How Quinta Brunson Saved the Sitcom
Known for her viral videos, the writer-comedian brought an internet sensibility to her hit show, Abbott Elementary, a heartfelt mockumentary about a struggling public school. It won her an Emmy and reinvigorated network television.
By Lindsey Underwood
Photography by Texas Isaiah
If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the creative output of comedic polymath Quinta Brunson, it might be the surprising possibilities that lie in mixing old forms and new ones. For example, while she was learning the comic ropes doing stand-up at clubs like the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, she launched a buzzy Instagram series, The Girl Who Has Never Been on a Nice Date, that turned heads. After her fame grew from a job at BuzzFeed, where she cranked out viral videos, she wrote a celebrated book on clickable comedy. Now, at 32, she’s taken internet irreverence to that stodgiest of forms, the network sitcom.
Her Emmy-winning ABC show, Abbott Elementary, in the midst of its second season, has been lauded for the droll humor of its mockumentary format and the emotional resonance of its subject matter: the travails of the teachers at an underfunded public school in Brunson’s native Philadelphia. In addition to writing and producing the show, she plays its star, Janine Teagues, a rookie second-grade teacher who’s earnestly—and perhaps misguidedly—looking to save the school. Her fellow staffers include an inept principal; a nerdy, overzealous coworker; and a brassy colleague with connections to the Mob. The goal, Brunson tells me one afternoon in her trailer on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, was to create a show that could be for everyone.
“We just are having so much fun pushing and pulling these characters,” she says. “It forces you to pull more humanity out of them because we do know where they’re going, but we don’t want them to get there yet. One thing that I love, and I do feel really good at, is making the smallest moments the biggest triumphs.”
Here's the takeaway:
1. Just write about the world as you know it. What your day looked like, what events happened, what did you gossip or laugh about. Write it, record it, just do it.
2. Find a place to practice telling your stories in front of an audience. Open mike, comedy venues, church, storytelling circles and try out your stories in front of an audience. Give people a place to find you and your work.