A Black Lady Sketch Show’s Quinta Brunson On Going from Viral Fame to Mainstream Success
She may have a successful HBO series now, but she still loves deleting tweets.
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Quinta Brunson is about to go from one history-making venture to another.
The 29-year-old actor, writer, and producer first found fame through the wildly popular 2014 video series "The Girl Who's Never Been on a Nice Date," one of the first series to go viral on Instagram and YouTube. After landing a job at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and going on to lead the CW pilot The End of the World as We Know It, she got a guest role on the network's iZombie and on ABC's Single Parents. Now, Brunson stars in HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show, the first sketch series with a cast and a writers' room that's comprised entirely of Black women. Oh, and she produced a CBS comedy pilot alongside Larry Wilmore. Suffice it to say, she's successfully made the leap from digital fame to being a TV mainstay.
A Black Lady Sketch Show premiered on Aug. 2 to glowing reviews from critics and fans alike. The series, from executive producer Issa Rae (of Insecure fame), generated some heavy buzz when its trailer dropped earlier this summer and featured famous faces from Angela Bassett to Laverne Cox. But even with such a strong list of A-listers, Brunson might end up being the person everyone is talking about. Ahead, the witty scene-stealer talks to InStyle about getting started in the comedy scene, being starstruck by Kelly Rowland, and why she loves deleting her own tweets.
InStyle: How did you get into comedy?
Quinta Brunson: I started out really doing improv at the Second City [improv troupe] in Chicago. It was just young, 17-year-old me watching Saturday Night Live and realizing that I wanted to do that, and then figuring out where everyone who I loved on that show had gone to learn how to do that, and then it was Second City. From then on, I took classes and made improv a big part of my life, and brought it back to Philadelphia, and then eventually moved to L.A. and did more improv out here.
You really broke out working on video series with BuzzFeed. Do you get recognized a lot walking down the street?
Oh, yeah, all the time.
I feel like people think internet fame is different from TV or movie fame, but now it seems like there's so much convergence.
Definitely. There's actually been times where I've been recognized more than my friends that are on TV. I think that because of digital preferences, we are actually in an audience member's hands more often, you know? You're seeing certain faces more often on your phone, whether it be on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or whatever it is. That's how people are consuming a lot of their entertainment now. I've gone out with friends who are on one show on one TV channel that most people don't watch or don't have access to, but the digital relationship is very much in the palm of people's hands.
A lot of your work means having to exist in the digital space. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by social media?
Definitely, yeah. I recently stopped using Twitter and then I've started back up again, but I had a long period of just not using Twitter anymore, taking it off of my phone. Definitely severed my relationship with Facebook. Instagram's the one I use moderately most of the time. But yeah, social media is overwhelming. It is a huge part of our existence now, and I think it's naïve to think that you can completely live without it, but I think it's all right to moderate the relationship with it.
Do you feel like Twitter is the most stressful platform for you?
Hmm ... I think because unlike Instagram, Twitter is just a constant wave of opinions, and thoughts, and criticisms, and judgments. It can be overwhelming at times. Then, as somewhat of a public figure using it, we're definitely open to people directing whatever they want to say about us, to us, very often. It's not like I ever want that to go away, because there are cases in which I think it's the best thing in the world, like, I love that people just shoot off tweets at political leaders about how they actually feel, but for me, I definitely had to have some control over the relationship with it, over how I was letting it impact my creativity and my self-esteem on my day-to-day. Yeah, it can be frustrating, but I do love it. I love a good silly tweet.
How do you cope with that stress?
I really love deleting tweets. I'll take the thing, and then just delete it in like 30 seconds. I don't know ... I don't know why, and I haven't gotten a word yet to say why this is so fulfilling to me right now, but it's freeing. I think I compared it a while ago to cutting your hair, that freeing feeling of cutting some weight off. Like, sure, you look good with the hair, but sometimes you just want to cut it so you can have a new look and start fresh.
What has it been like going from being a digital creator and working on really successful viral online videos to working in a more mainstream sphere with the CW and HBO?
I love the mainstream, traditional format mainly because that's where I get to collaborate the most. A lot of work in digital is singular. That's just kind of the way it goes. It's kind of isolating.
As in, you're thinking of these sketches and trying to produce them on your own?
Yeah. You're often starring in them or being in them on your own. Even when I produced films, it was often me heading those things or being by myself.
With this, I love being a part of TV shows. The pilot I did for the CW was great, because I was around other actors, and I was just an actor on that project. I find that to be so freeing as well, being just an actor. Even on this new show, I'm just an actor. But now I'm going back to my roots of improv and everything, and that's just so incredible. It feels amazing. I like being able to just be an actor and be a part of the collaborative process.
A Black Lady Sketch Show is the first sketch series with a cast and a writers' room that's made up entirely of Black women. What has that experience been like for you?
It was incredible. I think the main takeaway I got from it was the fact that being around all of those Black women meant that I wasn't the only Black woman in the room, and what I did wasn't going to be the representation of all Black women in the show. That happens to Black women a lot, or in most projects where they're the only one — which happens a lot, and you feel inclined to be the representation for your entire gender and race. But with this it felt like I had the room to be whatever I wanted, and find new characters, to bring to screen characters that haven't been seen before, because it felt like I had a lot of room to play.
As we've seen in the trailer, there's an amazing roster of guests on the show. You have Angela Bassett, Lena Waithe, Gina Torres, Laverne Cox. Was there anyone that you were really starstruck by, or anyone who was starstruck by you?
I kind of think that I was a little starstruck at first by Kelly Rowland. I do think she kind of was about me too — I don't know if I'm making that up or if it's in my head.
What was it like meeting her for the first time?
Well, it was in a makeup chair. I was getting my makeup done, and she came in and sat next to me. It was so funny, one of her songs came on the radio, because they play R&B music in the makeup trailer.
Do you remember what song it was?
It was the Nelly and Kelly song ["Dilemma"].
At that point, we hadn't communicated. We'd given each other the, "Hello, good morning," but at that point I had to turn and look at her and be like, "This is your song that's playing right now. Do you know that?" She was like, "Yes, I know. I know." She so lovely, and sweet, and kind.
After we filmed our sketch that we're both in, we were getting in the elevator, and she was like, "I just have to tell you, girl, you were so funny." I was like, "Kelly told me I'm so funny right now!" She was one that really got me.
You know what was funny? During a lot of the guest star moments, it was watching them come on set and then be funny that really made me become starstruck. I was like, these people are incredible. They can do anything. After they gave their performances, I was blown away. Deon Cole is another one where he came in, he performed, and I was blown away. I was like, he needs to be on Broadway. He needs a one-man show on Broadway right now, because he's so fantastic.
Is there anyone who hasn't been on yet this season that you would want, like a dream guest?
Wanda Sykes, for sure. We couldn't get Wanda because she was on tour. She already yelled at me and Robin [Thede, the show's creator]. She was like, "If I'm not on the next season of the show, it's going to be a problem."
You've tweeted a couple times about Avengers: Endgame, and you included a reference to Captain America: Civil War in your TED Talk. Would you ever want a Marvel role?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
Who would you want to play? Do you have a dream superhero?
You know ... I don't know. I'm a big Iron Man girl. Huge Iron Man girl. He's my guy, so ... There's a character named Ironheart. I actually know Eve Ewing, who's writing the series for Ironheart right now. It is so good, but I know I'm going to be too old to play that role. It's going to have to go to a young person.
Hey, you never know.
I mean, you're right, but I do love anyone with [Iron Man's] charisma and ever-wavering moral compass... Those kinds of characters really bring me a lot of joy. I think they're the human experience on blast of what it means to be good, and how to deal with that when you're still just a human being. The Marvel universe has so many of those characters. So anybody who encompasses that would be great.
What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Oh, god... look at my phone. I wish that weren't true.
What's the last thing that you binge watched?
Baskets, on Netflix.
Do you believe in astrology?
What's your sign?
I'm a Sagittarius, but I'm right on the cusp with Capricorn. My birthday is December 21.
What's the last thing that made you really happy?
I had some dinner last night with two of my favorite people in my life.
What's the next thing that you're looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to shooting my first feature film in November. I'm really excited about that. It's under wraps, I can't talk about it yet, but I can just say that I am working on it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.