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Quinta Brunson on the heart and humor that drives ‘Abbott Elementary’
New York — When “Abbott Elementary” recently trended on Twitter daily for nearly a week, Quinta Brunson was speechless.
“I was looking at it myself like ‘What is going on?'” said Brunson, the creator and writer of the first semester-sitcom and a former viral video star herself. “Here’s a new one that kind of fits the same feel and vibe of the shows that we binge a lot, like ‘Parks (and Recreation)’ or ‘The Office’ or ‘Friends’ and all these other shows. So, I think that people are enjoying having something new. … I’ve seen multiple people say, ‘I turn off “Euphoria” and then watch “Abbott” for a palate cleanse.'”
The hilarious mockumentary became ABC’s first comedy to quadruple its ratings since its premiere. “Abbott Elementary” follows the staff at a struggling, underfunded Philadelphia school. Brunson, a Philly native whose mother was an educator, named the sitcom after her sixth grade teacher.
The former “A Black Lady Sketch Show” star spoke with The Associated Press about the buzz surrounding the show, her rise from viral internet star to prime-time sitcom creator, and Black women creating their own Hollywood opportunities via the internet. Answers may have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Teachers seem to really connect with “Abbott.” Did you realize it would create a discussion among educators?
Brunson: A lot of friends of mine who are educators will send me screenshots from their educator groups on Facebook…I think it’s amazing that now we have this opportunity for a group that hasn’t been shown too much– a group of Black educators — to be on screen, and not only be on screen, but then have some fun, too.
Does “Abbott Elementary” have a message?
Brunson: The job first and foremost was to make a comedy, make a funny show…And then I just like my comedies to have heart in them.
Those are my two goals: heart and humor. I think when you put both of those things in a school, an elementary school — sorry, a public, underfunded elementary school — naturally, it uncovers some of the larger issues at play, right? Why isn’t the support there? … What are they lacking in resources? Because the goal was to have heart, a lot of the time, inherently, you get a message because we couldn’t avoid what’s going on in public schools if we wanted to. We would be making an insincere show.
Have you been able to talk to your former teacher?
Brunson: I called Ms. Abbott or she called me — I can’t remember — and we had just the best conversation. She was so over the moon and said she had been following my career for a while, and we wound up crying and stuff. She told me she was retiring this year and this was just incredible to see. The funny thing was she didn’t even realize I had named the show after her. And I’m like, “Yeah? Where do you think “Abbott” came from?”
Many people know you from your early days of viral videos like the “He Got Money” skits. What does it mean to you when fans realize that viral star is the “Abbott” creator?
Brunson: For the people who go, “Oh my God, that was her?” That’s kind of my favorite because I think, to me, it kind of shows the pride that people say that with or tweet that with — feels special. Like, look, we can do anything. We can come from anywhere. .. There are no bounds to what can be done unless you put them on yourself.
Black women have essentially been overlooked in Hollywood since its inception and not given a seat at the table. But what’s it like now for creators like you and Issa Rae who’ve used the Internet to create your own opportunities?
Brunson: I think it’s exciting. I think we’re at a really good point right now because of all of the work that people before us have put in. There have been countless Black women who have been unfortunately mistreated, blackballed, looked over.
I actually told Issa this … a long time ago, ABC passed on what Issa was trying to develop which eventually became “Insecure.” And I think moments like that are important because I think, then I come along, it’s like, “Well, let’s not make that mistake again.”
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