Quinta Brunson knows how to go viral—it’s just not a priority right now.
The comedian and actor first caught the internet’s attention with her 2014 Instagram skit about a girl who’s never been on a nice date. That exposure led to a position at BuzzFeed, where she produced and starred in a series of short-form clips designed to go, well, viral. Those opportunities put her on the path to roles on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, TBS’s Miracle Workers, and even her own upcoming ABC comedy Abbott Elementary, which she created and stars in.
But to Brunson, her work, past and present, has never been about going viral.
“I would say I was more about relatability than virality,” Brunson says in an episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “More recently, I’ve been throwing out the idea of virality, because I do want to make things with staying power and with meaning. I prefer to build something over time with people, and for it to hit who it hits. And who it doesn’t, that’s fine.”
Even when that something is She Memes Well, her new collection of essays about growing up in West Philadelphia and finding her lane as a creator—or, as she once put it in a previous interview with Fast Company while she was writing it: “The thing I’ve hated most in my life, ever.”
“Writing a book forces you to take things in your life that you, for the sake of surviving and moving on, have turned into one sentence—a book forces you to take that sentence and turn it into paragraphs. Then you have to turn those paragraphs into chapters. It’s excruciating,” she says. “And me being a comedic writer or even having done stand-up, that’s what we do: We turn our stories into one-liners. Having to undo that, I hated it.”
You can’t do it all
“I like to do everything myself, and I wanted to write this book fully. I didn’t want an editor to say anything to me. I was like, ‘You’re going to get what you get.’ And she’s like, ‘That’s not a book.’ I needed help. I hated to say that, especially [for] something that’s creative, especially [for] my book. It’s my story. But I needed help digging out what made it a book—and that was something very big for me as a big do-it-yourself person. It’s a lesson that I continue to learn. It’s not like I don’t like working with people. I do. I love working with people. But when it’s something that’s sincerely just mine, I get a little iffy.”
The making of a viral moment
“I came up with the idea of doing that [girl who’s never been on a nice date] character because I was asked to put on a sketch show at The Comedy Store here in Los Angeles, which is notoriously not a sketch place—it’s a stand-up place. But it was an opportunity to do something and be seen. I was young and hungry, and I wanted to do comedy and be seen doing it. It was in front of an all-Black audience, which we didn’t know would be the case when we put the sketch show together. So that was really make-or-break. If it wasn’t good, I was going to know. Not only an all-Black audience, but an all-Black audience that came to see stand-up. They didn’t come there for the Woo! Zip! Zap! Zops! They came for stand-up. So I started it there, and that audience loved it. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have something.'”
Finding creativity in the corners
“Some of the most creative things I see are not the most successful—they’re the most advancing and genre bending and help create the new waves. Sometimes we see tweets about how insert person here is the only person doing things like this. It’s not about that person, but about the way we all view creativity and success. Some of the people who inspire me the most creatively are the least famous people in the world. Some of them are stand-up comics who only do The Cellar in New York and you’ll never see them on TV. But to me, they are the most creative, because they’re creating something brand-new. And to be honest, a lot of us take our cues from those people sometimes. We don’t know it, but it’s like, ‘This person created something new—I want to create something new, too.’ We’re always pushing things for each other in these creative communities.”