Best known as Shirley from critically revered, fan adored TV comedy Community , Yvette Nicole Brown also has had roles in shows like Drake & Josh and the upcoming remake of The Odd Couple . She was on the UT campus this past week as part of the event Navigating the Business of Success, which was made possible by the good members of both the UT Events + Entertainment, Distinguished Speakers, and the African American Culture Committee. She sat down with our Texas Travesty correspondent for an interview right before she took the stage.
How do you like Austin so far?
The parts of it I’ve seen, which are like the road from the airport to my hotel, were lovely. What I like the best about it is that you can see the sky. I guess that’s a Texas thing. You know, I’ve only been to Texas one other time before, but it’s really beautiful, lovely skies, and every group of people looks like Friday Night Lights [TV series, 2006-2011] to me. I think any second I am going to see Tim Riggins or Jason Street, so I’m really excited about being here.
Are you a big fan of Friday Night Lights ?
Oooh my God, the hugest. I love that show so much. And I just felt the feel of Texas, that family feel, the idea about teams and teamwork and all of that. I think it’s beautiful. My cousin actually was the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Texas for a few years. Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden is my cousin. So I have to tell him that I came here. I can’t believe I didn’t call him before coming here. He worked here for many, many years. So yeah, I have a little family connection with the University of Texas.
Community is coming back for another season. How did you hear about its return? What was your reaction?
I get all my information about Community from Twitter. I found out on Twitter that it was coming back, that it was going to be Yahoo! I’m always excited when the fans get what they want because, I know it wasn’t created by fans it was created by Dan Harmon, it really became popular because of the fans so it definitely being renewed every year is because of the fans. So I was really happy for them. I know that sounds weird because it’s my job and the show that I work on, but I really feel it almost belongs more to the Communies [fans of Community ] than it does to us at this point. So I was really happy that they got what they wanted.
What about Community fandom sets it apart from other all the other ones that you’ve been with?
Well, the only other show I’ve been on that has a lot, a lot, a lot of fans was Drake and Josh . And Drake and Josh , the fans were younger; they were like babies. I would only see them if I was at a grocery store, and they were there with their parents. They would be like 12; they’re grown now, but that’s the age they were. Community fans are college students. They have their own money, their own cars, their own to get around, and their own creativity and the means and time to do it. When they come up with something like, “We’re going to do a flash mob” or “We’re going to do an art show” or make videos, they really put 100% into it that’s different from anything I have ever seen. I don’t know any other show what would have an art show dedicated to them. Like we had nesting dolls, and comic books, and paintings, and it was just amazing. It’s just the level of creativity of fans is just, I have never seen anything like it.
What’s your favorite fan experience?
It’s not a favorite, but the most memorable one was, I was at Comic-Con one year, and there was a woman dressed fully as a zombie. I mean, she really went all out, and she was doing the zombie walk. She was doing her thing down at San Diego, and she saw me, turned, and started coming at me. And I said, “Look, I appreciate everything you’re doing. However, uh, you need to stop it.” And she said [YNB’s voice pitch goes high], “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I just love Community .” And I was like, “I appreciate that, sweetie, but you’re scaring the crap out of me.” See crap is not a bad word [at this point it should be pointed out that the Texas Travesty correspondent had previously apologized for using the word ‘crap’ before the interview to YNB, but YNB chuckled and said there was no reason to be sorry for saying the word ‘crap’ because honestly it wasn’t even that bad of a word to begin with]. So that was my weirdest experience. And she had been in character for thirty minutes or so, scaring everybody, and seeing me, or seeing Shirley, made her come out of character, which I thought, she was committed, and she just decided to say hi to Shirley, so I thought that was pretty cool.
What direction or places would you like to take Shirley this season?
You know, I would like to see Shirley succeed. I’d like all of them to succeed. I feel like we’ve been underdogs, and I think at a certain part if they work hard enough they get have some success. So I would love for Greendale, which is the biggest underdog on the show, to have some success. I would love for the Dean to win. I would love for Shirley to win. I would love for, because this may be the last season because of #sixseasonsandamovie was predicted and whatever, so this may be the last season before the movie. So I would love for everybody to have a little bit of, like, a rah-rah moment. I want them to win, at life. So that’s what I would like to do.
What would you like to see the movie be about? Like, if Dan Harmon is like, “You know what Yvette, I want you to write it.”
[Chuckles] Which he’ll never say. Dan Harmon is such a genius; he doesn’t need me to write. But I would say, we joked years ago. There were a couple of episodes about flashbacks that we never saw. We never saw what happened, we just see glimpses of them on a camping trip, or them doing Habitat for Humanity, or painting Shirley’s nursery. I would love a movie that connected all of those into one story. Was that one summer? Was that Spring Break? I would love the movie to be that. That would be a great way for Donald [Glover] to be back, you know, through past episodes. That would be great.
Have you been in contact with Donald?
Of course I have. We’re all friends. He’s doing good. Were you worried about how he’s doing?
A little bit.
He’s a big rap star. I don’t know if you’ve heard; he’s Childish Gambino. He’s doing pretty well.
Yeah, he’s coming to ACL.
Well, there you go. He’s doing fine. Don’t worry about that Donald Glover. He’s always on the rise.
Have there been any talks about him possibly coming back this season?
Well I think that’s a question for Donald. I don’t know. I don’t even know when I’m returning. We don’t know anything. You guys gotta ask Donald what he’s going to do. Of course, we would all, including the fans, would love to have him back. We’re all just waiting until we come back. Like, no one’s told us when we need to show up on set, so we sure don’t know if he’s coming back. But he’d be welcome if he decided to come back.
What guest stars would you like to bring on for this season?
Well, we’ve already had Malcolm Jamal Warner, who was my dream guest. We had Betty White. I feel like whoever they got would be great. To ask for anything more would be greedy. Anyone who would want to come to play, we would love to have them. I’ve said Sandra Bullock, but she’s pretty busy. But I’d love to have Sandra Bullock.
What initially drew you to Shirley?
A paycheck. No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] I needed to pay my MORTGAGE! No, I’m just kidding. She [Shirley] was very kind, and she was a Christian, like me, which I thought was pretty cool. And she also had an edge to her which I thought was really nice. I like people who have more than one side. I like the kind of people that have a line. Like, “I’m kind, but hey, watch it.” And I love that about her. Even when she speaks her mind, she still does it with a sense of love, “I’m doing this for your own good.” So I really like that about her. And I also like that she calls people “pumpkin” and “sweetie” and “honey” because I do that, too, so it made learning my lines a lot easier.
In what other ways have helped morph Shirley into the character she is today?
I think she has my sensibilities. She doesn’t have my voice, as you can tell [Texas Travesty correspondent confirms that YNB’s voice does not match either voices employed by Shirley]. But I think she has my sensibilities, and I think she cares about people in the way I care about people. She goes about things a lot differently than I would go about things. She really is very violent, and I’m not. So, that’s good.
What do you think the legacy of Community will be when all is said and done?
I think it will go down as a show by underdogs for underdogs. I think it will go down as a show by nerds for nerds. And it will go down as a celebration of people who don’t feel like they fit in, by people who don’t feel like they fit in. I think it is literally a perfect marriage of Dan Harmon’s sensibilities, my sensibilities, Danny [Pudi]’s sensibilities. All of us that work on the show, if it’s a person working on props or taping down cables, everybody, maybe everybody in the world, has a sense of belonging somewhere. And for four years, five years, six years - how ever like the show goes on – we created a place where everybody belongs. So that’s the legacy.
You’re also going to be on a new show, The Odd Couple . Has that started shooting?
Yes, we just shot an episode last night. I finished working and got on a plane this morning to come here, and I’m getting back on the plane tomorrow morning to go back to work. We’ve been having a great time. It’s Thomas Lennon, who was on Reno 911; Matthew Perry, who was Chandler from Friends; Wendell Pierce; Lindsay Sloane; it’s great group of people. It’s a remake or a reimagining of The Odd Couple, the show that was a big hit in the ‘70’s.
In what ways does your show deviate from the original?
Well, we’re in 2014, so they use iPhones and all that technology upgrade. But other than that, it’s such a great story that we didn’t deviate from that idea of Oscar being this kind of curmudgeon and messy dude, and Felix is a persnickety, neat dude, and what happens when those two types of people share a space, and their different philosophies about life, and the people who rotate around them. I play Oscar’s, the messy one, I play his assistant, and I’m kind of always putting out his fires because he doesn’t watch what he says. He’s just, a bull in the china shop everywhere he goes. So my character goes, “Ok, write another apology letter because you’ve done it again.” So it’s that kind of fun to play with everybody. It’s a good show. It’s really funny. Hope you guys watch it on CBS, in the winter. [Texas Travesty correspondent agrees to watch it].
What’s your favorite part about being an actress?
I’d say the best part about being an actress is that I’ve achieved enough to do stuff like this [speech to the student body Navigating the Business of Success]. It is so important to give back if you have been blessed with good fortune. And, I remember when I was a kid, and I went to the University of Akron in Ohio. And I grew up a poor kid, and I did not see my way out of that circumstance to follow my dreams. And I kind of wish somebody had come back shown “This is how I did it.” So I kind of feel like it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to come to a school and talk to kids and go, “This is how I did it. You can do it, too.“ So the idea that I‘ve achieved enough where they would ask me to come is my favorite part about being an actor. Nothing will ever top the feeling of this.
What advice would you give to any actors or actresses starting off in the business?
First of all, know who you are, and they need to create boundaries before they go in because this is a business built on compromise, and if you don’t know who you are, you’ll be naked swinging from chandeliers on film and you’ll be calling your mother, “Why did I do that?” So you need to really know who you are and know what you are doing before you go in. And you need to realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You know, there are some people who come in and get famous right away, but they fall off as quickly as they become famous. You need to know that it may take you a long time and that fame better not be your goal. Because anybody can be famous. People can get famous for various reasons: sex tapes and all kinds of things you can be famous for. It doesn’t mean it is worthwhile. And fame itself is not something to aspire to. You can into a grocery store in your sweats and people on the street are taking your pictures. You want to do good work and make a living. If you want to do that in acting, God bless. But just know that you got to work hard, and it’s going to take awhile.
[For a more in-depth look from YNB, go here: http://yvettenicolebrown.blogspot.com/]