ultimately, that came six years later. So while they're two years apart, me and my older brother are six years apart. So I was always, like, the girl, the young one. And so making them laugh was like, am I part of the club now?

MARTIN: Were you?

RAE: And I wasn't.

MARTIN: OK (laughter).

RAE: It was very short-lived because then it was like I tried too hard to continue it, you know?


RAE: You can't. They - nobody likes a try-hard.

MARTIN: No, which is really difficult when you're a kid who wants to be accepted by your older brothers.

RAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did you have a particular brand of comedy at that age? Was it physical comedy? Was it puns, knock-knock jokes?

RAE: Oh, what a good question.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, Issa.

RAE: It was (laughter) - it was probably - there was a physical element, yeah, because it was rooted in imitation, and then storytelling. I like to tell stories - you know, things that happened, and I think inevitably that turned into then my commentary on things that happened.

MARTIN: And you still sort of do that.

RAE: I do. Look at that.


MARTIN: OK, we're moving on. That was round one. Round two.

RAE: All right.

MARTIN: Insights, stuff you're working on.

RAE: I can do this.

MARTIN: Pick a card - one, two, three.

RAE: One.

MARTIN: How comfortable are you with silence?

RAE: Generally, I love silence. Though...

MARTIN: You do?

RAE: ...My - yeah, I like to be alone a lot of places.

MARTIN: Do you need that?

RAE: Yes.

MARTIN: Like, I need, like - I, like, actually need to get away from people and not talk. But you seem like an extroverted human who might...

RAE: Are you insane?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RAE: Thank you for that. I am not. I'm extroverted around my own confines. I have to curate...


RAE: ...The ability to be an extrovert. But no, generally I love being alone. I like traveling alone. I like eating alone. I love going to the movies alone sometimes, and I still love the people I love. But it's necessary. Though, I will say, my friend talked about she's going on a silent retreat. I was like, oh, what is that?


RAE: And she was like, you can't have your device. You can't read. You can't...


RAE: And that is terrifying to me. I'm just like, that's terrifyingly boring because I like my silence doing things. And, you know, it is about being alone with your thoughts and seeing what comes out of it. But yeah, I don't know that I could do that. I could 'cause I can do anything competitively.

MARTIN: Of course you can. I would win that...

RAE: Yeah, I would...

MARTIN: ...Silent retreat so hard.

RAE: Ooh, I would shut the [expletive] so [expletive] hard.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RAE: But I have no desire to do that. But generally, I love silence.


MARTIN: OK. This is round three. This is, like, big-picture, like, belief stuff. One, two, three - pick a card.

RAE: Two.

MARTIN: Two. Oh, do you have a belief system that helps you make sense of the world?

RAE: Yes, that everything happens for a reason. That gets me through so much. That gets me through those stupid mistakes and bad decisions. I'm a big fork-in-the-road person. That's a fear that is just, like, going down the wrong path. And so I assuage those concerns and fears by saying, like, this all happens for a reason. The reason could be - could benefit me, or it'll benefit someone else. If this thing that I really wanted didn't come to me, it was because it was supposed to go to this person. And they're having a great time. I'm so happy for them. Like, it just wasn't for me.

MARTIN: Can you give me an example of the fork in the road? Is there a really profound one that you still think about...

RAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...That - the other life?

RAE: The Paris trip - the studying abroad overseas. There was - I was supposed to study abroad. I was supposed to go to Paris. And there was also, like, a guy there that I was talking to really seriously. But I had this opportunity to submit - what was it? Oh, it was, like, a Sundance thing and - for a script that I had written with a friend. But I had to be in town if we won. And we'd be - we were semifinalists, and so if I went to Paris, I just wouldn't be able to get the opportunity to do this Sundance thing. And so, you know, it was going to be lit. My friends were studying abroad in Paris. This guy was there, and he was, like, one of my first real loves. And that would have been just - it would have just been a different life path. And we weren't finalists. So I had wasted this trip and the memories and the chance that whatever that would have been. And...

MARTIN: That relationship.

RAE: Yes. And then was just back at school. But I always wonder, like, what would my life have been? How many children would I have prematurely if I had taken that trip? But there's that. And there are other - there's so many other moments where it's just, oh, my God, if that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have had the happiness that I have today. And there are a couple of things like that that sometimes keep me up at night.

MARTIN: Yeah. You don't need me to tell you, but you weren't supposed to be with that guy.

RAE: At all, at all. But I still think about it.

MARTIN: Yeah. You're thinking about it right now.


RAE: That wasn't supposed to be seen. I'm happily married. Thank you.

DETROW: That was actor and producer Issa Rae speaking with Rachel Martin on our new NPR show, Wild Card. You can find a longer version of their conversation by following Wild Card With Rachel Martin wherever you listen to your podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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