The Coolest Lesbian Ever
[DRUMROLL, THEME MUSIC STARTS]
GUEST 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
GUEST GROUP 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
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KATHY: Today we have a bonus episode of Nancy.
TOBIN: Indeed, we do!
KATHY: Because Master of None Season 2 just came out on Netflix.
TOBIN: I love Master of None. I love that Aziz Ansari made the show, and it's centered on people of color, just living their lives.
KATHY: But my favorite character on the show isn’t Aziz's character. It's Denise.
[CLIP] DEV: Denise! We're debating what to do about this whole Alice situation, y'know? I texted her about her schedule, it's been two days and I haven't heard anything back.
DENISE: So ... she doesn't like you. What's the debate? I'm confused.
DEV: Hey! Why you gotta be so pessimistic?
DENISE: Dude, she ain't texted you in two days, it means she don't wanna go. This is a very clear and unambiguous situation.
TOBIN: Denise is that friend who doesn’t take shit from anybody and tells it like it is.
KATHY: Tobin, are you my Denise?
TOBIN: Ehh ... I kind of ... I’m not a lesbian, technically.
KATHY: No. And you’re not a soft stud.
TOBIN: I kind of don't know any of the words that you just said.
KATHY: I think that's how Denise would describe herself. Like, a "soft stud" is a lesbian who has masculine qualities, and maybe dresses and acts male, but, maybe like not to the extreme. So, like, 'soft' stud.
TOBIN: Huh. I learned something today!
KATHY: Yeah! There you go. [TOBIN LAUGHS]
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KATHY: Anyways, the person who plays Denise is Lena Waithe. And she’s an actor, producer, writer, she just, like, does everything. And because I love Denise so much, I invited Lena to come into the studio to talk to me.
TOBIN: Ohhh! I am going to recover from jealousy eventually. [KATHY LAUGHS] What was she like?
KATHY: She had on this amazing bomber jacket, which I loved. And also amazing sneakers, which I also loved. And she basically, like, emanated cool.
LENA: I’m always looking for things to play with the -- you know. Taking something masculine and making it a little bit feminine -- I don’t like to wear my clothes too big.
LENA: They’re somewhat fitted and like you know but -- yeah I enjoy it a lot. You know I’m also a sneaker head, so I like sneakers, and I like --
KATHY: -- Uh huh. --
LENA: -- sort of urban culture. And I also like new designers. That’s sort of an interesting thing that I really like on Instagram. Like finding people that you know -- are startups and you know and trying to wear their stuff -- and incorporate it into what I’m wearing. I also like to wear people who -- who are also queer.
LENA: You know, who are starting up things, and however I can be supportive in that way.
KATHY: Yeah, yeah.
LENA: So, yeah. I kind of like to use my fashion as sort of something that’s cool, but also, if I can make a statement in a way --
LENA: -- without standing on a soap box is really cool.
KATHY: Let’s -- Let’s talk about Master of None.
KATHY: Where does Lena end, and Denise begin?
LENA: Aww, man. I mean -- well the big difference I think, between Denise and myself is that I’m -- I have a girlfriend, I’m in a committed relationship, and I think that definitely affects my life and, like, my going out life and my -- my work life, and my social and all that kind of stuff so -- that’s a big thing. You know, although we kind of play with -- you get to see Denise with some girls. You know, in this season --
LENA: -- which is fun. But it’s like she doesn’t get -- have, like, a steady girl. Who knows, there may be ... there may be something that they may build off of, or bring a particular girl back on Season 3. But -- [BEAT] If there is a Season 3, I don’t know, I can’t confirm or deny! But, I literally can’t -- people keep asking me, I’m like, "You gotta ask Aziz that question!" But, you know, that’s -- I think is the biggest thing.
KATHY: Yeah. In Season 1 there’s a scene where Denise says that she can turn a straight girl.
LENA: Mhm. Mhm. Yeah.
KATHY: Is that a personal experience? [LAUGHS]
LENA: Here’s the thing. I -- I liked a challenge in my younger years. I do. But also, too, I come off, like, you know -- I’m that person that’s dating someone who -- I’m the first girl she’s ever dated, the girl I’m with.
LENA: But I do say this -- I think straight women are sometimes enamored by, I think, lesbian women, because I think they’re a little, like, intrigued. They’re like, "Oh, it’s interesting." And also particularly I think soft studs in particular, where it’s like, "Oh, you’re not completely masculine, but you have masculine energy, but you’re a woman, and, like ... that’s interesting to me." I think it kind of confuses them in a -- in a cool --
LENA: -- interesting way. And I -- and I don’t think one has to always take advantage of it but I definitely get a kick out of it, 'cause I think sometimes straight women kind of [feel] like, "I don’t -- but should I be flirting with you, or should I like -- now what ... what am I -- is this inappropriate? What’s happening?" Because they’re feeling a masculine energy, but they’re with a woman and it just kind of -- it throws 'em off, which I kinda dig. I kinda like.
LENA: But you know. And in my younger years I would play with it. But like now I’m like --
KATHY: Denise definitely plays with that.
LENA: Oh, yeah.
LENA: Of course. Why not?
KATHY: Well, like, up until this point, I feel like lesbian representation on TV has always been either very femme and unbelievable --
KATHY: -- or super butch and also kind of unbelievable.
KATHY: And Denise is a character that is fully fleshed out. Do you ever feel like you have this responsibility of being, like, the -- the real lesbian on TV?
LENA: Um, it’s interesting. ‘Cause I don’t I don’t believe in representing myself in a -- in a certain way to make people feel comfortable or to make -- or I should do certain things, you know, to make the community feel proud, so to speak. But I think the best revolutionary act I can commit is to be myself. My authentic self. And to, you know, not protect that character of Denise but to always make sure she’s honest and human. I think it’s interesting that, because I’m in the middle, comfortably so, I think there’s something where people can kind of go, "Oh, I haven’t seen that before." Or, "I didn’t even know what a soft stud was, or that even existed."
LENA: And so for me I think that’s really exciting is that we can show people and say, "Yeah, that I know I’m not alone." There’s a lot of us where we just kind of like - we’re a little bit masculine a little bit feminine and that’s where we live. It’s a -- it's a cool thing for me to be in the public eye. 'Cause folks can kind of look at that and go huh, cause I sort of almost am a reflection of them of themselves.
KATHY: Well, I have to say your transition from writer to actor was seamless. Whereas they tried to make me do a video the other day and I broke out in like --
KATHY: -- panics ... yes. Yes! [BOTH LAUGH]
LENA: Yeah, I break out in hives sometimes, too. No, I feel blessed, I feel blessed 'cause that role -- I mean it’s like, for me to to do something like that, it was the perfect, you know, entryway into that.
KATHY: Yeah, well, um -- well, is there anything you can tell us about Season 2 of Master of None?
LENA: Well because it’s Netflix, it’s like CIA, it’s like ... there isn’t much. But what I can say is I know they tackle some big topics this season. The big thing is I did cowrite an episode this season -- you get to know a little bit more about Denise and her family and her parents. Yeah.
KATHY: Yeah, what’s -- what’s going on with Denise?
LENA: I mean I kind of call it you know -- I’ve been sort of calling it the "Denise Parents" episode in a way. In this -- with this season, we’re exploring Denise’s parentals. But it’s about, you know, the other sort of -- the gap between Denise and her parent and family and them sort of trying to bridge that and what that looks like. So - I’m really excited. That’s what I can talk about --
LENA: -- on Master of None, Season 2, is that Denise has a special episode.
KATHY: I was just thinking last night, also, that Denise is a really popular character. But she’s like the supporting character in Master of None.
KATHY: And -- for her popularity to be this large,
KATHY: there’s like an audience for it and a --
KATHY: -- hunger for it.
LENA: Oh, yeah.
KATHY: Why don’t we get to see that more often?
LENA: I know, you know…trying to work toward, you know, getting something that, you know, speaks to that. And I’ve been working at it for a long while.
LENA: But I think we’re closer, we’re getting there. But I also have other stories in me that have to deal with me being a Black, queer woman and, like, living in Los Angeles and having a lot of straight girlfriends, you know, who are my homies. 'Cause a lot of my friends -- it’s interesting, like, I don’t have that many lesbian friends. You know, I have -- most women in my life are straight, Black women or gay guys. 'Cause I have definitely the personality of a gay man, more than somebody would say, "Oh, you have the persona" -- which -- which who knows what - whatever that quote-unquote personality is of a lesbian. But I just -- for whatever reason I just kind of gravitate toward them, they gravitate toward me. And straight women love my Black ass for some reason. So to me I also want to show that -- like -- 'cause I think there’s this idea -- and this is no shade to The L Word, but it was like just all these lesbians hanging out with other lesbians or even, like, The Real L Word where it was like -- all the lesbian community. And the funny thing is, I never fit into that community.
KATHY: Oh, yeah.
LENA: I’ve never --
KATHY: Me neither.
LENA: -- been that girl.
LENA: You know and -- and I don’t know if that’s cause one, I don’t drink. You know ... I don’t fit into that.
LENA: And -- and even though there is a particular -- there is a quote-unquote category for what I fall into -- but even those girls I’m ... I see them, I follow them on Instagram. It’s so funny cause I look at them and go like, "Yeah, like, I don’t think we would you know have that much fun hanging out together, even though --"
LENA: -- we’re all like soft studs, whatever, like, because it’s also this element which I see -- and that I don’t really ... It doesn’t really speak to me, is this idea of sort of, like, studs or soft studs or whatever -- sort of acting like. you know. some of these, like, whack, like rappers -- or someone’s who’s like -- sort of just the idea of what masculinity is. You know and this whole thing about objectifying women and, like, you know, being a little bit materialistic, and, like, "Oh, look at me, I'm working out," and being just da-da-da-da. All this kind of stuff.
LENA: And I’m just sort of like, "Huh. Okay." And there’s this thing of, you know, you see men trying to prove their manhood.
LENA: And you see very masculine women trying to do it even more, like, you know.
KATHY: That’s true.
LENA: You see dudes sort of making up for their --
KATHY: That’s true.
LENA: -- what they’re "missing" or "lacking," quote-unquote, in their pants, and then women really are like, "We don’t have anything in our pants, so we’re really trying to go hardcore!" And I just -- I don’t -- and I don’t mean to generalize, whatever, but I’m just I see elements of that sometimes in the community.
LENA: And I just kind of think, like, "Wow, like, that’s what we’re doing now? Like, we don’t wanna be that." [KATHY LAUGHS AFFIRMINGLY] You know like -- and I see it. But I’m fascinated by it and I wanna explore that, too. Of, like, a character that’s looking at these women going like, “What’s up? What are we doing?” In a real way, in an honest way, in an interesting way. And again and that’s something that we have not seen on TV --
LENA: -- and it’s not a easy story to tell, it’s very complicated. 'Cause somebody could view it as, like, "Oh, well, she -- you self-hatin’. Like, you -- you['re] like them." It’s like, "No, we’re one and the same, but we aren’t," you know?
KATHY: Yeah, I think people tend to wanna just put people into boxes.
KATHY: And just ... yeah. It -- and it’s always more complicated than --
LENA: So complicated.
KATHY: -- than what you see.
LENA: Particularly within the gay community, you know?
LENA: Yeah. We just got really deep on that, but --
KATHY: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
LENA: -- you know. That’s something that was on my spirit.
KATHY: So there’s a hashtag you’ve used before, #BlackHollywoodSoStraight.
LENA: Mmm. Mhm.
KATHY: Can you kind of unpack that for me a little bit?
LENA: I mean ... how much time do we have? [LAUGHS] No -- no, I mean, a thing … for me -- and look, people can be on their journey. They can do them. You know, this is -- this is how I choose to live my life and present myself. But you look at Black Hollywood, right?
LENA: Pour in athletes and, you know, whatever, you know, too. How many of them are out? Or gay? How many of them identify as gay?
KATHY: Hmm …
LENA: It’s like me, Wanda Sykes, Samira from Orange is the New Black. Um … RuPaul? Justin Simien identifies -- he’s --
LENA: -- he’s like, he’s out. You know.
LENA: So that’s about -- we can think of more but, like --
KATHY: A handful.
LENA: And how many, like, well known Black people are out there --
KATHY: There are a lot.
LENA: The numbers doesn’t -- they don’t add up. Oh, we gotta give it to Frank Ocean, Frank Ocean is also very out and proud --
KATHY: Oh, right. Right, right, right.
LENA: -- and all that kind of stuff.
LENA: And that’s the other thing, too, is, like, there’s certain -- these R&B singers that I know for a fact are not ... who they present themselves to be.
LENA: And then you look at them -- and they’re not even that successful. They’re out here trying to be like singing to women and doing all this bullshit. And you’re like,
KATHY: Oh my god.
LENA: "Dude, like, what? Like that’s not -- you don’t even look -- that don’t even look right." And then you have Frank [Ocean], who, if he dropped an album right now, the world would stop.
LENA: People would be like, "Oh shit --"
LENA: "Uh oh, Frank got another album out!" I don’t get it.
LENA: And I’m not saying that’s why he’s successful. I think he’s successful -- I love his music. Even if he wasn’t gay, I’d be like, "He’s dope."
LENA: Or -- or identified as bisexual, I’d still think he’s dope. But that’s the thing is that what they don’t -- they don’t equate living your truth with success. It’s ridiculous.
KATHY: And why?
LENA: That’s a bigger question. You know I think it’s still a thing about -- I think Black people have this thing about "keeping up with the Joneses" in appearances and, like, how people you know perceive them and I think there’s also this thing particularly with men, you know, that if you’re gay, you’re weak.
LENA: If you’re a Black lesb-- if you’re a lesbian you’re weird. You know, and I think for some people can look at it and go like, "Being a Black woman is hard enough. Being a Black man is hard enough. Why do I wanna add to it?"
LENA: But I look at it a different way is that, like, how awesome that I have this other thing that’s in my life, that makes me that much more special? Or, honestly, that much more interesting. So yeah, I don’t know. But I -- I know I do intend on being out as fuck.
LENA: Proud as fuck.
LENA: And -- because I think it kind of makes those people that are living double lives uncomfortable. And there’s nothing I’d rather do, is to make that person a little uncomfortable.
[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
KATHY: Season 2 of Master of None is on Netflix now.
TOBIN: Our staff is Matt Collette, Jenny Lawton, Jeremy Bloom, and Paula Szuchman.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
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KATHY: Denise is -- oh, wait, that's you[r line]!
TOBIN: That's me.
TOBIN: Wow, okay.
KATHY: Okay, go ahead.
KATHY: Go ahead.
TOBIN: Okay. [KATHY LAUGHS] Can I do my line now?
KATHY: Do your line! [LAUGHS]