Quinta Brunson is 26 years old and has already made a career for herself by speaking from the heart. The Philly-born, LA-stationed comedian and video producer first took the internet by storm with one Instagram video, The Girl Who’s Never Been On A Nice Date, which quickly escalated into a viral series that has since been referenced by everyone from T-Wayne, and Donald Glover, to Rico Love and Future.
Three years later, Brunson has carved out a name for herself as one of BuzzFeed’s biggest video stars and has captivated the attention of millions of people, simply by sharing her truths. Her videos resonate deeply with her audience because everyone can relate to at least one of her subject matters, whether it be about Milly Rocking on any block, being the only black person in a friend group, or when you “just can’t”.
Brunson’s just launched her biggest venture yet, Broke, a online series with YouTube Red called about three pals who move from Philly to L.A. to pursue their dreams. The show is both produced and directed by Brunson and features the realities of trying to navigate life as a twenty-something while being first-world poor. Season one features 11 episodes, each on is about ten to 12 minutes long.
Over the phone from her office in L.A., Brunson recalled to The FADER the time when she first realized she was funny, the responsibilities of being a young black role model, and why you should fuck with yourself, heavily.
When was the first time that you realized you were funny?
My brothers and sisters would make me do impersonations of characters from Martin and In Living Color. I was watching tapes of it recently and I was really good at doing impressions as a three-year-old, mimicking these characters. It was kind of sick to be three years old and to be able to get down Sheneneh like a grown person and be able to emote those feelings and stuff like that.
So, I think looking back, that’s my first time realizing it, my first memory of being like, “Oh, I’m funny,” besides just making my friends laugh. I also think funny is relative, I think I am good at writing funny things, I’m good at improv. I don’t think I’m great at being the funniest person in the room.
You have a very large social media following. As a black creator do you feel a responsibility to address racial injustices in this country?
I feel that responsibility as a person. Some of the things that happen in the world right now affect my freedom as an individual, though when things happen, like a black man getting shot or something like that, that’s something that makes me think of my family, makes me think of my brother, of my dad and something that hinders on my ability to exist and make things. As a person, I do feel that responsibility to speak up on those things. [With or without] my platform, even if I didn’t have a large following, I would still try to take opportunities to speak on those matters.
Your first break out comedy series was “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date” aka “He Got Money” and now you’ve got a new series called “Broke” — what is it about young people's’ financial statuses that’s so inspiring to you?
Your economical situation is almost a catalyst for how your life is going to be. I think I’m interested in it because when I was very broke in Los Angeles it was a romantic experience. Even though I was struggling and things were tough and some days I was eating just Cup O Noodles and a banana because that was the only thing I had, it still was romantic. I had good friends around me, good people around me, and I think that helped reinforce the fact that money is not the most important thing.
Even the “You Got Money” character, “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date,” her bar is set way low, so what’s considered a nice date is a large popcorn. In essence, it’s about looking at the smaller things and making the best out of the situation you’re in. That’s what I like to focus on. No matter what financial situation I’m going to be in, I like to make the best of it, not complain. But I know that money is a thing that everyone around the world can relate to, either you have it or you don’t, you’re trying to get it, or you’re trying to get more of it. Right now in my life, I’m learning to be comfortable with where I am with money and making sure that I don’t abuse my relationship with it, which I think is really important for people of color.
Describe your evolution from acting and writing sketches to becoming one of Buzzfeed’s youngest showrunners.
Sketches are quick. You can do a sketch really quickly and just pull your friends and you have everything written out and they don’t need to understand the story arc of these short videos. You’re asking people to involve themselves and all you’re really trying to wrap your head around as the director or creator is getting this short project out there.
When you’re a showrunner or director, you have to get everybody on board with your vision, everybody from the interns, to your writers, to PAs, to the production department — people have to be on board with what story you’re trying to tell. That’s a lot of reeling in.
For me, it’s been really interesting because I’m asking people to be part of a vision that is not the norm, you know? [It’s about] three black kids, two black dudes, one black girl. I’ve worked with a lot of white people and they don’t understand, they don’t know exactly what I’m talking about. There are cultural references in the show where I have to ask people to trust me, I know what I’m talking about, you have to trust me that I want it shot this way and not the other way. I have two writers, they’re great. One of them is black and the other is a white woman I’ve been working with for years. My writers really understand my vision but it’s about getting everyone else on board. When it comes to showrunning, [I’m] kind of removing myself from the rest of the process because now working on two shows, it’s a lot, so I have to remove myself from some of the places I’m more stretched. But that means that from the beginning I need to set a good standard of what the voice of a show is, that I can trust teams to take the voice and then mold it into what story I want to be told.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
The most personal proud moment — my parents had never been to L.A., my mother had never been on a plane, so I few them out to Los Angeles and paid for their vacation and to theme parks, all the things they used to do for me when I was kid, I was able to do for them. It was really nice to be able to do that because they haven’t really had that done for them before and they had all their worries off of their shoulders so I felt good being able to do that.
I guess career-wise, Broke is something I’m really proud of. To me, it represents new narratives for people of color and I’m happy that it’s going up at the same time as Queen Sugar and Atlanta. We can talk all we want about how we’re not seeing ourselves represented in the media, but it’s up to us, the creators, to actually make sure we put those things in place. It takes a lot of sacrifice and it takes a lot of hard work, and like I said, it takes a lot of people to be able to trust you and get on board with your vision and asking those people to trust you. It takes a lot of energy to be able to get these projects out there. I feel really proud that we completed an entire season of Broke, it’s going somewhere where it will be seen by a ton of people and I’m happy that we’re creating another narrative for people of color.
Often, we put the weight all on one show and it shouldn’t be that way because if you look at white shows, there’s a billion white shows, so they can be bad, they can be good. I always say this, white people get to just wake up however they want and then go on TV. I feel like the black appearance is limited when it comes to media so I’m really excited to add Broke to the stratosphere of what we have for black people on film and in series right now, it’s just going to do nothing but help expand our possibilities.
Hell yeah, it’s an exciting time for black television...
I mean look how many damn white shows are on TV, there are a ton of them and that means white people get to exist however they want to and that’s something we have to start pushing out there. It’s not an easy task, there are almost these weirdly calculated ways you have to go about doing it. I don’t think the people, the creators are a hundred percent aware of what they’re doing but when you look at it it’s a lot of hard work so that you don’t sacrifice the things that you feel are important, the stories that you want to tell. There are things you can’t sacrifice, your vision, it’s like, “No, I don’t want you to put a girl on that show with weave down to her back, I want a girl that looks like me.” It’s a conversation you have to have with people and sometimes people don’t fuck with you because of that. I think it’s a huge accomplishment if you can get to that point and get your show to air.
The internet and the way that people consume content changes rapidly, how do you keep up as a content creator while staying true to yourself?
Consistency is key, it will just make you better. [You have to] make sure you keep your unique perspective. I think those two things together are really valuable. Even in your consistency, you have to be open to growth and open to new ideas and trends. You have to be open to the changing of the times in order to keep up. For me, in so many different cases, from the “He Got Money” videos to the Milly Rock video to Broke to my perm video, you never know what’s actually going to resonate well with people, so if you keep creating you actually get the opportunity to see that and keep taking that feedback and growing.
Also, stay sharp at your craft. I always have to keep practicing my craft outside of just the Internet and outside of what I do for a living. I think the dangers of the Internet is people being able to forget about craft, that you need it to do what you’re doing no matter where you’re doing it. Whether it’s onstage, whether it’s TV, whether it’s on the Internet you still need to be sharp at what it is you’re doing.
It helps not to care what people think of you, that’s really helpful. I go through that a lot, I think about what people think of me and then I realize that I can’t do that because it doesn’t help me in my quest to grow as a person. I think making sure you’re showing yourself up as a person making sure you give yourself good nutrients and making sure you’re being a legit human being is important and you can’t really care about what other people are doing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about how to create good content?
To say the thing that no one else is saying. One of my bosses told me that and I thought it was really important because it’s something that gets me out of ruts. If you can get a message out there that hasn’t gotten out there yet, it’s so important, especially for me because I’ve been in the field making relatable material for years now. I want to be relatable, but I want to have a perspective that’s not there yet. I’m a different kind of person, but I know that I can open up a door for other people, so I have to make sure I say the things that aren’t being said.