Interview: ‘Community’ co-star Yvette Nicole Brown

Senior Television Writer
09.21.10 7 Comments


The “Community” season 1 DVD came out today, and is worth a purchase both for the episodes themselves (I would not want to go through life without the ability to watch “Modern Warfare” at a moment’s notice) and for the copious bonus features. With a cast this naturally funny, the outtakes are of course hilarious, there are commentaries on every episode, and there are a couple of amusing featurettes featuring creator Dan Harmon (one with him demonstrating how NBC has compromised his creative vision of Brita, and one where he meets with each castmember to do end-of-season evaluations).

And I’m taking the occasion of the DVD’s release to post one of my two remaining “Community” interviews from the summer, with Yvette Nicole Brown. (If you missed the earlier ones, there’s the Donald Glover/Danny Pudi video, Alison Brie, Dan Harmon and directors Joe and Anthony Russo. So Brown after the jump, and I look forward to talking about the terrific season premiere with you after it airs Thursday night at 8.

What is it that you like most about Shirley?

I like that Shirley is a mom. Not just that she has kids, but that her whole essence is, “Are you okay? What do you need?” I like it because it’s kind of the way I am too. I’m always making sure people have the things they came with. I just think the world would be better if people took care of each other. That’s kind of what I love about her.

You don’t often see a character whose comic persona is defined by them being nice.

Exactly. Exactly. Well, she’s not completely nice. They haven’t really shown a lot of Shirley’s other side, so you don’t know why she’s got this little quick fuse. I think the niceness is what she is, but it’s also a way to cover the pain that she’s been through. And I think it’s utlimately niceness because she doesn’t want to put her stuff on other people. So it’s very presentational. I think the other side will peek through, and we’ll see there’s more to her than the “How can I help you, sweetie?” stuff.

How long did it take you to find the voice for when Shirley gets really high-pitched and distant?

It’s funny. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it at first. And it’s now going to be referenced in an episode that Shirley is essentially Miss Piggy. The voice is essentially Miss Piggy. And I’m the biggest Muppets fan, so I thought maybe subconsciously, because my dream of being in a Muppet movie is not being realized, I’m trying to do an audition every week on “Community.” I just feel like that’s where her register would be. And the funny thing is, when she’s mad, it’s the basement. So it’s two different sides.

But I remember in the Christmas episode, she was really hiding behind that voice because she’s, like, “I don’t understand you people.”

“Oh, so everyone is not Christian?” I think Shirley’s an interesting character study because there’s so much going on that manifests in mannerisms. Whereas some people try to hide their stuff, she literally lives her stuff through her hands and her face and her clothing.

In the buddy cop episode, were you drawing on any particular inspirations?

I was trying to tap into my inner Mariska Hargitay, and a little David Caruso. There’s a scene that got cut of me and Alison trying to out-David Caruso each other. I think that’s where I was leaning.

That episode was definitely a Shirley highlight. What were some of your other favorites?

Of course paintball, because it was so ridiculous, in the best way. And Christmas, because I think we got to see how crazy Shirley really is, and how manipulative she is. Up until that point, we didn’t know that she was a guilt monster.

Is that tough, early on in the series, where Shirley is relatively normal compared to some other people?

I think she appears to be relatively normal. I think we’re going to find out that she’s just as crazy as everyone else. And I mean, Pierce is as crazy as it gets, and there’s varying degrees, but I think she’s a little more towards the Pierce side than the Jeff side.

How is it working with Chevy?

Chevy is… fun. He is… interesting. He is full of stories about everyone and everything. He knows where all the bodies are buried. The thing I love most about him, if I had to pick something, is his relationship with his wife. He’s been married 30 years. That’s huge to me. Take Hollywood out of it; to make it 30 years is amazing. And his wife’s a lovely woman. So my theory is anyone who married Chevy and stayed with him, he’s got to be a cool dude.

Do you think Shirley would ever be foolish enough to give into Pierce’s charm?

Never. Ne-ver. And the funny thing is, I never thought it was that Pierce likes Shirley. Pierce just likes women. And Shirley was the object of his fixation for a time, and now he’s moved on. I don’t think it will ever happen.

So what does Shirley do? Obviously she has two sons to take care of, but what is she doing when she’s not at Greendale?

I’m trying to figure out how Shirley’s at Greendale so much. Shirley’s at Greendale from morning to night. Who has her babies? I think she bakes a lot. She makes brownies. I think she knits. I think she throws darts at her ex-husband. Literally; she doesn’t have a picture, she follows him around and throws darts at him. And she’s at church a lot, apparently.

Mentioning brownies, I’ve found that ever since that episode, I find myself doing the “Give him a sandwich” move.

Give him a sandwich! The Jack Nicholson move! Yeah. I loved the way they came up with that episode and what Shirley did, and Ioved the juxtaposition of Chang and his wife dancing and “Somewhere Out There” and Shirley overcoming her fear. I thought the editing of that episode, the writing and editing, was amazing.

So if she doesn’t give into Pierce, will Shirley find love at some point.

I’ve said this so much that I think people are going to ask me to stop saying it, but I really want her to find love with Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy. I recently met him. I was saying it before I met him, but now that I met him, he and I really got along. I think he would be great. We’re around the same age, we got a couple of pictures at Comic-Con, we looked cute together. I say do it. Why not?

And for Shirley’s ex-husband, I think Craig Robinson would be hilarious. The visual of me and him together would be very funny, and he looks like someone that Shirley would have married. He’s her kind of guy, I think.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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