Yvette Nicole Brown on ‘Community’

We get personal with the actress who plays Shirley as she talks about how hard she works to entertain us.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Yvette Nicole Brown has been the sweetheart of “Community.” The entire cast has supported the show at NBC events, and Brown goes above and beyond to remember me and tweet with me online.

At the latest NBC event we got some quality 1 on 1 time with Brown to catch up on the third season and look ahead at the season finale and beyond.


CraveOnline: What is it like to work with Academy Award winner Jim Rash?

Yvette Nicole Brown: It has been one of my proudest moments watching him. I treat him like he’s my kid. For one thing, Jim is very humble and very unassuming. So when the whole nomination process started, he and his partner were getting nominated for all these awards, he didn’t come in like, “Hey, I got a Golden Globe nomination.” He just came in and went to work.

He had the Academy luncheon on a shoot day so they had to shoot around him. He came to us and said, “Hey guys, is it okay if they shoot my part first?” We’re like sure, Jim, what’s going on? “Oh, I’ve got this little luncheon to go to.” What’s the luncheon? “It’s Academy Awards.” He’s just a great guy so it’s been great working with the Oscar winner Jim Rash.

CraveOnline: Is it a struggle to make small character moments stand out with such a huge ensemble cast?

Yvette Nicole Brown: It’s not a challenge because the show is so well written that you want to rise to the level of what you’ve been given. So if they give you something really meaty and great you want to be good enough to make it shine. So it’s not difficult. I think of it as a responsibility as a professional actor. You’re supposed to give the writing its due. So it’s not difficult but it is something I take very seriously.

CraveOnline: Does that get deeper when you’re three seasons in an have explores the character so much further?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I think it gets easier playing these characters now that we’re three seasons in. There’s like a shorthand. I kind of know why Shirley does what she does now. I know why she reacts the way she reacts so it’s less of “Why would she say that?” or “Why would she do that?” I know why she would say and do what she does so it’s more of an easier exercise once I get the lines. I feel like I know how I’m going to say this.

CraveOnline: How similar are you to Shirley?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I don’t sound like her as you can see. I’m not as judgmental as she is. I’m not married, I don’t have kids. the ways that I am like her, I do call people pumpkin and sweetie. I am kind of the mother hen. When me and the cast go places, I’m the one going, “Do you have your cell phone? Where’s your bag?” Making sure everybody leaves with what they came with. I hope that I’m as loving as she is. I aspire to be as loving as she is and as forgiving as she is because she really has forgiven her husband for a lot of things.

CraveOnline: What great Shirley moments are coming up?

Yvette Nicole Brown: There’s a lot of great stuff with Joel’s character coming up. They join forces again towards the end of the season which is fun. And Shirley’s working with Pierce a lot towards the end of this season, so that’s great as well. Those are the two big ones that are coming up.

CraveOnline: Is she going to get her sandwich shop?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I hope so. That’s been the goal of the season. There’ve been a lot of roadblocks but I hope she gets it.

CraveOnline: Have you heard any feedback from the real Subway?

Yvette Nicole Brown: We have not. Our fans have been tweeting, “Thank you Subway for sponsoring the show” and maybe allowing us to stay on the air a little longer. I’ve gotten that feedback but no feedback from Subway the store itself.

CraveOnline: Where did the Shirley voice come from?

Yvette Nicole Brown: The Shirley voice is 50% Miss Piggy, truly, and 50% my mom. My mom has a duality to her. She can be very, very sweet and “good morning” and then she’ll go into “You better have your homework done.” She’s got that duality and every time I admit that it’s my mom I feel like I owe her money. I should just give her money for creating the character but it’s essentially my mom with a little Piggy thrown in.



CraveOnline: Who do you think makes the best collaborator with Shirley?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I think Shirley works really well with Joel’s character. We did an episode, I think the sixth episode of the first season with Shirley and Jeff. I think the reason they didn’t go back to it until the third season is it was understood that together they’re toxic.

They almost destroyed the study group that first time. They destroyed Britta’s relationship. They annihilated Vaughn, Tiny Nipples, so it was a rough time with them together and I think they kind of understood this doesn’t work. What I love that’s happened in the third season is they now realize how connected they are from childhood and they really do like each other.

When you see Jeff and Shirley together, they have a great time together. It’s toxic fun but it’s a good time, so I think they’re now trying to find a way to be together, be friends and not destroy Greendale. I enjoy working with Joel.

CraveOnline: Have they let the religion sneak into the scripts more and more?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I think it’s actually mentioned less I think. I think in the first season everything Shirley said was about Jesus and God. As a Christian myself I had no problem with it but I felt that it polarized the fan base a little bit because everybody’s not a Christian and everybody don’t wanna hear a judgmental take on why what they’re doing is wrong.

One thing that always bothered me about it is the bible says judge not lest ye be judges. So we’re not supposed to judge each other. As a Christian we’re supposed to love each other and not go, “Youuuuu!”

I felt like Shirley was kind of in that judgmental space for most of the first season and I’m glad now that she’s accepted that everybody’s not like her, she may not always be right and even though she believes that Jesus is the way, she has to let people find their own way to their truth, whatever their truth may be and pray for those she feels are making bad decisions but don’t judge them. Don’t make a decision about who they are because they may not be in the same place you are yet.

CraveOnline: Isn’t that just the human flaw that makes her a character? She has these beliefs that even she can’t completely live up to?

Yvette Nicole Brown: Honestly, it’s a very true walk of a Christian. What I love to say when people ask me about being a Christian, I always say Christians aren’t perfect. They’re probably some of the worst people on the planet. They just know that they need Jesus. That’s the only difference. They realize, “I’m wretched. I need someone to keep me together so I don’t run roughshod over the rest of the world.”

I always think to myself why Shirley wears a cross every day, I think it’s because she needs to be able to touch it and remind herself you’re supposed to be modeling behavior of someone that was pretty cool, so calm down. In my car I used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Got Jesus” or something. It was a bumper sticker that referenced the lord and it wasn’t to make people be Christian or whatever. It was for me because I had road rage really bad.

I still have it. That bumper sticker, whenever I wanted to really [scream], I remember that the back of my car is honoring Christ so are you going to do something in this car that makes him look bad? So it makes me calm down. I think her cross is kind of the same thing.

CraveOnline: How gratifying is it when you see online there was a Shirley line that made people laugh and they retweeted it?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I like it. Thankfully our fans every week retweet all the jokes that make them laugh, and we all get a hit. There’s always one for each of us that people particularly liked so it is gratifying to know that something that the writers wrote,

I was able to say it in a way that resonated with fans. Honestly, at the end of the day we’re doing this for people to enjoy it. We’re not doing it in a vacuum. You want good ratings, you want people to like the show, you want to be appreciated for the hard work you put in. You don’t always get it. Every show is not beloved. Every show is not a hit but that is what you hope for when you do it because otherwise why are you working 16 hours if not to make people happy.



CraveOnline: On Twitter you’re so personal with the fans. Do you get that feedback in return?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I do. I wonder sometimes, and I’ve asked this question to the people on Twitter, if maybe too much access is not a good thing. Not just for me, for any of us. I haven’t decided if you should be able to just reach out to someone that you really, really adore and get an instant response because if you’re really vested, their response might not live up to what you want. Or, you might catch them in a human moment and they might respond in a way that hurts you because of your love for them, not because they did anything particularly crazy.

Also I feel like it kind of makes it where you never really have, as the performer, I don't know sometimes if I ever have a moment where I can just be me. I know that there’s people that have expectations of me and I’m a people pleaser so I want them to be happy.

So that causes me to maybe do more than I have the time to do or the energy to do. That feeling of being in a grocery store and a great fan of the show comes up to you and maybe you were at a press day for NBC for 12 hours and you’re really tired and just want to get some frozen food and go home, but you have to have this moment and it’s your privilege to have that moment. Whoever that person is, this is their one time with you so sometimes you have to put your own self aside and give them the moment that you need.

But then it goes both ways. I would love it if the fans understand that we’re human beings and sometimes we’re tired and we’ve had disappointment in our life or its been a cranky day so maybe I stay and sign every single thing you have today. Catch me next week or tomorrow and maybe I can, but right now I can’t. I had this thing happen at WonderCon where they had built this barrier around the panel area and you had to reach over to get anything from the fans. I always stay after and try to take pictures and sign when I can. Someone passed me a script so I reached over and got the script, and I signed it for him and gave it back to him. Then one of his friends gave me something to sign and I gave it back. So I did what I could for those two people in the time before they snatched me off the stage.

Right after that I had to get on a plane and fly to New York so my phone was off for five hours. When I landed and turned my phone on, the person I had signed the script for had all these tweets about how he could not believe that I didn’t tweet him back and how dare I? I’m thinking I stretched over an expanse of humanity to sign something. I signed something for you. That’s not enough? Then I have to immediately get on Twitter and interact with you too? It’s not enough?

CraveOnline: The danger opens up that you can have a nice moment, and then think what else can I have?

Yvette Nicole Brown: Right, that kind of made me think of that guy in a different way because I was thinking to myself how great that I was able to that for him? Because I can only do it for two people and I got it for him and I got to sign it for him. I was so happy that I was able to give this guy something he needed, then to find out it wasn’t enough? And literally a lot of tweets about it. I was like wow, dude, wow.

CraveOnline: It’s an immature reaction, but Twitter is new. We hope the education we all learn is we don’t always get an @mention back.

Yvette Nicole Brown: Right.


Editor's Note: At the time of this interview, "Community" had not yet been renewed for a fourth season.

CraveOnline: What will you do if you don’t get a season four?

Yvette Nicole Brown: Me Yvette in life? I’ll keep living. I’ll keep auditioning. I’ll look for the next thing. Luckily, or blessedly, there’s always been another thing. If it takes a while to get it, I’m really good at saving money. It’s one of my gifts. I grew up poor, I’m like, “Never again, not because of something I did.” So thankfully I’ve saved my money and I’m in a good place. If it ended, I’d be okay for a while.

CraveOnline: But artistically, don’t you have a lot more you want to do?

Yvette Nicole Brown: I’m not that ambitious chick. I’m not chasing a cover of a magazine or an award. I’ve just never been that girl. I’ve always been very content with whatever God blessed me with and he’s already blessed me with a lot.

To make it to a show that lasts three seasons is hitting the lottery as an actor. That hardly ever happens if you look at the statistics. So I don’t have this great endgame or this big thing planned. I always wanted to do good work, I wanted to make people laugh or make them think. I wanted to be able to take care of myself and my family and friends with acting money and I’ve done that. So there’s no big mountain to climb for me.