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Entertainment mogul Lena Waithe shares her secret—call back until a black person answers

Lena Waithe, Jimmy Kimmel
Screenshot: Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Even Lena Waithe needs a minute to catch up with her success. Asked by Jimmy Kimmel exactly how many shows the Emmy-winner is currently producing, Waithe paused before guessing, “About 17, man? I don’t know.” Well, Waithe was a little off, as the answer she finally came up with was a still-kickass five. There’s The Chi (which she says white people continue to pronounce like they’re ordering at Starbucks), Boomerang (Waithe says don’t sleep on BET), the upcoming Twenties (which she calls her Master Of None), a horror anthology series about the first black family to integrate all-white Compton in the 1950s called Them: Covenant, and the gloriously titled How To Make Love To A Black Woman (Who May Be Going Through Some Sh*t).

For the suddenly ubiquitous Waithe (also an actress, in case anyone forgot), however, becoming a straight-up mogul before the age of 35 wasn’t easy. Waithe talked about hustling in L.A. since 2006. (She told Kimmel she worked at Blockbuster Video, for time context.) It was through working in the Hollywood salt mines (otherwise known as interning) that Waithe says she made her first real connection, eventually becoming the assistant to Love & Basketball writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood. As hookups go, that’s pretty solid, although, teed up by Kimmel’s question about her duties there, Waithe told a hilariously stressful tale of her first real The Devil Wears Prada-style trial by fire when she was ordered by her new boss to go ahead and get Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg on the phone.


Did Prince-Bythewood have Whoopi’s phone number? Nope. Email? Uh-uh. Any connection whatsoever to Whoopi, who she told Waithe to get on the phone in just 30 minutes? Well, no. But, in a rapid-fire monologue, Waithe acted out her circuitous, many dead-ended telephone marathon to get Whoopi. With thoroughly entertaining speed, Waithe ran through how she was hung up on multiple times in her quest, her dogged determination painstakingly inching her further up the entertainment food chain. The ABC switchboard, The View switchboard, and finally Whoopi’s assistant—Waithe just kept calling, prefacing each request with a breathless rundown of just who the hell she was and why she wasn’t taking no for an answer. Noting that the sound of a fellow black person gave her the edge she needed (since each black person she talked to loved Love & Basketball), she concluded her ultimately successful breakneck tale by telling Kimmel that the true secret to success was making her case is that “you need to get connected to a black person,” specifically, “somebody who knows what it is to be black, and have a dream, and trying to find your way to freedom.”

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.