One Awkward Black Girl’s Misadventures to Meet Issa Rae — it started with HELLO
Hello is a simple word with five letters but infinite power and since 1827 it has been used to greet people, to attract attention, to show interest, to express surprise and to say hi when the telephone arrived. But now in 2017 hello is a dying thing. In fact, many will consider it a forbidden thing that’s only meant for Southern hospitality.
But not me.
I say hello every single day to every single person that passes my way. On planes, on trains, in lines and while I dine — I say hello. I say it loud, I say it proud and I say it purposefully — even when people don’t say hello back to me. I say it and I use it to help people smile bigger, laugh louder, hug harder and live longer. Yes. I said live longer. Hello can lead to a million things, thangs and everything in between and the research shows.
Research shows that we are spending less time with friends, making less friends and avoiding strangers at all cost. By doing so, we have increased memory loss, loneliness, stress and heart disease. But there’s one word that can change everything. One simple, single word and that word is hello.
A simple word with five letters but infinite power.
Superpower. Like a shark. Like a bear. A Superpower that can be used anywhere and everywhere. A superpower that can be used to greet peeps. A superpower that can be used to meet peeps. A superpower that got me to Jo-Issa Diop aka Issa Rae.
Like many of you reading, I developed a girl crush on Issa during her YouTube days and that girl crush was solidified and intensified after reading the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. That book was EVERYTHING to me. It was witty, it was wacky and it was wry. It was an outcry for strangeness, a movement for awkwardness and liberation for weirdness. Yes. It was empowerment. Issa’s authentic and unapologetic voice gave me permission to be me, and in that moment of inspiration, I knew that one day we would meet.
And on June 5th 2017 one day came, one day went and we did just that. We met. Only for 5–7 minutes but we met, and that meeting was spearheaded by a simple word. A simple, single word with five letters but infinite power. A simple, single hello.
So let me set the scene…
We need a rewind and some wine because what I’m about to tell you is witty, wacky and wry. And Issa if you are reading this, you may need to take a deep breath…and a deep sigh…because when you asked me how I got on set I didn’t tell you the whole truth. I omitted quite a bit, but now I am admitting it. So here goes it.
Part 1 | June 2nd 2017 @ 3:30pm
On June 2nd my fiancé noticed a few lights, some cameras and a whole lot of action across the street from his workplace. Being in LA, he figured someone was taping something but he wasn’t quite sure who was who or what was what. So he did what any adult would do, he sent a few kids to peep the scene and check out things. And boy oh boy did they peep the scene. Matter of fact, they greeted the scene. They walked right up to the people on set and said hello.
That simple word with five letters but infinite power.
Hello they said and that one hello led my fiancé’s students to the producers of Insecure. The HBO hit series Insecure starring, written and produced by awkward black girl herself — Issa Rae. My fiancé’s students left the set, ran back and told him that Insecure was being taped right next to their school. Right next door. But my fiancé played it cool. He played it cool and did what any amazing, awesome and astounding fiancé would do — he tried to get me an autograph from Jo-Issa Diop aka Issa Rae.
Issa was still taping when my fiancé made it to set. I won’t spoil the scene but let’s just say that it is going to be EVERYTHING! How do I know? Because. I read the call sheet. <Insert smiley, cheesy emoji here>. That’s right…my amazing, awesome and astounding fiancé got me a copy of Issa’s call sheet with a personal note on it from her to me. “To Keisha, keep writing!” she said and, “Thanks for the support! — Issa” That note is EVERYTHING to me. EVERYTHING, but I won’t say how he got the call sheet. Let’s just say he crossed the street, said hello and the rest is history. Capisce?
Part 2 | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:30pm
My flight landed in LA around 10:30pm and, like always, my fiancé was already at the airport to greet me with hugs, kisses and flowers. He’s such a gem. And then — he hit me with the call sheet! At first, I thought I was reading medical discharge papers. Then I thought I was reading a bill. It took me a few minutes to realize I was reading something about Insecure, but I still wasn’t quite sure what the hell it was that he just handed me. But like your crazy auntie that’s always a day late and a dollar short — it finally hit me. Wait was I reading Issa Rae’s call sheet? Omg. I WAS reading Issa Rae’s call sheet! And quickly my emotions went from pure excitement to pure sadness to pure madness when I realized the call sheet was for 1:30pm.
“So you met Issa Rae,” I said to him. No thank you for the call sheet, no thanks for the personal note, just jealousy that he met Issa and not me. I can be such a baby and in that moment my five-year-old inner brat was having a temper tantrum attack. My fiancé started laughing but I saw nothing funny. He wasn’t laughing with me, he was laughing at me but I wasn’t laughing at all. No. I wasn’t laughing. In fact, I was almost crying. But then my one single celebrity tear shed went back into my eye when I spied Monday’s call time. That’s right. Monday’s call time was in my sight and in that moment I knew that I was going to meet Issa. In that moment I knew that my one day would indeed be on Monday.
Part 3 | June 5th 2017 @ 12:30pm
Saturday came and went, Sunday came and went and then Monday came and my heart was pounding like a fist playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. I was nervous, to say the least, but it was Issa that I had to meet. I got dressed, did my hair and was looking FLY. Why? Because when you look good you feel good. And when you feel good — you have swag and not to brag but I have swag. Cool, calm, collected swag and it took all three to get on Issa’s set.
I caught an Uber around 12:15pm and arrived at the taping location around 12:30pm. It was at a hotel, and I had no clue where to go or what to do. The call sheet said Issa would be taping in the ballroom but I suspected security would be near so I just sat in the lobby out of fear. I sat with fear in my head contemplating if I should leave, but then my alter ego kicked in and she was NOT going to let fear win.
She pep-talked the nerves out of my head and started focusing on a plan to meet Issa instead. Me, myself and I were finally back on the same page and like a true groupie, I started looking for ways to get backstage aka on set where Issa was at. I searched high, I searched low, I searched left and I searched right but I didn’t see one light, one camera or one bit of action in sight. And then, like a thief in the night dozens of actors filed one-by-one down the stairs in a single file line. It was time. I knew it and felt it in my heart but I had to act smart.
More actors filed one-by-one down the stairs in a single file line. It was mesmerizing and hypnotizing. There were so many beautiful peeps and then there was me. Hair did, nails did, everything did and not to mention swag on 10. Omg. I could sooooooo blend in. I have on jeans. They have on jeans. I have a backpack. They have backpacks. I could sooo blend. Like right in. At first, these were merely thoughts, but then my legs moved faster than my mind and within seconds I was standing in their line. I said hello to the actor in front of me and asked her what are you doing? I had an inkling they were taping Insecure but I wanted to be sure. She gave me a side-eye, and with a swift turn of her head, she waved me goodbye. A bye Felicia goodbye.
So I, an un-phased Keisha Mabry, said hi to the actor standing behind me and she spoke back. She spoke back and became my new Insecure connect. We chatted about our Midwest commonalities and Southern hospitality, we chatted about our teaching backgrounds and career turnarounds. We chit, chatted and connected and within seconds we were friends, new buds and new pals. But then the line started to move again and I noticed that all of the actors were disappearing. They were getting on buses (to where I didn’t know) but before I could even ask, my new friend was hightailing it to the bus and yelling look for me on the show. What show I asked and that’s when she said Insecure on HBO, and in that moment I knew I wanted to go.
So I did. I went. I stayed in line, hopped on the bus and I was nervous as f***. My new friend, new bud and new pal knew I wasn’t supposed to be there and so did the lady that bye Felicia-ed me. But I turned my head, closed my eyes and thought if I can’t see them they can’t see me. Yes. I channeled the five-year-old Keish and it worked. They didn’t say anything to me and I didn’t say anything to them, and from that point on I was in.
Within minutes we pulled up to a lot of food vendors and trailers. It was lunchtime and just as they did back at the hotel, the actors filed off the buses in single-file lines. I filed off too and got a plate. Yes I got a plate. I had already ate so I wasn’t hungry but at that point—I had to fit in. I was now a background actor and I couldn’t believe it. Heck. While typing this article I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe I did any of this but I did. I did it and after fixing my plate, I quickly ate. Then I texted my mom, my fiancé and my best friend and they couldn’t stop laughing. But they weren’t laughing at me. No. They were laughing with me because none of us could believe any of this was actually happening.
The lunch break came and went quick and then the actors filed back on the buses as I did. A few minutes later we pulled back up to the hotel and in that moment I knew all was well. I was going to meet Issa Rae. I was too close to fail.
The production assistant got off the bus and I was quick in tow because unlike the others I didn’t know where to go. And then he did it. We did it. I did it. He led me right on set and I tried hard not to have a panic attack. It was the scene from the call sheet. That very scene and the Insecure director’s chair was right in front of me. Now, where’s Issa I thought and then I roamed the set until I got lost.
Speaking of set—nothing is what it seems. Wine isn’t wine and cake isn’t cake. It’s small, it’s hot and it’s not like the movies. It was more like jury duty. There were at least 100 background actors spread across three small ballrooms and sprawled up and down the hallway. Most were on their phones or reading to pass the time away. The carpet was red so that gave the set a little flair and there was a makeup artist and a beautician doing a few folk’s faces and hair. The smell was that of cheap cologne and the mood was that of a hustle and grind tone. Yes. These background actors were hustling, grinding and doing their thing trying to become the next discovery. It was inspiring to see.
But my roaming was soon cut short when the production assistants yelled background. Yep. They yelled background. Background actors are not called by their names — they are just called background — how depressing. And then, on top of that, there is a picking round. Like middle school kickball, you stand in a line and the production assistants walk left to right and right to left looking you up and down. And sometimes they frown. Not like a mean-mug pick a fight with you frown, more of an if I squint my eyes and perch my lips this person may get picked frown. And as fate would have it — I got picked — without a frown.
I felt kind of bad for getting picked considering a few actors, that were actually supposed to be there, didn’t. But my sadness quickly turned to gladness as I walked through a set of double doors to the taping floor. The taping floor was exactly what I pictured from reading the call sheet. I’m still not spoiling the details so you’ll just have to watch the second season of Insecure to see, but it was mesmerizing and hypnotizing. There were lights, cameras and a lot of action, a lot of people and a lot of distractions. It was electrifying but I was dying.
Let me clarify. I wasn’t dying but my legs were.
After being picked, we stood on set for three hours. Three whole-hours!!! Rehearsing and re-rehearsing the same scene. The same damn thing and my legs were dying. They were dying and hurting to the point of crying. The producer yelled cut for the umpteenth time and I got ready to walk out of line but then I saw her. The door opened and Issa walked in. She walked right past me and headed straight for her mark on set. I contemplated saying hello but it wasn’t my time yet. She was at work and I had to respect that.
We ran through the scene five more times — the same damn scene and my legs were fading, failing and becoming jelly on me. I didn’t realize how out of shape I was, but I was, and I continued to stand until IT happened. And then. Thirty minutes later…IT happened. Issa headed for the double doors and I was quickly behind her in tow. I excused myself the church way. I put my church finger in the air and made my way out of there. As soon as I opened the doors to leave, Issa Rae was standing right in front of me. And I do mean RIGHT in front of me. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me and I started to stare but then I broke my glare. I broke my glare with a simple word that has five letters but infinite power. A simple, single word — hello.
Hello Issa I said. You don’t know me but you met my fiancé on Friday. You met him on set and you wrote me this note. <Insert a note showing here>. Issa looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me and I started to stare. But then she broke the glare. She broke our stares and glares with her infamous Issa line…that is so dope! She called me dope and then she referenced the tour I did a few months back. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what tour so I’ll give you the short version…no need to make this article any longer than it already is.
<Keisha clears throat>
A few months back in December, I convinced my fiancé to do an Insecure tour of LA. We went to Issa’s apartment at The Dunes, Issa’s office at We Got Y’all, Maverick’s Flats where Issa debuted Broken P****, the Baldwin Crenshaw Plaza where Issa and Lawrence had a date night, The Mint where Molly had a date night and last but not least we had lunch at the Commissary where Issa and Molly had brunch. Yes. We did all of this and we have the pictures to prove it.
Now back to June 5th at about 4:30pm. Issa called me dope — well — she really called the tour dope but that’s semantics. Tomayto, tomahto, potayto, potahto. Again semantics. Anywho, dope was used and then she recommended that I get an Insecure bus and make the tour a real thing. We laughed and joked about it being a cool side hustle and then she spoke about season two and how I should do a tour for that too.
It was so dope (in my Issa voice).
Then the next moment was magical followed by a not so magical moment. She agreed to take a selfie with me but then she asked me how I got on set. Dammit! <Keisha clears throat and has the following thoughts>. If I tell her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God, she is going to think I am crazy. But, if I lie to her it could ruin my chances of friendship with this lady. Ok maybe…maybe I should just omit. And that’s what I did.
I told Issa that I was working in the lobby while waiting on my fiancé to get off work (true), then I saw the models and the rest was history (also true). But that middle piece — I omitted — and then I got weird on her. As if omitting how I slightly stalked her to get on set wasn’t weird enough, I told her that I wrote a book and I wanted her to have it.
Not sure why I wanted Issa to have a copy of my new book Hey Friend: 100 Ways to Connect with 100 People in 100 Days but I did. In her personal note to me she told me to keep writing so I felt she should have it. But where the hell was I going to mail it? I couldn’t give it to her on set — she was working and I had to respect that. So I told her that I was going to send it to the address on the call sheet. Yes, friends. I got stalky. Send it to the address on the call sheet — what the hell was I thinking??? I wasn’t thinking — I was groupieing.
Issa looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me. I looked at her and she was like ok. But it wasn’t an ok like ok cool, very good, all right, fine ok. It was an ok like weird but I guess ok. And on that note, I knew I had to shake. I thanked her for being an inspiration to women and I got out of there. I grabbed my things and bee-lined for the stairs.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs the feeling was bittersweet. I mean…I met Issa and I had an opportunity to be in the upcoming season of Insecure but I was too insecure to be on Insecure. How ironic. I got weird on someone that has branded herself as the awkward black girl. So is getting weird on her even possible? Well for me it was. In that moment I was too embarrassed about the book thing and omitting the middle part of the how I go on set story. I was uncomfortable and I wanted to leave.
I called my fiancé to come get me and then we went to eat. At that point I was hungry and approaching hangry so we ate. We went to a Roscoe’s nearby, ate chicken and waffles and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Why? Think about it. I actually snuck on a bus, then snuck on set and acted like a background actor just to connect with Issa Rae. And then on top of all that I got weird on her. Yes, friends. I got awkward with awkward black girl herself — hilarious and all pun intended.
Note: this article was originally published in the Huffington Post @ huffingtonpost.com