Quinta Brunson knows how to make a sketch go viral. Right now, she holds her own in a series regular role on A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO, which is groundbreaking for the fact that it is the first sketch series with an all black female cast, and with an all-black female writer’s room, too.
The show comes from the mind of Robin Thede—who, as the head of BET’s The Rundown, was as once the only black woman late-night host—and is co-executive produced by Issa Rae. Over the course of six episodes, Brunson and Thede will join Gabrielle Dennis and Ashley Nicole Black, as well as a bevy of guest stars—from Laverne Cox and Angela Bassett to Patti LaBelle and Kelly Rowland—in a slew of comedy sketches.
Brunson is also a staff writer and voice actor on Adult Swim’s Lazor Wulf, and will lend her voice to a “very cool episode” of the upcoming season of Big Mouth, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s animated Netflix series about the trials of living through your hormonal teen years. She’s been on ABC’s Single Parents and The CW’s iZombie. But before she made the transition to television, you might have recognized her from her BuzzFeed videos or as the woman in the viral “he got money” Vine, which was originally a clip from a series of Instagram videos called “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date.”
Brunson is one of only a few comedians to make the leap from digital to television, and she is fully embracing it. Here, she talks about her love for Portlandia, hating (but also kind of liking) Twitter, and having her viral videos quoted back to her by fans.
How’d you get involved with A Black Lady Sketch Show?
Robin Thede had called me and asked me to be a part of it. She had been communicating with me for a couple months on and off about a project she was working on, and at the time she and I both had possible pilots at ABC and CBS, and she was kind of telling me that if her pilot didn’t go through she’d focus on this primarily. Once she found out her pilot wasn’t going, she went full throttle on this project and literally the moment I found out my pilot wasn’t going, I had a phone call from Robin.
How did you meet?
She was a correspondent and writer on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore which aired on Comedy Central, and I had come to be a guest on that show a number of times and we met through that and kept in touch. She was always seeing what I was up to. The industry is so small.
When did you start filming?
We were filming from mid-April to mid-May. We shot a lot of sketches in a very short amount of time. We had 60 or 70 sketches.
How many characters did you play over the course of one season?
I would be underestimating to say 20? But I could be wrong.
Was there a lot of improv on set?
We kind of stuck to the script, and the writers did such a good job that it was easy to stick to. By the time that me and Gabrielle Dennis and Ashley Nicole Black were brought on, we did table reads to find out who would play what character, and we spent a month and a half having consistent rehearsals to make sure we were ready for filming.
What was your favorite sketch to film?
I loved when we did anything absurdist and had an ending that was absolutely ridiculous and didn’t have to be the ending. [Laughs.] Any time we got outlandish I was a big fan of that. I’m a big fan of hyper-reality sketches, that’s like a big thing on Key & Peele, and Portlandia has that absurdist feel, where something doesn’t have to be the point of the sketch but we are making it the point. Or something doesn’t have to be a sketch at all. Those are my favorites.
Those shows were partially successful because they would put some of the sketches on YouTube after the episode aired. Will A Black Lady Sketch Show do something similar?
From what I know, HBO is going to be really good about that and making sure the sketches are accessible to the people who don’t have the network, but there are things that you want to see happen on the show, that out of context you’re not really going to know what they are but they happen within the world of the show. So, tuning into the show is going to be just as important as viewing the sketch online.
You started off with YouTube videos and stand up but now you’re a part of a more traditional television format, appearing on shows like iZombie and lending your voice to the next season of Big Mouth. What was it like making that transition?
I have a crazy love for digital. I think it’s amazing and it’s a platform that needs to be respected as the piece that it is. I still think it is a platform for creators to go to and make whatever they want. And that’s where people are primarily watching things, on Twitter or Facebook. They’re watching for entertainment. I love that area so much, it gives me complete freedom. Working in a more traditional space makes me feel like I get to be more collaborative as an actor. I can just be a part of projects and I don’t necessarily have to be spearheading them or show-running them myself. It’s kind of wonderful to be a part of a big engine, and just a wheel in the machine helping things go. I really enjoy that. That’s something I’ve experienced in the traditional space so far, and not just on this show, but on Single Parents and iZombie. I love just coming and acting. That actually is such a wonderful feeling for me, something that wasn’t my experience in the digital space.
Do you miss making Vines?
Well, I actually never was on Vine. That’s a misconception! I was never on that platform, I never really made a Vine. [Laughs.] People would break things apart from things I put on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter and then put them on Vine. But that leads to what I actually miss about it! The freedom of the digital world, of your stuff being shared immediately. It’s the sharing aspect of the digital world that I really love and miss sometimes, but I still get to be a part of that. I did a Facebook Watch show last year, and even just Tweeting. Tweeting is still being a part of that, and people sharing your tweets. I love shareable content.
Do people come up to you and quote your videos to your face?
One hundred percent. All the time.
You’ll probably never escape that.
No, and you know what, it’s okay. It’s a part of my work! I love that. I love that things that have touched people have been that small but also that big to them. What they have me in their hearts as, I’m not mad at it at all. I love it.
Getting into the Social Q’s…how’d you decide what your Instagram handle would be?
It’s @quintab. I just took my first name and somebody already had @quinta. I just added the “b” because I wanted it to be short and simple. I think when I was younger I always knew, I want to have a very clear Instagram handle in case I ever become a famous actor. And here we are. [Laughs.]
Do you remember your first Instagram?
I think it might have been a mixtape. An old Chance the Rapper mixtape. Instagram, you didn’t really know what it was back then so you were just posting things that you liked, or pictures of things that were around you in your house or a flower outside of your house because it wasn’t that big of a deal yet.
What’s your favorite social media platform?
Tough question. I want to say Twitter, but it’s also the one I hate the most. Love hate relationship.
What’s the secret to taking a winning selfie?
I don’t know the formula. Some of my selfies bombed. And you’re like, is my face not good enough for you today?
Filter or #nofilter?
#NoFilter! I love no filter—when I can get away with it.
What is your favorite thing to post?
I love to post projects that I’m a part of, which is funny because they don’t always get the most likes or whatever, but I love sharing the projects that I get to work on. To me that is the most fulfilling kind of post, to be like, hey here’s my work and I’m proud of it. It makes me feel better than posting a picture of myself. Usually because it involves other people who I want people to know about. Usually it’s about a team of people I’m honored to work with.
Describe yourself using 3 emojis.
The upside down smiling face. I use him all the time, you know which guy I’m talking about, right? Him. The laughing-crying emoji. Oh, and that shady guy. The guy that’s just a shadow. He doesn’t get enough credit.
What are your social media pet peeves? I don’t personally like that the culture of social media has led us to think other people are living better lives than we are. That’s become the whole engine of Instagram, and sometimes Twitter. I feel like it can make people feel bad about what they have, or ungrateful for what they have. That’s just a side effect I wish would go away, and I wish that people could remember to be happy about what they have in their lives and not compare on social media.
How do you block out the haters online?
I try to make sure I know if it’s pure hate or if it is valid criticism about something I’ve said or done. More often than not, it’s not valid, so I remember it really shouldn’t have an effect on how I’m operating or living my life. I also take breaks so that I can remember to appreciate what is going on in my actual physical life, because I do think social media now, whether we want to accept it or not, is part of our existence. People keep talking about it like it’s going to go away, but it’s not. We live another life online, and that’s just the way it is. But I do like to break off from it from time to time to remember to appreciate my physical life.
What’s the best way to slide into someone’s DMs, especially if you’re into the person?
Say, “What up, shawty? What it do?”
Do you respond to DMs?
Not really. I don’t even go in there. That’s like in The Lion King when they say not to go into the graveyard. That’s what I consider my DMs. I’m serious, I do not go over there at all. Twitter is different because people can only really DM you if you’re following them, but Instagram, there’s a whole section of people that can come in there, and I don’t go through there, because that’s where bad things lurk. I do feel bad when I miss nice messages, that sucks. But it’s also not worth it because I’ll see some stuff over there that I can’t unsee.
How do you tell a friend they’re doing too much on social media?
In person. Take them out for a coffee, invite them over, go over to their house. Express it person-to-person, like, “Hey what’s going on inside? I’ve noticed your behavior changed.” If someone’s behavior changed in front of you at work and you want to check in with them and make sure they’re okay, it’s the same way. You just reach out, and see what’s going on in real-person world.
Do you follow exes or block them?
I follow them. I have very good relationships with exes and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. They are people I shared love with and who after working things out learned that we weren’t supposed to be together, but we’re good people and we like each other. I have good relationships with all of my exes. I actually follow a lot of them online, and they follow me, and they’re supportive. I like to have good relationships with as many people as I can. I don’t really subscribe to that “exes have to die” thing because those people were a part of me, part of my life.
Is there anything you would never post?
Who knows? I would love to say right now that I’ll never post a nude, but who knows what any of us will do tomorrow?
How do you unplug?
I like to just put the phone away and hide it from myself even though I know where it is. I’ll take it and put it under a pillow, and for some reason that’s mentally freeing to me. I’m fortunate because I have a person in my life—my boyfriend—who doesn’t really use social media all that much, so spending time with him really makes me feel good. He’s not a person who has to be as involved in social media as I do, so it’s nice to really hide the phone, put it in a drawer or something, and go do activities with each other. That sounds like sex, I meant to say do hiking. And stuff. You know? I feel like everybody needs a person like that.