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Why Lena Waithe says 'The Wizard of Oz' is almost a Bible to life

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Lena Waithe made history back in 2017. She was the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing for the show "Master Of None." Since then, she's created a number of other TV shows, including "The Chi." That show is based on her experience growing up in Chicago, and it just wrapped its sixth season. Lena Waithe joined my colleague Rachel Martin for our podcast Wild Card, where guests draw big questions about their lives from a deck of cards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RACHEL MARTIN: Pick a card - one, two or three.

LENA WAITHE: I'm going to go with two.

MARTIN: Two - when did you feel like you found your people?

WAITHE: Oh, man. I think, you know, Michael Svoboda, who was a writer's PA on "The Game" when I was an assistant at "Girlfriends" - he and I just really vibed. And he's just like, yo. I got a writer's group that I do where we sit and we, like, write original pilots that we're working on...

MARTIN: Yeah.

WAITHE: ...To kind of help us get some stuff done. And I walked into that writer's group and, like, found all these amazing people that I'm still tight with today.

MARTIN: Tell me how that jibes with Chicago and your experience there because it sounds like you needed to find your writer people.

WAITHE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did you not have that in some way in Chicago?

WAITHE: You know, I was a bit of an oddball, you know, in Chicago 'cause I was obsessed with TV, obsessed with, like, movies. Like, people go to movies and watch TV shows. It's a pastime. And I think my family could tell it was more than that for me.

MARTIN: Was it moving you in a different way than it was your peers?

WAITHE: I would be just enthralled by it and be thinking about it. Like, I have, like, some chest tattoos.

MARTIN: Yeah.

WAITHE: I have, like, a "Wizard Of Oz" tattoo. I have Judy Garland here. You know, I have the lion. I have the...

MARTIN: Whoa.

WAITHE: ...Scarecrow. I have all of it, like, because that movie was more than a movie for me.

MARTIN: Yeah.

WAITHE: It was almost like a Bible to life. It's like, where you are, you always think there's something out there that's better than where I'm at right now. But the truth is when you go out there and get to the Emerald City and meet the wizard, you realize it's all - it's not really what you thought it was. And then all you long for when you're in the Emerald City is to go where?

MARTIN: Home.

WAITHE: Exactly. And so I think what - the big reason why "Wizard Of Oz" is such a religion, a reminder for me is that there is no Emerald City that will feel like home.

MARTIN: Was that sad for you? Was there a grief attached to that? Or is, like, you know...

WAITHE: No, I think what it did was it helped me to stop - it helped me to slow down 'cause the truth is there's always something you want. And that's fine. You know, you need that thing to make you want to go. But you got to remember that it'll be nice if it happens. It'll be cool. But you don't want it to be a thing that, if you don't get it - that you can't find happiness.

CHANG: That is Lena Waithe talking to Wild Card host Rachel Martin. You can hear the whole conversation on the Wild Card podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.