Catching Up With Community‘s Yvette Nicole Brown

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Thursday’s three-episode final night for cult-favorite Community took us into a video game, through a fascist regime and ended with a poignant montage that included a nod to fans with one final hashtag. We know NBC will bring back the quirky comedy for at least 13 episodes on Fridays next fall, and we chatted with Shirley herself, Yvette Nicole Brown, about the past, present and future of everybody’s favorite study group.

Paste: Congratulations on the amazing three-episode finale on Thursday. We at Paste love the series and can’t wait to see the next season.
Yvette Nicole Brown: Thanks. Paste has been really good to us, so I’m really excited about everything.

Paste: How did you personally find out about the renewal?
Brown: I get all of my revelations about Community through Twitter. I found out about our second season pickup on Twitter, about out hiatus on Twitter, and about the new pickup on Twitter. It’s become my main source. My timeline was going crazy and I realized something good must have happened.

Paste: I’m assuming you found out about the move to Friday night and the reduction to 13 episodes via a Tweet as well?
Brown: Yeah it’s all under that Twitter umbrella.

Paste: You’re pretty involved on Twitter with retweeting fans and everything. How has the fan support been through everything from the announcement of the hiatus up until now?
Brown: The fan support has been amazing. It’s kept us afloat in a lot of ways because when you look at our Nielsen numbers it kind of feels like we’re making this in a vacuum for us and our family members, but the Twitter and fan response reminds us that there are people that really like the show and our invested in the show. It’s meant a lot for us. Through every little bump in the road, especially this season fans have been saying, “We believe in you,” “We love you,” “Here take this win in the TV Guide Fan Favorite Award, in this E! Online thing.” They really are fighting alongside with us.

Paste: And how has the response been since the finale?
Brown: I actually did a live Q & A with Best Buy [on Thursday] and I didn’t get to watch the finale live so I could chat with fans. When I got off the chat I had like two hundred at-mentions on Twitter and most of them were like, “I cried during the finale and thank you so much for making the show.” It was a nice warm hug on finale day.

Paste: I definitely can relate. I’m a crier when it comes to sitcoms, especially when I’m so invested in the characters like on Community.
Brown: Oh, Adam. That’s nice.

Paste: And that montage at the end was so poignant. Throwing in the hashtag #sixseasonsandamovie was amazing.
Brown: Yeah, that was a nice surprise for us, too. I thought it was really genius for Dan Harmon to create an opportunity for us to say goodbye if that was our last episode because we shot that and it was written when we didn’t know what was going to happen with the show. Dan was kind of hesitant at that point with a forward reaching look at all of us in case it was our last episode.

Paste: Speaking of Dan, there have been rumors* regarding the fact that he might step down as a showrunner. Have you caught wind of anything about that? (This interview took place hours before news broke Harmon wouldn’t return as showrunner.)
Brown: I know absolutely nothing. Literally my job is to show up, say my lines and be on time. That’s what I specialize in. Anything that is going on behind the scenes is really none of my business. I love working with Dan and couldn’t imagine the show without him. I’m not sure on what his dreams and aspirations are and I don’t know what the behind the scenes negotiations are. I do know that we’ve all be reassured that even though he isn’t our showrunner he will still be involved with the show on a day to day basis. I doubt the viewers would even be able to see the difference because Dan believes in the show and his heart is in the show. I doubt that would change even if he technically is running the show or not. I really do hope he is around next season.

Paste: Before we look forward, can we look back to when this all started? Did you ever imagine when you signed on as Shirley that there’d be such off the wall episodes that have never been seen before on TV?
Brown: Not at all. I watched the video game episode [Thursday’s “Digital Estate Planning”] after the chat and I thought to myself, “We’re really getting away with this?” There were only probably five minutes of live action in the show and the rest were 8-bit video game graphics circa 1982. Like, what? It was such a magical moment to realize how NBC trusts us and how much they allow us to play.

There are always episodes like that. I was really excited to do the Law & Order episode [“Basic Lupine Urology”]. I don’t think anyone was as excited as me when I saw that first ‘dong dong’ in the script. I get exited often when I see those types of episodes.

Paste: Was that your favorite “special” episode?
Brown: You know I have this thing where it was my favorite to film and my favorite to watch because I am an absolute Law & Order junkie. SVU and the flagship, I am 100 percent in there. So for me I know the beats and can feel the beats of a Law & Order episode and that Community version is solid. It is a Law & Order episode; it’s in there. It was most certainly my favorite episode to watch and film.

I also love the flashback episodes because I love that we can play these ridiculous, fake scenarios. I love the new one this year where we get to be in the fake insane asylum [“Curriculum Unavailable”] and got to see all of the stuff with the Dean. The show has been such a gift.

Paste: I agree and think that the Law & Order episode is probably my favorite. I think Megan Ganz is brilliant.
Brown: Ganz is a treasure. She really is a treasure.

Paste: But do you think that some of these type of episodes is a little double-edged sword with attracting new viewers?
Brown: I kind of feel like whoever is going to watch Community is already watching and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I feel like we’ve made a beautiful show for 3 million people; 3 million Nielsen watching people. I believe there are more people watching than are being counted because I feel like there are a lot of college kids getting together watching in the rec room and that’s not counted. A lot of people are watching online and there’s a lot of time shifting with our show and that’s not monitored either. That being said, even if it’s 3 million or 6 million, that’s a good amount. It’s like a love letter to a certain type of viewer. The people who get it, love it. We could have this conversation again in three years after we’ve been in syndication – fingers crossed we make it there – and then we’ll see if new people starting from the beginning can get on board.

I don’t think it’s the type of show that is so exclusive and so niche that regular people can’t understand it. I mean, I’m a black woman over 30 and this is not technically supposed to be my demographic and I would watch Community if I wasn’t on it. Now, I’d need to watch it from the beginning probably because a lot of the things that work are callbacks to previous stuff. Like “Daybreak” by Michael Haggins. The fact that random characters whistle or hum that song at random times is a little gift for people who have been watching the show from the beginning. So if you didn’t watch the Halloween episode when that was introduced it’s just some weird thing a guy or girl on the show is doing; you’re missing a lot of the little fun stuff. I would say if people could watch from the beginning they would fall in love.

Paste: I definitely think the group of people watching it would hands down say that they love every minute of it.
Brown: I don’t think a small group of people who passionately love something is bad. I think that it’s a beautiful, here I go, “community” that we all created. Those of us that do that show are having a little love fest and I hope we can continue having it for six seasons and a movie. But if it’s four seasons and a graduation, that’s still a good run.

Paste: And how much do you know about the future?
Brown: I’m hearing that we would start filming in the second week of August. I know nothing about the new season. We usually don’t know what’s in store for us until we get that first script. I’ll know then what’s coming for us. I would hope that over the course of the season we see some of the members of the study group start to move towards graduation because that would be gratifying for me. I know we’re not the biggest studiers in the world; we’re not the smartest bunch of people. I know that Shirley probably opened whatever book they were studying maybe twice. I don’t know if everyone will get out in four years, but it would be great to see people like Annie who are academically inclined to start to make that move.

Paste: Is there anything you want to say to the fans? An open letter of sorts?
Brown: Just “thank you.” I’ve been really blessed to actually form friendships with some of the people who watch the show thanks to Twitter or if they come to a panel so we can hug and take pictures. We’re all a family. It’s not just us doing the show; the people who watch it are part of the family. I hope more than anything when this show ends that people will discuss this weird little show that was on NBC for however long, and they’ll say how much interaction with the fans and how much it meant rather than how long it lasted. The fans have made us relevant. As amazing as Dan Harmon and the crew, cast and writers are on this show, we’re relevant because the fans made it so and they cared.

I’ll take flashmobs and art shows over a million faceless people that I have no interaction with that have Nielsen boxes. I’m very grateful. If I can say anything to our fans it’s thank you from the bottom of my heart for watching our strange little show.