Aida Osman: would have said, “Yeah right,” if you had told her when she was growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, that she would be co-starring in and executive storey editing for Issa Rae’s new HBO Max half-hour comedy series, Rap Sh*t, serving as a storey editor for HBO’s Betty and writer for Netflix’s Big Mouth, and cohosting Crooked Media’s popular podcast, Keep It — all by the age of 23.
For a young, black, non-binary aspiring writer who grew up in very white, rural Nebraska, this didn’t seem like a realistic possibility.
“Through this kind of solitary experience, you have to be able to adjust and comprehend yourself,” Aida explains. “However, it was this experience that matured me and inspired me to pursue a career as a writer.”
Aida Osman 23 Years Old Leady of Storey
It’s also what taught me about perspective. So, sure, I believe my upbringing provided me with a lot of humorous insight, since it’s such a hilarious life – ‘a black queer Muslim Nebraskan’ sounds like a punchline.’
Aida’s professional path and present resume appear to be straight out of a comedy, but nothing about how she got there was a joke.
Aida has always preferred to work in the shadows, rather than in front of the camera, where she can bask in the spotlight. With her most recent major role in Issa Rae’s upcoming Rap Sh*t, she’s poised to make the leap from the writing rooms to the main stage.
(Incredibly and coincidentally, the first item I wrote for this column in ForbesWomen featured an interview with Issa Rae, the creator, writer, and star of HBO’s award-winning Insecure.) Aida revealed that Rae is her inspiration as a black comic screenwriter, bringing the conversation full circle.)
Aida’s rise from a small town in Nebraska to become one of HBO’s youngest executive storey editors is inspiring in and of itself.
“You can’t truly comprehend how you’re ‘othered’ until you comprehend the systems in which you’re ‘othered.’ Except for my older brother, who was a year above me, I was the only black kid at the entire primary school — but we were the only black students there. And we grew up on the outskirts of fields, not in the heart of the city. Working in cornfields was my first job. “I dubbed myself ‘farm adjacent.'”
Aida originally applied to law school and was accepted, despite always leaning into her natural creative side, with musical and writing aptitude. “I was on my way to law school, but I had taken a semester off in the middle of my senior year.”
I needed to take a pause and think about my options. I planned to postpone law school for a year and then return after completing my semester. But, during that time off, I became so enamoured with comedy and standup that I had no intention of returning to school to study business law. So I made a commitment to my mother. ‘Mom, give me one year,’ I said.
Aida proved that she could make her aspirations come true inside that year.
“I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be. In college, I majored in English and philosophy. And it wasn’t until I took a semester off from writing and started doing standup that I realised I was a comedian. And that was the turning point in my life. I used to work at a bar that had a stand-up comedy night. I had no idea what standup comedy was before then, and I had never watched it.”
She began her career as a stand-up comedian in Nebraska before moving to New York City. Aida was also gaining a large following on Twitter as a result of a viral video.
“I got a message on Twitter from someone who said, ‘I want to manage you.’ And I was like, “Wow, what exactly is a manager?” I also had the opportunity to meet representatives from a variety of production firms. She is still my manager to this day.”
“Once I learned more about what standup comedians do, it made sense for me to pursue a career as a screenwriter.” I did my research and discovered that the majority of individuals in writers’ rooms were standup comedians, so it felt like a natural fit. So the sooner I got into standup and proved excellent at it, the sooner I’d be hired for a TV show, and that’s precisely how it happened.”
In the summer of 2019, while residing in New York City, she landed a writing contract for Complex after a role in Atlanta for Wild ‘n Out. Aida starred in Group Therapy, a Complex web series. (Her on-screen presence was noticed by the producers, who said, “I really got to star in the web series, which was incredibly encouraging to me — to hear, you know, not only are you a writer, you’re also on screen talent.”) You must be aware of this, as well as respect and accept it.”)
Aida relocated to Los Angeles after landing a cohosting role on the show Keep It on Crooked Media. When it comes to the popularity of Keep It, she is exceedingly humble: “We’re in a Webby category with Oprah! And I’m thinking, “What the hell is going on?” What’s going on? Yes, it’s currently one of the most popular pop culture podcasts!”
Aida began working the stand-up circuit in L.A., where TV writers are frequently in the crowd shopping for new projects. That’s how she was found by a local comedian who worked on Netflix’s Big Mouth. (To mention a few, the adult animated sitcom has top-tier comedic talent and writers, like Nick Kroll, who is also one of the show’s creators, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, and Jordan Peele.)
“I was hired right away. As a result, there was no friction. And I occasionally feel bad about how simple it was to break into the TV writing world. But, because I’m a black non-binary queer, it’s difficult for me — it’d be fine if I got a job quickly!”
Aida when she initially arrived in New York City
“There were occasions in New York when I went to see a friend and didn’t have a place to stay.” On top of that, I was sleeping on the train! Let me simply zoom through that, I’m thinking. Because it wasn’t the best moment, but when you’re starving, you’re like, “I just want to do standup shows,” so yes, I’ll sleep on the D train for a couple of nights.” It’s not a major issue. Then you realise, “Wow, that was a stupid thing to do.”
Aida was now on executives’ radar as a top TV writer and storey editor, thanks to her writing credit on Big Mouth and her life and experience in New York City.
Aida’s individuality shines through in her work. “I suppose the people at HBO had just started to pay notice to me as well, and wanted me to write for a show about a young woman in New York,” she says of writing for Betty.
And I’m well-versed in skateboarding culture in all major cities. Because the performance is an ensemble piece, you get to learn about a variety of characters, which is something I enjoy doing. They all have a piece of myself in them.
And it answers my earlier question about how to write a pansexual, gay black Muslim. Betty places each of those items in one of the females, and I can communicate with one of my heart chambers through each of them.” Aida had never seen somebody who looked like her doing the things she fantasised about as a child in Nebraska.
“I grew up seeing gender queer people in the media and in fashion, but they were always white, slim, tall, androgynous.” And I hope that by virtue of my existence and my passion for landing on-screen roles, stepping into fashion, and being active in the music industry, people will begin to recognise that non-binary people can look ‘femme presenting,’ black and fat and punk, or whatever — we’re just different types of non-binary people.”
As a young black queer creator, I’ve had a seat at the table on several hit shows
“I want young creatives to understand that we’re living in the midst of a black Renaissance. Right now, we’re in a black rush, and it’s critical to get black tales out. And I would advise anyone who is young and of colour who wants to write to figure out what their storey is as soon as possible so that they can write from a position of strength.
I would also advise folks to just go ahead and do it, as well as to invest in themselves. So that was something that took me a long time to figure out — that if I saved the money, put it up the money, and then bought something that represented what I wanted to do, I was more likely to succeed.
Go out and buy that tablet, those speakers, that small keyboard, that instrument, whatever it is that represents what you want to do monetarily. So, not only will you have the technology, but you’ll also have the confidence to execute it because, well, I bought that thing. Now I have faith in myself, and I need to put it to good use. In that manner, it’s similar to a journey.
What about upcoming objectives? This one, on the other hand, will take Aida back to New York City, where she began her career.
“Perhaps one day I’ll be presenting Saturday Night Live.” At some time, I’d like to be a host, a musical guest, and a cast member.”
Aida has demonstrated
“Be a pioneer in your field. Don’t be afraid to use it, and be confident in the title you choose. Another thing that took me a long time to figure out! I’d say something like, “I suppose I write,” but do you have any idea how long it took me to put “comedian” in my bio?” Choose a title, claim it, and attach it to your name. Say your name and that you are the one who is doing this. And after you repeat it enough times, people will believe you.”