The Untold Truth Of Quinta Brunson

Quinta Brunson is no stranger to television viewers, but 2022 is shaping up to be a big year for the talented actor, comedian, writer, and producer. Brunson first garnered attention for the comedy videos she posted online when they became viral sensations. This forged a path to television, with Brunson appearing in numerous shows over the past few years.

Brunson's visibility took a huge leap forward in early 2022 with the debut of "Abbott Elementary," a new ABC sitcom in which she is both star and creator. Set in a Philadelphia public school, the show follows a group of teachers as they encounter the daily challenges of educating children. As Brunson told Slate, she'd never seen a TV series set within a school that came at it from the same perspective she envisioned. "A lot of people I think have created school shows with the idea that no one wants to be there... the students, the teachers," she explained. "Not me."

Her journey from posting 15-second videos on Instagram to starring in her own network television sitcom is a fascinating one, so read on to discover the untold truth of Quinta Brunson.

She created the first-ever Instagram series to go viral

Quinta Brunson wasn't the first person to create a scripted series for Instagram, but, as she told Vogue, she can lay claim to having the first Instagram series to go viral. That series, "The Girl Who's Never Been on a Nice Date," features Brunson in brief clips — all limited to less than 15 seconds in length — in which she's on various dates, all linked by her character's astounded refrain whenever her date pays for something: "He got money!"

As Brunson revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the viral success she experienced was a total fluke. According to Brunson, some friends "pushed me to put that video online ... I had never even used Instagram as a platform. I really wasn't into the internet at all."

Going viral made Brunson completely re-examine her approach to her own comedy — and showed her the path to a whole new platform she hadn't even considered. "I was doing my comedy onstage," she told the Times. "For something I just happened to put on my Instagram profile to get all of this attention — it was pretty nuts. It showed me like, [okay], here's an entire stage over here." 

Quinta Brunson found unexpected fame as a meme

The runaway success of Quinta Brunson's "Girl Who's Never Been on a Nice Date" not only took her by surprise, it catapulted her to a whole other rung of internet fame when her catchphrase — "He got money!" —  became a meme. During an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Brunson explained that she became a meme because many people who watched her Instagram videos assumed they were real and not a comedy sketch. It wasn't until friends started sending her memes of herself that she realized what a phenomenon she'd become.

As Brunson told the Los Angeles Times, "It's not like I've ever made a meme on purpose. It's usually my face that turns into a meme and then people decide how that meme will be used."

Becoming a meme led to an awkward conversation with her mother, who had no idea what a meme even was. "My mom Googled me recently," Brunson said during an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" "She said, 'Quinta, I saw a picture of you on the Google. And it was your face with some writing on it.'" (The "writing" her mother was referring to was "People be gay.") "'What does that mean, Quinta?'" she asked.

Quinta Brunson became the queen of BuzzFeed

With her viral success, Quinta Brunson knew she was on to something. However, she wasn't sure how to take it to the next level. The solution came, she told Cosmopolitan, when a comedian friend invited her to participate in a BuzzFeed taste test video. Her friend kept inviting her back to appear in more videos, and soon other BuzzFeed creators also asked her to appear in theirs. "The more time I spent there, the more it felt like BuzzFeed was the place I wanted to be," she said, recognizing an opportunity to create "perspective-bending videos."

Eventually, she'd become such a familiar face around the BuzzFeed offices that she landed a job as a junior producer, given a quota of creating six videos each month. "It was a lot of pressure, but everyone else was doing it so I had to step up," Brunson told Cosmopolitan, who aimed for "relatable content that could go viral." The success of Brunson's videos led to the creation of her first series for BuzzFeed, "Broke," which was an out-of-the-box hit when the first episode racked up a million views. When "Broke" was eventually sold to YouTube Red, Brunson decided to leave BuzzFeed for greener pastures. 

She wrote about becoming a viral sensation

Quinta Brunson decided to share her thoroughly unique experience going viral on Instagram, finding herself used as a meme, and then creating content for BuzzFeed in a book. Released in 2016, "She Memes Well" offers readers a collection of essays where she shares her thoughts on a wide array of subject mater, while recounting her journey from struggling comedian to superstar online content creator.

Discussing the book with The New York Times, Brunson admitted that opening up about herself proved to be far more difficult than coming up with jokes. "I would come back to it and try my hardest to turn sentences in my life into paragraphs, and then turn those paragraphs into chapters," she explained. To do that, she added, she needed to pull herself out of the mindset of a comedian, in which "you turn things that happened to you into one-liners, into something to get a joke." Writing a book, she said, "requires you to undo all the one-liners."

As Brunson told the Times, she drew inspiration from previous books written by the likes of Gabrielle Union, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey. "Those books hugged me at times when I needed the hug," she said.

Abbott Elementary was inspired by Quinta Brunson's real-life teacher

Making its television premiere in early 2022, "Abbott Elementary" represents the inevitable next stage of Quinta Brunson's journey as a content creator, serving as creator, star, and writer of her own network television sitcom. A workplace comedy set in an elementary school, notes the ABC series' lead sheet, "Abbott Elementary" focuses on "a group of dedicated, passionate teachers." Brunson plays Jeanine Teagues, an earnest second-grade teacher.

Both Brunson's character and the show's title were inspired by one of her real-life teachers, a middle-school teacher named Ms. Abbott. "Ms. Abbott has always stuck with me throughout my life," Brunson told the Los Angeles Times. "In a way, I didn't know why she was my favorite ... I think that's what a good teacher does. I think it's like the Maya Angelou quote, 'People always remember how you make them feel,' and she always made me feel good."

Like much of Brunson's comedy, "Abbott Elementary" has a dual purpose, striving for laughs while also illustrating that inner-city schools catering to lower-income kids continue to suffer in America. "My goal with the show is to make people laugh, but I do hope that it gets people thinking," Brunson said.

Viewers have seen (and heard) Quinta Brunson in a lot of TV shows

While "Abbott Elementary" may be Quinta Brunson's highest-profile TV project to date, it's far from her first. After her BuzzFeed series "Broke" was sold to the short-lived YouTube Red subscription service, Brunson's career took off.

As her IMDb credits illustrate, she went on to appear in the BuzzFeed series "Up for Adoption," "Zack & Justin," and "Quinta vs. Everything." After that came a guest spot on the Fox comedy "New Girl," a trio of appearances on The CW's horror comedy "iZOmbie," and a recurring role in the ABC sitcom "Single Parents." She also nabbed a role in the Seth Rogen-starring movie "An American Pickle." In 2021, she was seen in a recurring role in the TBS comedy "Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail," alongside Steve Buscemi and Daniel Radcliffe. 

Brunson really arrived, however, when she became part of the ensemble of HBO's "A Black Lady Sketch Show," sharing the screen with a formidable roster of Black female comedians including Robin Thede, Issa Rae, Gabrielle Dennis, and Ashley Nicole Black. She can also be heard in the animated Netflix comedy "Big Mouth," voicing a character named, appropriately enough, Quinta.

Her least-favorite job was working in retail

Prior to becoming a viral sensation and, ultimately, a TV series star and exec producer, Quinta Brunson worked a series of dead-end, regular jobs. Interviewed by the AV Club, she singled out her least favorite: working at American Eagle. While she was quick to point out her co-workers were "great," she was not a fan of the "menial tasks" she was expected to perform. "Folding jeans," she recalled. "I don't like that kind of stuff."

Another reason why her memories of working at American Eagle were less than fond was that employees were enticed to apply for an American Eagle credit card. "They encouraged us to do it, and it did nothing but f**k up my credit at a very young age," she told the outlet.

In that same interview, Brunson was asked to recall the first thing she'd seen that inspired her to pursue a career in comedy, and she offered a surprising answer. "'Even Stevens' is and was a big part of my comedic appreciation journey," Brunson revealed, crediting the Disney Channel hit that launched the career of a young Shia LaBeouf for having "transformed what comedy was to me."

Quinta Brunson had a dual purpose in creating Abbott Elementary

While earlier TV workplace comedies have been set in offices (say, "The Office") or a big-box retail store ("Superstore"), setting her first network television series, "Abbott Elementary," in a school was not a random choice for Quinta Brunson.

Discussing the show at a virtual press conference in late 2021, reported Deadline, Brunson explained why she wanted to focus on teachers. According to Brunson, her aim with "Abbott Elementary" had been to allow viewers to forge a "different relationship with the characters. I think teachers deserve that." Previous shows set in schools, Brunson added, tended to make the characters "seem one-dimensional and they are the least one-dimensional people there are, it's the least one-dimensional job."

Brunson was also eager for "Abbott Elementary" to "go behind that veil" and show viewers an unflinchingly accurate look at the state of public education in America circa 2022. "We don't want to create an environment where we say these issues are okay and shouldn't be fixed," Brunson said, adding, "That's not what we're going to do."

She has met celebrities who are as cool as she'd hoped

It's been said that people should never meet their heroes to avoid disappointment. Now that Quinta Brunson has achieved a level of success that's seen her work with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, she's had the opportunity to put that advice to the test. 

In an interview with the AV Club, Brunson revealed two celebs she'd worked with who turned out to be as cool as she'd hoped: Seth Rogen and Daniel Radcliffe. Rogen, she said, "is a person who really is what is presented ... he's a nice guy, you know?"

As for Radcliffe, with whom she worked in "Miracle Workers: The Oregon Trail," she admitted her "expectations of him were low" because he's not only a former child star, but also super famous. Admitting she wasn't sure what he'd be like, she was pleasantly surprised to learn "he is one of the kindest, most normal human people I think I've ever met in the industry, period." "I just felt like he was the homie!" she exclaimed.

Quinta Brunson made Forbes' 30 under 30 list after going broke

It's a testament to the unique level of fame that Quinta Brunson achieved from her viral videos that she managed to become a celebrity while earning only the most modest living from it — fame without the fortune. This is crystallized in the fact that Brunson, in 2017, was named as one of Forbes' "30 Under 30" — after having blown what little money she made from her viral Instagram series "The Girl Who's Never Been on a Nice Date."

As Brunson told Cosmopolitan, she attempted to cash in on her viral success by setting up a sweet little cottage industry, selling T-shirts featuring slogans from the series. However, she did not spend what she earned wisely.

As Brunson told Cosmopolitan, she "spent it all on too many shopping sprees and going out to eat." Interviewed by Vogue, she joked that among her most frivolous purchases was a pair of burgundy-hued leather pants. "They were really cute, but realistically, when was I ever going to wear those?" she quipped. The experience of squandering what should have been a windfall, she told People, proved to be "humbling." 

She's a trained dancer who loves to be 'active'

While promoting her BuzzFeed series "Up for Adoption" with People in 2017, Quinta Brunson revealed a fact about herself that may not be evident to the casual fan. "I'm a dancer, I've been trained in dance all my life," she said. In fact, Brunson's love of dance was spotlighted in a video she shared on Facebook. Walking in Hollywood, she approaches a costumed Darth Vader and Charlie Chaplin as they danced and proceeds to boogie down with both of them. 

In addition to enjoying dance, Brunson mentioned, in the interview, another hobby she'd embraced after moving to Los Angeles. "I love rock climbing because it's active," she said. "It's fun, but you're working out your back and stuff, and your arms."

However, her absolute "favorite thing in the world to do" is spend a day at Universal Studios Hollywood, enjoying all the attractions at the famed Los Angeles theme park. "I pretty much go if not twice a month then once a month," she told People.

Growing up in Philly shaped her comedy sensibility

Before heading west, Quinta Brunson was born and raised in Philadelphia. Being a native Philadelphian, she told the Los Angeles Times, has definitely shaped her approach to comedy. While living in Los Angeles had made her "more of a calm and free spirit," she credits her rough-and-tumble upbringing for getting her to L.A. "Philly, which is kind of a hustle and grind city, is great, and I'm happy that I was born there and it made me who I am," she declared.

While Brunson confesses to missing Philly — it's no coincidence it's the setting for her ABC sitcom "Abbott Elementary" — she also seems to have no intention of moving back. Los Angeles, she told the Times, "has a little bit more of a relaxing energy. Yes, people still do hustle and grind, but I learned to appreciate taking my time a little bit more. Maybe that's the privilege of a career in L.A."

Meanwhile, she received a big hometown honor courtesy of city council member Helen Gym. A former teacher, Gym proudly tweeted that the council had "passed my resolution to honor and celebrate trailblazing writer, actor, comedian, and Philadelphia native, Quinta Brunson."

Quinta Brunson is a proud college dropout

Quinta Brunson may portray a teacher on "Abbott Elementary," but a college education is something she doesn't actually possess in real life. As a profile on Brunson in the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, she dropped out of college.

As she told Cosmopolitan, Brunson was attending Temple University — studying advertising and communications — when she "became obsessed with 'Saturday Night Live' and 'The Office.'" Researching the actors she saw on those shows, one common thread seemed to be Chicago's famed Second City comedy troupe. As it happened, her boyfriend at the time was living in Chicago, and whenever she visited him she'd also take classes at Second City. "I was the only Black 18-year-old girl in class, but I felt like my perspective was valued in the room," she recalled.

As she increasingly focused on comedy, she admitted, "eventually my grades started to suffer." She decided to "take a semester off" and made an exploratory trip to Los Angeles, where she quickly found occasional gigs, such as being a "styling assistant" for Elle magazine and an assistant on the sketch comedy series "Key & Peele," while also working in her dreaded retail to "pay the bills." After this, she decided to stay in Southern California for good. If it means we get to see way more of her, we're all for it.