Learning What’s Important
Yvette Nicole Brown values people over paychecks.
Yvette Nicole Brown is the kind of person who hugs you when she first meets you, makes sure you get the most comfortable seat in the room and takes a selfie with you before you leave.
Her effervescent personality and love of people shines through in her every interaction. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood around her.
This fall, the star of Community and The Odd Couple can be seen in the new ABC series The Mayor. In the comedy, Brown plays Dina, a single mom who helps her son Courtney (Brandon Micheal Hall) after he suddenly finds himself mayor of his small hometown of Fort Grey. Courtney only ran for mayor to bring attention to his stagnating rap career and now realizes he has a responsibility to the people who voted for him.
Emmys.com had the chance to talk to Brown about her new series, her long career, and her commitment to her community and her family.
The show isn’t about politics but the pilot has a bit of a political undertones. How political will the show get?
Yvette Nicole Brown: The beautiful thing is we are a comedy so we get to deal with things that are happening in the world through a comedic lens. So if it’s something like health care and everyone is scared about what is going to happen we may talk about a water shortage in Fort Grey.
So we can educate people who don’t know and we can kind of lighten the load for those that are in the trenches fighting for something that they care about. We can teach people about politics from a safe distance.
And Courtney is a character who is also learning about politics.
Brown: I love that Courtney is not ready to be mayor. He didn’t plan on being mayor. He made a stupid decision and this is what happened. But he wants to do good and we need to see someone want to do good from an altruistic perspective not from a self-serving perspective. There’s nothing wrong with getting a job you are not ready for; you just have to have a heart for people.
Dina raised a man who is conscious and wants his people to rise. I feel like if we can do a show where we can show the positive side of politics, the positive side of single parenthood, the positive side of growing up in a town where you don’t have a lot, I think we are doing a good thing.
Because there’s segments of society that haven’t seen a lot of people of color and I think that’s caused some of the division in the world because they don’t know. If we get to open the window and show them a bit of that, that would be great.
When you think about what roles to take, how important is it for a show to have the opportunity to do more than merely entertain viewers?
Brown: I’m very proud to be a woman. I’m very proud to be a black woman. I’m very proud to be a curvy black woman with natural hair. So whenever I book a job I want to make sure that no one who falls into those categories is diminished by me needing a check. I try not to take roles just because my rent is due.
Does the role do something that adds something to the national discussion in some way because it’s funny? Because it’s insightful? Because it has heart? I want to always do entertainment that people can watch from eight to 80.
I started my career on a kids show. I try to make sure that any kid that ever watched me on Drake & Josh can continue to watch my entire career without having to be of a certain age to enjoy what I’m doing. I think it’s very important.
I do see myself as a role model. Not from arrogant or puffed up way but in the sense that somebody needs to show the babies the path. I don’t take that as a burden. I take that as an honor and a privilege and I try to choose roles that will line up with that.
You have been in this industry for a long time. How do you find the current landscape in terms of diversity and opportunities for women?
Brown: I feel like in television there are a lot more opportunities for people of color. I wish we had more people of color in writers’ rooms and executive offices. I love that ABC has Channing (Dungey) as our head and Ayo (Davis) as our head of casting. Those two black women are trying to pull in as many diverse people as possible so that so that television reflects what the world is. That this beautiful melting pot that is America is reflected.
But I do think until we get more black directors and black writers and black female directors, black female writers, Asian female writers and all of that, until we start seeing diversity on all levels of television, we’ll see more faces but we probably won’t see the true heart of what their experience is.
I always reference shows like Insecure and Atlanta because those two shows have primarily an African American writing staff. Queen Sugar has an all female directing staff so we are seeing images in a way we’ve never seen images before because a women’s eye is different than a man’s eye. A Latino person’s eye is different than a white person’s eye.
It’s not one is better than the other. It’s just rich. It’s all these different flavors that we haven’t seen before and the more people you invite to the party, the better the party is.
You are very involved in non-profit organizations including DonorsChoose.org, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, the Amazing Grace Conservatory and Lollipop Theater Network. How did all of that begin?
Brown: I just kind of feel like when you’ve been blessed, you are supposed to bless others. I don’t understand the mentality of I’ve got mine, you get yours. We did not have a lot of money growing up. I know what it feels like to have dreams that are just outside of your reach. To want things that you can’t have. I know what it’s like as a kid to not have crayons
One of the first projects I funded on DonorsChoose.org was that every student in the class have a box of 64 crayons. That’s not an iPad. That’s not a trip to Paris but to that baby— because I was that baby—it’s your box and those are your crayons. I just feel like we are all our brother’s keeper. We’ve all been young. The best of us will make it to be old and in those two places of life you need help.
Was your family involved in giving back when you were growing up?
Brown: My mom used to do this thing, “be nice” gifts. My mom has this ability to talk to somebody one time and remember something that they liked and sometime within the next six months to a year she will find that thing and just pop over to their house and give it to them. She instilled in us. You’re only ever blessed to be a blessing to others.
In 2014 you left Community to care for your father. How difficult was it to be so open about something so personal?
Brown: I needed people to understand that there are things more important than money and fame. It’s a job. I loved being on Community. I loved my cast. It was lovely but that’s not more important than my dad. If I have to choose between taking care of my dad and being on a television show, I’m going to choose my dad and, guess what, you should too.
I think it’s important to shift perspectives when we can and realign some thinking in a world where being on a billboard or being the hottest whatever is the most important thing and that’s a lie. Your connections with people is so much bigger than how many followers you have or if someone thinks your dress is pretty. People are what matter.
Money and stuff and fame are not what matter. We all need to be reminded that when you have a choice you have to choose people and not just your people. Choose everybody. If all you’re doing is blessing people you know, you’re still doing it wrong.
How is your dad doing now?
Brown: He’s doing good. He has dementia. But he’s in a good place.
You also do a ton of voice over work. We can currently hear you on Elena of Avalor, Superhero Girls and Supermansion.
Brown: I love the challenge of having to put everything in your voice. It’s a good acting exercise to be able to convey stuff because I’m a rubbery actor and my face moves a lot. In voice over, you can’t see my face.
You are a huge TV fan yourself. You’ve moderated the Once Upon a Time panel at Comic Con a few times and you are frequently a guest on AMC’s Talking Dead.
Brown: I just believe if you love something you should be vocal about it. I don’t know why you would hide your love. I’m the hugest, nerdiest fan girl. I think we need to celebrate other people more. There’s too much self-celebration.
The Mayor premieres October 3 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.