Interview: Yvette Nicole Brown Talks ‘Community’ and the Origin of the ‘Shirley Voice’

Yvette on Community's ratings: "I knew there was no way that this many people are recognizing me every day and they’re not watching"

community-yvette-nicole-brownYvette Nicole Brown stars as the always sassy, always funny divorcée (well, now re-married to her ex-husband) Shirley on one of my favorite shows, Community.

I’ve met Yvette a couple of times and she’s one of the nicest people around who just lights up the room.

When I saw her this past weekend at WonderCon, she did just that. I got a chance to talk to her in a roundtable interview where she talked about those pesky ratings, the origin of the Shirley voice and if the character ever leaks into personal life.

Follow Yvette on Twitter!

Community airs on Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC

Were you guys confident that the ratings would be as good as they were?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  Not at all. Not at all. You know why? Let me say why… because we know that more of our fans watch online. I knew for sure that our fans weren’t monitored by Nielsen, because you know, I used to be on a show called Drake and Josh, which had great numbers, and I could not walk outside without a kid or their parent recognizing me from Drake and JoshCommunity is Drake and Josh times 10, times 30.  So, I knew there was no way that this many people are recognizing me every day and they’re not watching.  They are watching, but they are just not being counted.  So that being said, I kind of felt that maybe the same millions that have been watching uncounted will watch again and we’ll get our little 1.3 or 1.5 and it’ll be a fun ride. But, I guess they told 10 friends or they found their way to someplace where a Nielsen box was.  I was shocked.  I got up early that day because the ratings come in by 8:30 or 9:00, so I literally was on Twitter like, “Community ratings, Oh Lord.”  And there they were, and it was glorious.  So no, I did not expect that.

Can you talk about the Shirley voice?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  Yes, you know what’s so funny, the Shirley voice was something I did as an actor, it was an acting choice I made. And I remember the first time I did it I asked Dan if it was okay to do that and he was like, “Sure, do it.” 

I never knew that three years later that we’d find out that all the time’s I’ve been doing that voice that I’ve been flirting with someone.  It’s very disturbing. She’s talked to her kids like that, she’s talked to Annie and Britta like that, and I think she might have talked to the priest that married her like that. There are a lot of instances where she’s done that voice, so it was very shocking to find out that is her sexy voice, but there it is.

How often do you find that the writers are pulling from your actual attributes and adding that to your character?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  You know what’s so funny is it’s hard to say, because… and  I don’t think anyone on the show would say all the time, because these are some seriously flawed people.  They are all a little crazy.  So, I don’t think I want to say, “Yeah, that is me.” 

I think that maybe my Christianity informs her, but even that’s to the nth degree because Shirley is very judgmental and I am not.  So, there are some things that Shirley has had to say that I have cringed at, because it’s not the way God is and it’s not the way Christians are supposed to be, but I know it’s made bigger for comedy effect.  I hope there’s not a lot, I mean she’s very rageful.  She’s violent.  She slept with Chang. There is a lot of stuff she’s doing that I’m hoping is nothing like me, so I want to say very little.

Does the character leak into your personal life, though? Like do you find yourself having Shirley moments?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  Well, you know what’s funny, “That’s nice” is something that I say.  In the pilot, I said “that’s nice” to something Joel did, Yvette said “that’s nice” to Joel, and I didn’t know that we were still rolling, so it made it in the pilot randomly.  So now, they write it in, and also maybe 30% of the time, I’m just saying it. I ad lib it a lot. So, that’s a little weird to be out in the world, and I’ll say “that’s nice” at a grocery store and they will go, “Oh you’re doing Shirley” and I’m like, “No, that’s me, that’s actually my own.”

Is that where Joel gives the show the name?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  It might be, because I said, “Oh that’s nice.”  It was something like, “We have now become a community.” And it was a take where the way Joel said it touched me, touched Yvette and it was like, “that’s nice,”, and it stuck.  I can’t believe you remember that, my God, encyclopedia brain.

Are you surprised that people remember things like that? 

Yvette Nicole Brown:  Yes, yes, I’m surprised.  We have people quoting the show to us all the time.  We film it for 80 hours a week, right.  It’s like 14 to 16 hour days 6 days a week, so about 80 hours. So we get our fill of any given episode.  So, by the time it comes on, we watch it to see how they edit it together and what take they chose or whatever, but it’s not like really watching like a fan.  We have our own catch phrases and silliness from the 16 hours, like we have little jokes from that.  So, I’ll have fans  go remember when you said…? And I’ll be like “no, I don’t, but I’m glad you do because that means you’ve watched it a few times.” But no I don’t.

Because you’re not pulling from 30 minutes, you’re pulling from 80 hours.

Yvette Nicole Brown:  Eighty hours, I can’t remember some random thing.  But I’m a fan like that of other shows, like Cosby is big for me, Golden Girls is big for me, I love Chuck like that and I love Friday Night Lights like that.

Do you feel confident the show is coming back?

Yvette Nicole Brown:  You know, before Friday at 8:30 in the morning, I did not.  I kind of felt like we had run our course and it was a nice experiment and hopefully the fans loved it.  But after seeing the numbers we got, I think that that has given us all a renewed hope that we might be able to pull this thing out. 

If our fans show up again, if they show up next week and then the week after that, I know Big Bang Theory is a formidable opponent and American Idol is huge, and I get it, they’re great shows.  But if our fans give us just like two or three more weeks and show NBC that there is a good fan base that will tune in live, then we really have a good shot I think.

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