KATHY: We’re back in people’s podcast feeds!
TOBIN: It is like we never even left!
KATHY: We’ve got some very special bonus episodes. Over the next couple weeks we’re going to revisit some of our favorite episodes from our first two seasons.
TOBIN: And then we’ll check back in with the people we had on Nancy, to see what’s changed since they were on the show.
KATHY: And up first: We check back in with my close personal friend, Lena Waithe.
TOBIN: You’re going to keep this going forever, aren’t you?
KATHY: Always, Tobin, we are very, very good friends.
TOBIN: Things have blown up for Lena since the two of you talked, which was just before the start of Season 2 of Master of None.
[CLIP] DEV: Denise!
DENISE: What up, dummies?
DEV: We’re debating what I should do about this whole Alice situation. You know? I texted her about her schedule. It’s been two days, I haven’t heard anything back.
DENISE: She doesn’t like you man!
DEV: Why you gotta crush my dreams?
KATHY: So here’s some of that interview with Lena. Then after the break, I check back in with her on everything that’s gone down since we last talked.
KATHY: 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.
KATHY: Absolutely. 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: 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.
TOBIN: So after Kathy and Lena recorded this conversation, Master of None Season 2 came out. People loved it, especially the Thanksgiving episode written by Lena, and she ended up becoming the first ever woman of color to win an Emmy for comedy writing. After the break, Kathy finds out what her quote-unquote close personal friend has been up to.
KATHY: We’re back.
TOBIN: Yes we are.
KATHY: So after our interview, Master of None Season 2 started airing, and it had this amazing episode in it that focused on Lena’s character, Denise. It was about her family, and coming out, and the whole thing took place over many different Thanksgivings growing up.
[CLIP] DEV: So how’d it go?
DENISE: Well, it wasn’t my all-time favorite conversation with my mom. She cried, though. But at least she didn’t disown me, cuz that be happening. I guess it was a success.
TOBIN: It was so good.
KATHY: So good. Lena also co-wrote that episode and then won the Emmy.
TOBIN: The speech she gave, I have so many tears.
[CLIP] LENA: ...and last but certainly not least my LGBQTIA family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.
KATHY: And THEN, just last month, I was back in my hometown of Los Angeles for Werk It, which is the women-only podcast festival produced by WNYC. Anyways, while I was there, guess who I happened to run into? Go ahead, guess.
TOBIN: Is it Lena?
KATHY: It was Lena!
KATHY: We met up in the studio and talked about our lives, her Emmy, and the new TV show she’s making all about life on Chicago’s South Side.
KATHY: Lena Waithe back in a studio.
KATHY: With me again at Werk It.
KATHY: So, like, just a few things have happened since we talked last.
LENA: A few couple of things.
LENA: I mean a wonderful thing happened.
KATHY: Uh huh.
LENA: I got nominated for an award.
LENA: And I won. And it was pretty cool.
KATHY: You said that like it wasn't even a big deal.
KATHY: It was the Emmys.
LENA: It was a really big deal. You know it was it was phenomenal. It was an experience I'll never forget. You know to me I think it was, it was a moment in time, you know where I got a chance to open up a door that had honestly been… it had been kicked for many, many years, decades, so that way it was when I got to it it was easy for me to sort of like push it down with my pinky you know. And so for me it was really about sharing that moment with not just women of color who write in comedy but also the queer community because they're the ones that I think, especially people who are queer people of color, really, really really you know hooked into that episode. And so I was so I really want to thank them because, and remind them that because I'm a queer brown woman is why I was standing on the stage. If I didn't have that story to tell, I wouldn't have been a script to write or an Emmy to win, period. So I just wanted to remind them that you know all those things about them that they, that the world may tell them makes them a second class citizen actually propels them to the front lines of you know culture and everything that's cool.
KATHY: And does it does it sort of like reaffirm how you just gotta keep putting yourself out there. Does it kind of affirm like if you write about your experiences and you put it out there. People will watch and they'll like it.
LENA: Yeah. I mean I think you know the more vulnerable you are, the better. You know I think the more honest you are the better, because the truth is even if that's not somebody experience, they can feel my spirit. They can feel the humanness, they can feel the fear, they can feel the anxiety of having to come out to my parents, even if they've never come out before. They know what it's like to want to be accepted, to want to be loved, particularly by your family, people you love the most. So I just think because I just kind of got real and we made it really raw, I think there was something so potent about it that people couldn't help but connect to my story even if their story didn't look like mine.
KATHY: Yeah yeah. Um, the last time we talked, I was single and privately you were like, you were going to find me a girlfriend.
LENA: I know.
KATHY: But in the interim, I kind of got into a thing.
LENA: You did.
KATHY: A long distance thing.
LENA: I've been in those.
KATHY: Yeah. What would be your top two-three pieces of advice.
LENA: Oh for the long distance of it all?
LENA: You gotta text or talk every day. You don't get the luxury of like going a day. Look, like me or my girlfriend are, for the most part always in the same room, but we still text all the time. So that’s even if you’re not long distance, but I would say definitely texting, calling, face-timing is also super important.
LENA: You know and also too I think figuring out ways to do special things with that person you are in the same city. I know I have to go away for work a lot. So you know I find myself sometimes the longest relationship but there was one point I was in Chicago actually working on the Showtime show The Chi, which would be on Showtime early next year. Stay tuned.
LENA: I was in Chicago filming the pilot and I saw tickets for like a concert of an artist that my girlfriend really likes. He was playing in Los Angeles at The Forum. And so I just I got tickets, I got two tickets for her so she could take a friend. And they went and I couldn't be there, I would have loved to have gone with her. But I was like take whatever homie you want to take and go and it will be a night on me. And so it's almost like a date night that you know I'm sort of there in spirit. And she had the most fun, honestly I kind of feel bad because she’s like it’s the most fun she's ever had in my life, and my black ass wasn’t there. But I just I saw I was like yo, I’m gonna get her tickets you know, as a cool thing.
KATHY: Yeah, you have all the moves.
LENA: Man, you just gotta, you gotta treat people how you want to be treated.
KATHY: Yeah, okay. What projects are you working on now that you’re super excited about?
LENA: I mean the biggest one is really The Chi. I'm excited. We're wrapping up a little post and doing some odds and ends, kind of stuff but we're really happy with what we got. And I think that will be a breath of fresh air. You know Showtime has been a fantastic partner. Common’s executive producing with me. It’s Chicago as hell, you know and I'm just like you know chewing on things and home produce people stuff and all the good stuff.
KATHY: Are you going to be on Master of None season 3?
LENA: I don't know if there's going to be a season 3.
LENA: That's a question for Aziz.
KATHY: Oh Aziz, answer us.
LENA: He's got to let me know if there’s going to be a Season 3 and when or where he wants me to show up. But yeah I mean me and Aziz have been talking, but we haven't really talked about Season 3. He was sort of talking about life and silliness and you know all that good stuff. But if there is one I'm going to be there with bells on. I love those guys. It's such a fun time hanging out with them. We really enjoy making the show. I might pop up in season 2 of Dear White People. That's all I can say.
KATHY: Ohh, okay.
LENA: Stay tuned. But yeah you know it's like for me I just like kind of having all my friends and helping them with what they got going on and so 2018 will be a good year. It’ll be a busy year. That’s all I’ll say.
KATHY: Tobin likes to make fun of me about this but I like to think of you as a close personal friend of mine.
LENA: That's totally fine. You can believe that.
KATHY: Thank you, Lena.
LENA: Come on.
KATHY: Yeah. Tobin.
LENA: We text. She and I text, man. We don't get closer than that.
KATHY: See Tobin? Evidence.
TOBIN: Uh huh, uh huh. Wrap this up.
KATHY: All right.
TOBIN: Let’s play the credits music.
TOBIN: We’re on all the social media. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram! We’re @nancypodcast all those places.
KATHY: Our team is Matt Collette, Jeremy Bloom, Elisabeth Dee, Jenny Lawton, and Paula Szuchman.
TOBIN: Special thanks to Denise Bennett and the entire Werk It production team.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[END CREDITS MUSIC]