Yvette Nicole Brown knows how to own the screen. The actor, host, and comedian has been featured in everything from 500 Days Of Summer and Lady And The Tramp to Always A Bridesmaid. Brown has been working for almost two decades in television and has appeared in episodes of series like Curb Your Enthusiasm, That’s So Raven, The Office, Boston Legal, and Drake And Josh. Brown’s claim t0 fame, however, was her role in Community. Her performance as the religious, soft-spoken but firm Shirley Bennett continues to garner acclaim years after she left the show in 2014 (the series ended in 2015 after six seasons).
Brown is a vocal fan of science fiction, connecting on Twitter with fellow lovers of Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (she even pops up in Avengers: Endgame), and The Walking Dead. She currently stars as the no-nonsense dean Sherilyn Thomas in the new Disney+ sports dramedy Big Shot, led by John Stamos. In the show, Brown expertly delivers tight-lipped but effusive one-liners, making the most of her limited screen time. Ahead of Big Shot’s debut, Brown answered The A.V. Club’s 11 rapid-fire questions, including sharing her love for all things bread and Janet Jackson.
Yvette Nicole Brown: I grew up in East Cleveland, and we didn’t have a lot of money, so there weren’t a lot of outings as a family. But I do remember that my mom used to always take us to Big Boy. I know it doesn’t sound like a big outing, but we used to go to Big Boy and they used to have—I think they still have it—a hot fudge and ice cream sandwich. It’s two pieces of fudge cake with ice cream in the middle and more fudge [with whipped cream and a cherry] on top. One of my greatest memories as a kid was eating those and spending time there with my mom and my brother.
2. What’s something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
YNB: I would say it was probably learning lines. You have to really know how to memorize lines as an actor. I was better at it when I was younger, but as I’m getting older, I sometimes go, “What was that again?” It’s really about training your mind to be able to grab the words off the page and hold onto them long enough to say it in front of the camera.
The A.V. Club: Do you remember a project you did where you felt like you were learning any tricks to overcome this?
YNB: It’s not happened during one particular project. Every single time I get a new job, I think about how I will do this. Some actors have the type of brain that can do this easily but others have to work a little harder, so I’m always trying to find and learn different tricks to help me memorize my lines.
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or got into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
YNB: I’ve tried this before, but I think I really mastered it during lockdown. I’m now really good at baking homemade bread without a bread-maker. My best friend, her name is Janine, and her mom, Mary, had an amazing bread recipe. I’ve made it through the years, but I never had the concentrated time to focus on making sure it is perfect. Now, after a year and a half of working at it, I think I’ve finally got it down, especially without a bread-maker.
AVC: A lot of people will be envious of that. Bread-making was a huge quarantine trend. What kind of bread is it?
YNB: Yeah, it’s just a basic white bread with yeast, but it’s so good. It’s buttery, delicious, and just a little bit sweet.
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
YNB: I’m going to go with my hometown favorite. There’s a native dish called a Polish Boy. It’s an entire sausage sandwich with coleslaw, crinkle-cut french fries, and barbecue sauce. It’s the most delicious thing you will ever have. Cleveland is the best place to get it. There’s a place called Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue and also Whitmore’s BBQ. To get that favorite meal, you just have to get on the plane and go there, and I have gotten on a plane just to get a Polish Boy before.
AVC: It’s almost like your comfort food then since it’s also from your hometown. Is that what draws you to it?
YNB: It’s not just necessarily because it’s from my hometown. I mean, Polish Boys are that, but I also love it in general. I also love chili and potatoes. Not necessarily together but also together, they do taste good. Those two dishes feel most like home to me. You can make potatoes in a thousand different ways and they’re all good. Chili is amazing, no matter what.
YNB: I would like a teleporter. I would like to be able to just walk into my own version of a TARDIS and take myself anywhere. The TARDIS, of course, takes you through time and space, but I would just want to go from here to, like, a Ralph’s grocery store without having to drive or go back home to Ohio and visit my family without having to fly.
AVC: That’s a good one, especially to see family easily now with everything that’s going on. But if you did have a teleporter, let’s just say, and you could go to any other dream destination you haven’t explored yet, where would you go?
YNB: I’ve never been to Hawaii. I have a friend who is currently there shooting a Lifetime movie. She is sending us lots of pictures of the island and the beaches, and they look so great, so I would definitely go to Hawaii if I could.
YNB: I have so many. I’ve met so many wonderful people, but I’m going to say Janet Jackson. I’m a huge Janet Jackson fan, and I had publicly campaigned for a couple of years that I wanted to meet her. So when she did her Vegas residency, I was guest co-hosting the talk show The Real. They were kind enough to work it out where I got this unique experience of going there and getting to meet Janet. And I tell you, she was as lovely and wonderful and kind and beautiful as I always imagined she would be. She totally lived up to my idea of her. She exceeded it, really.
AVC: That sounds amazing. Do you remember what your reaction was when you saw her personally for the first time?
YNB: There is a video of my reaction. They showed it on The Real. I cried. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was a kid. She’s just been such a presence in my life. She and her whole family, they’ve been a part of my life, my musical memories and my television memories ever since I was a kid. All of those emotions of being a fan for that many years came straight out of my eyes. And she was so kind about it. She gave me a hug. It was nice.
YNB: I was working as an office temp at Sony. I don’t have anything against Sony, I get that it was a job I had to do. I was hired for two weeks to work a Xerox machine and record all of the memories of this one man’s life. I don’t even remember who the man was. It was so traumatic I blocked it out. I think they were going to do a biopic on him, whoever he was, and they had dinner napkins with notes he had written and letters he had written. Everything that had to do with this man’s life, they needed a photocopy of it, so I was in my own little room with my own copy machine, and I was there sadly all by myself for nine hours a day just xeroxing. It was horrible.
AVC: Did the biopic even get made?
YNB: I don’t even know if it got made. I would’ve remembered back then if it got made, but I don’t think so.
AVC: Do you remember when this was?
YNB: I was still temping, so it was 18 or 20 years ago, maybe in, like, 1999 or 2000.
YNB: I would say the Huxtables from The Cosby Show, preferably as Theo Huxtable’s wife.
9. What’s the first piece of art, or earliest piece of media, that inspired you to go into your field?
YNB: This is a hard question. I remember seeing Berry Gordy’s The Wiz when I was a kid. Just seeing the likes of Diana Ross perform at that level made me realize Black people could do it too and do it well, so I’m going to go with The Wiz.
YNB: This is clichéd but I’m going to go with my mom. Everything I do comedically, it was born in the house I grew up in. My mom is definitely the funniest person I know. But I do know a lot of comedians. Kevin Hart, Loni Love—I have a lot of friends that do stand-up and are very funny, so it’s hard to pick one as the funniest person.
AVC: It sounds like your mom definitely has influenced your sense of humor. How does she feel or what does she say about your work and comedy performances?
YNB: It’s true, she has. And she loves my comedy. She thinks I’m hilarious. Actually, she thinks me and my brother are both hilarious. We had a house where there was always laughter. We found humor in hard times and knew how to laugh through tears. She encouraged us to pursue comedy. She was always funny—still is. She’s still with us thankfully. We had a real comedic family.
YNB: Let’s see. It would be a sweet, buttery bread, and there would be bacon between that bread for sure. There would be some sort of shrimp. Yeah, a bacon, lettuce, tomato, shrimp sandwich with a side of crinkle-cut fries.
AVC: They can use your perfected recipe for bread.