When it comes to Yvette Nicole Brown and the other cast members on NBC's Community, what you see is what you get. "We're all pretty much like our characters," says Brown, who plays Shirley on the subversive yet sweet college sitcom. "Whenever we all go somewhere as a group, it's kind of like watching the show live. I mean, I can't even pretend any more that I'm not almost exactly like Shirley." The qualifying phrase there, mind you, is "almost exactly." Because Shirley, who is saccharine sweet but also self-righteous to a fault, is a heightened version of the actress. Shirley is the spitting image of Brown only if she's looking into a crazy funhouse mirror, as you'll see if you keep reading. Community airs at 7 p.m. CT Thursday on NBC.
What's your favorite thing about being on a sitcom like Community?
"We're always amazed that we are not just on a sitcom. We've been on a film noir set. We've been on a cartoon set. This show has morphed into so many different things and you get to be a thousand different characters, even though you're playing the same one. So that's been a great gift. The show straddles the line between brilliant and absurd. At some moments, it's totally like a lucid straightforward comedy. Then other moments, it's like Bizarro Land. But it kind of works in its craziness. And that's great as an actor to play."
In what ways are you most like Shirley and in what ways are you most unlike her?
"Shirley and I are both Christians and I do call people Pumpkin and Sweetie. That's where the main similarities are. I hope I'm not as judgmental as she is. There are things that Shirley has said and done in the name of Jesus that have made me go, 'Oh, no, Shirley. No.' We're both very loving. She tries to do things from a place of love at all times. She just fails miserably most of the time."
Shirley's also a bit of a phony, isn't she? For example, that sweet voice of hers is just an act, isn't it?
"As for the Shirley high-pitched voice, I kind of love her dual nature. She's so presentational in nature and she always wants to put out such a pretty picture with her clothing and her hair and everything is always just so. But it's not real. Shirley knows that it's not real and the audience knows it's not real, because whenever Shirley gets upset you see the sister girl come out. But I don't think that she's the high-pitched person or the sister girl. I think she's somewhere in the middle, kind of like me."
Do you have a favorite Shirley moment from the show so far?
"Some of the most fun I've had on set was the night that I shot all of the drunk photos [in the episode when the gang went to a bar]. I don't drink. It's nothing against those that do. It's not that kind of thing. It's just I am silly enough and crazy enough without it. When I drink, it really becomes a whole other story. So it was fun to portray that version of me. And it was really insane. I mean, there was tabletop dancing, there were lampshades involved, it was a whole other thing. So it was like a flashback to my old days in college. It was nice to get to revisit that for a second in a safe environment. No animals were harmed, no people were harmed and it was funny. And people got a kick out of seeing it, so it was cool."
What did you think earlier this season when Malcolm Jamal Warner was cast as your ex?
"My childhood dream come true. When I was 13 years old and watching The Cosby Show, I was like, 'I'm going to marry Theo.' And I've essentially married Theo, so that's awesome. Actually, I was campaigning for Malcolm to be my ex-husband from the very first day of the show. I've always said that if Shirley reconciles with her ex-husband I hope it is Malcolm Jamal Warner. And I think the producers and writers got sick of me saying his name. So it was kind of like, 'Shut up, Yvette, we hear you.'"
Who are some of the comedic actresses who most inspire you?
"I loved Bea Arthur, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Phylicia Rashad, people like that. I love people that comedically are grounded. Bea Arthur and Phylicia had this thing in common where they could give you a look and comedy would come just from their look. Then you had Betty White, who can play a nymphomaniac or an innocent, and you believe it. And Carol Burnett is just everything. She is just life to me. I hope to one day before I leave this earth to have accomplished something that those wonderful women I mentioned have accomplished."