Lena Waithe, Writer & Actor
Lena Waithe made history in 2017 when she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing for “Master of None.” How she went from sitcom-obsessed kid to sought-after writer and actor is TV-show worthy and proof that busting your butt for what you want pays off big time.
Lena Waithe, Writer & Actor
Tammy Baldwin, United States Senator, Wisconsin
Margaret Cho, Comedian
Tig Notaro, Comedian
LENA WAITHE: When you're an artist and you're making whatever it is you're making, I think the mission is to walk to it as vulnerable as possible, so that somebody will be able to connect to it.
LENA WAITHE: I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I was in a house full of women. It was my mother, my grandmother, my older sister, my aunt come by a lot. There was a similar thing that they all had, which was a lot of strength, a lot of pride, a lot of integrity, and a nice amount of sass and swag, too. I know a lot of kids watch television, but I really felt like I was immersed in it. I watched, like, "A Different World," "The Cosby Show," "Saved By the Bell," "The Fresh Prince." Even though they were multicam sitcom characters, they still felt very honest and real. And I just kind of got lost in all of those different kind of worlds.
LENA WAITHE: Getting a chance to work for all these talented black women, who were just sort of playing hacky sack with me for a couple years, just being the most excited person on set, and having a really great attitude and there being nothing that I would say no to doing, it was really the beginning of my life in scripted television.
LENA WAITHE: I went to New York to talk story ideas with Allen and Aziz and some of the other writers. And in the midst of just having a conversation, Alan asked how I came out. And I proceeded to tell them not thinking it was that interesting. And I got back to my hotel, and they both called me and said, we want to do an episode about that. And Aziz was like, you have to help write it, because it's so specific. And it's your story, and I can't write that by myself.
DENISE: I'm gay.
- You what?
DENISE: I'm gay. I've always been gay, but I'm still the same person. I'm still your daughter.
LENA WAITHE: Telling the coming out story, I had to step in my mother's shoes as well. And I think it actually gave me a greater understanding of what it's like to be come out to. It was about telling an honest story about two people who are trying to figure something out. And I think that's what most coming out stories are. I really wanted people to see the love more than the fear or confusion, and I think they really got it.
LENA WAITHE: 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. I do think the things that make me different are my superpowers, because there is no "Thanksgiving" episode if I wasn't born black, gay, and female.
LENA WAITHE: "The Chi" is about being black and human on the south side of Chicago. It's not about drugs. Nobody's singing or rapping. I was more interested in the middle class, the working class community, because that's what I'm from. When you're a working class person with a dream, it's like a pressure cooker, because every day is a choice to fight the good fight, to chase the dream. I know we're not perfect, but we're not all bad either. There's always these demons that we're wrestling with, and I wanted to show that in a real way. So that way people start to care about these communities and these people that make them up.
I think there's a lot of storytellers that don't look like the storytellers of yesteryear. A lot of young, black, queer, different people that have never been a part of the culture in a mainstream way. That's the way I want to change the business is by helping to usher in new voices. There's still a lot of others who haven't been included yet. And so until everyone is in the room, I think we still have work to do.
TAMMY BALDWIN: I used to, over my early years in the House, occasionally being met with protesters with placards Tammy Baldwin, law breaker not law maker.
I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. And I was raised predominantly by my maternal grandparents. They raised me until I went off to college. I was a double major in mathematics and government at an all women's college. At the time, 1% of all math faculty in the United States was female. But in my women's college, 50% were female. I graduated in 1984.
And I still remember being in my first efficiency apartment and watching Geraldine Ferraro take the stage at the Democratic National Convention.
GERALDINE FERRARO: I proudly accept your nomination for vice president of the United States.
TAMMY BALDWIN: I remember watching that with tears streaming down my face thinking my whole future's ahead of me and I can aspire to anything. And that moment was so moving to me.
In the seat that I was running for, there had only been one other woman who held the seat since statehood which was, in Wisconsin, in 1848. And, you know, I thought it was time to shake that off and change.
By that time, I was also publicly out as a lesbian. What I heard at the beginning was you're too young, you're too liberal, you're a lesbian, you're a woman, this, that-- the voters aren't ready. But no one's going to ever hand you an opportunity on a silver platter, you have to fight for these. And that's how you pave a path for others to follow.
I still remember a guy who came up to me in my first Assembly race. And it was one of those experience where the guy's walking up to me and I'm saying to myself, oh, here comes trouble. And he looked at me and he said, you know, if you could be honest about that, I think you're going to be honest about everything. And you'll have my vote.
I understood that the young people were the most likely to lack insurance in our society and felt like this was a very important thing. Not of us check our life experience at the door when we walk into work. We bring our experiences with us.
When I was in the fourth grade, I had severe back pain similar to spinal meningitis. And it led to a three month hospitalization part of it in an isolation ward. Fortunately, I recovered. But the next chapter was that my grandparents learned that while they thought they had family insurance, it didn't cover granddaughters. So I went without insurance until I was a college freshman.
My passion for health care for all was what brought me to public service. One of the things I'm most proud of is an amendment that I brought forward that allows young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until they're 26.
I have to say my most recent race for US Senate, a lot of the oddsmakers wrote me off. We were just tenacious.
Of course, people were noting the historic aspects of my campaign-- first woman from the state of Wisconsin to the US Senate and electing the first openly gay member of the United States Senate in US history.
Tammy! Tammy! Tammy! Tammy!
But that wasn't what motivated me to run. I wanted to make a difference. I think we would be better governed if our legislative bodies looked like America or looked like the districts that elect them. One of the new state representatives in the state of Wisconsin talked to me when she was contemplating running just a couple of years ago. And she said, Tammy, I have two young children. Tell me I'm crazy to do this.
And I said, no, we're crazy to have policy about young children made by people without young children. You've got to run for office. You need to have a seat at the table.
Don't listen to the naysayers and the cynics. There will be people who say you shouldn't, you can't, you won't. Just do it.
- The A.V. Club put out an article that said, "Tig Notaro technically more popular than Kiss." I remember reflecting on me as a kid being a fan of Kiss. I never would have imagined that I would have sold more albums than Kiss. That was like a thrill for me. I mean, no offense to Kiss. I want them to do well. When I dropped out of high school, Ah, I'm sorry, I don't know what's going on with my nose. I hope we keep that in.
- Take two.
- People said that I would regret it. I, not at all. I wished I had dropped out sooner.
- [Announcer] Tig Notaro.
- [Tig Notaro] Good evening, hello. I have cancer, how are you? Hi, how are you, is everybody having a good time? I have cancer, how are you? Ah, it's a good time. Diagnosed with cancer. I remember just being so scared to open with that line. But also, it was exhilarating. My recording at Largo is called Live, because I had three things in four months that could have killed me: pneumonia, C.diff., cancer, and then my mother died. So many live albums are called Live. You know, Tig Notaro Live is what people would think it is. And it just amused me to have to correct people all the time. Be like, 'no, no, it's actually live." The first time I thought I was funny in elementary school, somebody handed me their bag of Fritos, and the bag was upside down. And I remember saying to them that I didn't want to eat the Fritos because now they're upside down. I thought that was hilarious. To think about how it obviously didn't matter. I just thought, I'm on to something here. Somebody over here just keeps going, "Oh." "Oh, I think she might really have cancer." Who's taking this really bad? Oh, it's okay. It's okay. It's gonna be okay. It might not be okay, but I'm just saying. Before the show, I met with doctors, and they told me it was bilateral breast cancer. And that the tumor on the left-hand side was invasive and they wouldn't know until surgery if it had spread or not. I felt compelled to go onstage. I love stand up so much. I thought this might be my last time that I perform. There's no way I was gonna be able to do the regular stand up show. I thought it might be awkward. I had no idea how the audience was gonna react. After I got diagnosed, I um. Sir. This should not tickle you so much. I'm not that happy and comfortable. It was like no other show I've ever done. This person's crying, that person's laughing, this person is just stunned. It wasn't a million laughs per second. It was just raw. It took me a month and a half before I called Louie and said "I'll release it." Because I was scared. Maybe it was just a time and place moment. And if it's released people won't understand. I started to think maybe it could help people. And maybe I could put my fears and concerns aside. I just feel lucky that people were touched.
- You had a double mastectomy.
- And ah, how are you? Are you? No one does that.
- Except you.
- It's not that that was big breakthrough, and now I'm just gonna talk about the heavy stuff. There's a way to make the heavy stuff silly. And then there's a way to just do silly suff. I feel like maybe some of you aren't into it. That doesn't offend me. If you're not, raise your hand, I'm not, if you want me to stop. A couple of you. Maybe it's cause you haven't heard it enough. With comedy, you shouldn't create boundaries. Like, oh, I can't do that. I'm the one-liner comedian. I can't do that, I'm a prop comedian. I can't do that, I am a storyteller. As a person or a comedian, you should do what feels right. With humor, the equation is tragedy plus time, equals comedy. I am just at tragedy. I really can't believe I made it through that. I look back on myself during that time, and think, yeah, you handled that pretty well, gosh. Look at you.
CHERRIE MORAGA: I had never read the word Chicana and lesbian in the same sentence, except as a derogatory term. So every time I wrote it, I felt like I'm going to hell.
My mother is Chicana and my father is Anglo. Growing up, pretty much all of my family, what I understand as family, has been my mother's family, which was hundreds of people. So we had our own tribe. My sister, brother, and I were the only mixed kids. We're the only one that had a gringo father. But I just wanted to be brown.
Like, that was to me everything I associated with home.
I knew that I was queer, like different, from the time I was very young. I walked like a boy, talked like a boy, thought like boy, wanted things like boys. And it was at eleven that I really understand too that I had a desire for women. And I figured, oh my god, I really am a boy. And that really freaked me out.
It had everything to do with Catholicism. So the way I translated it was that I was marked as somebody who had the devil in them.
I'd wake up in the middle of the night, three and four times at night. Pray the rosary. I'd get up. I can't even describe the depth of fear. I think people don't really understand what homophobia is when it's played against yourself, you know. It is the most brutal. No one can do to you what you can do yourself.
When I had graduated from high school and got into college, it was the first time I became sexually active. And it became very evident I couldn't deny it. So I did come out. And I just for the first time felt free, free to love. And it was so important and so fundamental. You can't take away a person's desire and have them be whole.
And it allowed me then to begin writing without secrets.
And it wasn't really until I came out that I really began to make connections about other forms of oppression, including that I had a right to be Chicana.
And those who were mimeographing, we weren't even thinking that it would have the impact that it had. But once it was done I knew how important it was. And really helped to put women of color writers kind of on the map. And also I needed it for my own identity. At that time there was no us to read. So the confidence it takes to try to then find voice when you can't read the voice, it was a very important time. But I look back and of course I think I'm a much better writer now, you know. But I still have a lot of compassion for that, you know, 27-year-old because it's original.
When you see yourself reflected and you see the complexity of your own life, this is something that privileged people get all the time. We don't get this in our arts. We never get to see the complexity of who we are as human beings. So how does art make us well?
I did a work last year called, "New Fire," in collaboration with my partner Celia Herrera Rodriguez. And 3,000 people came to see the work. Majority of the people who came to see it were not mainstream theater goers. They were mostly [SPANISH], mostly queer people, mostly women of color. And I was in heaven. And you see them talking about, you know, suddenly that they saw themselves. They saw their grandfather, their grandmother, their aunties, their cousins on the stage. But it's the real deal. Those are those moments in which you feel like-- in Spanish we say, vale la pena. You know, it's worth all of the trouble. It's worth all the heartbreak.
ABBY WAMBACH: If you truly want to be treated like a man, if you truly want equal opportunity, you need to be handled being treated like a man. And if you're not, we deserve to get crushed in the media. I'm like, yeah, bring it on, baby.
I grew up in Rochester, New York. I'm the youngest of seven children. My brothers and sisters treated me like I was just like one of the team. I started playing soccer at 5, and I was a competitive kid and not scared. My first three soccer games I ended up scoring 27 goals. I needed to be challenged. So my parents stuck me on the boys team.
My high school years were amazing because we answered to our coach, yes, ma'am. My mom gave her the go ahead, like, hey, yell at Abby. Give her a hard time. Don't let her develop this overconfident sense of herself. This is high school. We would have done anything to win.
Mia knew that she could tell me anything, and I would listen to her. She was the best in the world. And to be confident with her on the field, we became kind of a dynamic duo.
- Drives it, far side, headed by Wambach, and Wambach has scored. USA leads.
ABBY WAMBACH: It was just such an amazing feeling to be able to win knowing that my idols, Mia, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, these women were all retiring. And so, to be able to send them off with a gold medal around their neck, I don't know if I've ever felt more pride in my life.
As a player and as a competitor, you define yourself by not just wins and losses, but with championships. And this was my first attempt to try to win a championship without Mia, without the people that put women's soccer on the map. And we lost embarrassingly to Brazil.
I actually wanted to disappear. Some of my darkest days were after that tournament. It definitely fired me up and impassioned me to ensure that never ever happened again. This is my last shot at winning a World Cup ever. If I want to be happy, if I want to not be pissed off for the next 40 years of my life, we'd better win this thing. It took a lot of checking my own ego at the door to take a step back and let some of these kids take a step forward so that they can grow their confidence and maybe change the course of the game one way or another.
I am a control freak. I'm fine with saying that. I was freaking out like the whole game. When that final whistle blew, I remember kneeling and just having this huge, huge sigh of relief because I knew it was over, that this was the end of my career. It was really nothing quite like putting that crest on and representing your country. I have to be able to feel confident and comfortable with walking away from that and hoping that, not only did I leave the game better than I found it, but the value systems and the ethos that I hope to have instilled will continue that culture. This is what it all means, those years that the blood, sweat, and tears was worth it.