I Can’t Look At “Abbott Elementary” The Same Way Again After Finding Out These Behind-The-Scenes Facts From Writer Brittani Nichols
“I get to go make jokes and try to make content that makes people feel good after a bad day, or helps people feel seen, and it just feels like a worthwhile thing to put a lot of my time and energy into, if I have to do anything.”
It’s only in its second season, and Abbott Elementary is already being named one of the greatest sitcoms in TV history. Quinta Brunson‘s Emmy Award–winning mockumentary series is often highlighted for its amazing casting and relatable storylines, but what makes the show truly stand out is its writing.
In honor of the show’s success and the Season 2 finale airing tonight, I sat down with Brittani Nichols — a producer-level writer on Abbott Elementary — to learn more about the ins and outs of bringing each episode to life, the most challenging character to write for on the show, her history with Quinta, and so much more.
Oh, and did I mention she wrote Season 2’s final episode, “Franklin Institute”?
You have worked with Issa Rae, written for A Black Lady Sketch Show, and have won multiple awards for your work. What drew you to writing?
Laughing! Watching other stuff and just thinking I was, like, so funny and so sharp. It’s so weird. I think, truly, just being a fan of other people is what made me want to be a writer.
Writers are often inspired by real-life experiences. How has being a queer, Black woman influenced your writing?
I think it really helped position me as a good straight man, ironically enough. That’s the correct term I should be using. Because I think I just am always in the position of noticing the weird thing that’s happening before anyone else, because I carry myself in such a way that I sort of have to be on the lookout for a weird thing happening for safety reasons.
I think that just bled over into comedy, where it’s like in an improv scene, or in a real written scene, where someone is just saying something that feels a little off, or is trying to hide something, or cover something up. I’m just the first person to be like, “Wait a second. Stop right there. And let’s investigate that.”
Has it also influenced the projects you attach yourself to?
Absolutely, yeah! I think I am, at all times, trying to create something that a younger version of me would have appreciated or thought was cool. There have been so many times in my career where I’m doing something, and I’m like, “Oh man, teenage me would love the shit out of this!” Or, “If teenage me had seen this, this could have helped me come to some conclusions earlier on about things.” So, just trying to use art to give people a sense of community.
A lot of the things that I work on, I want it to feel like people are in the room with the characters, and that if they don’t have that for themselves in their real life, for that brief period of time, they feel like, “Oh, these are the sorts of people that I know I want in my life.” Hopefully it inspires people to seek that sort of thing out if they don’t have it.
Have you ever felt like being a part of these diverse communities was ever used against you when trying to find work?
Hmm…I honestly think that it’s only protected me, because I think that anyone who doesn’t want to work with someone because of the identities that I hold is not something I want to work with anyway. I think it’s really helped me find projects that I am drawn to, honestly.
If people are coming to me simply because of an identity marker, there are plenty of times where I’m like, “Oh, just because this is a Black thing or a queer thing, it still doesn’t line up with who I am as a writer, or performer, or a person.” But when it does, it makes it that much more special
How did you first meet Quinta and how did that meeting lead you to writing for the show?
So, I originally met Quinta when we were both acting in a BuzzFeed web series called You Do You, and we just continued to see each other around town. I think the last time I saw her, before Black Lady Sketch Show, was in Larry Wilmore’s office. We were both just going to meetings with different people in the office. Then we worked together again on A Black Lady Sketch Show. I think she just had an appreciation for the weirdness that was present in some of my sketches, and I wasn’t coming back for Season 2 of A Black Lady Sketch Show because I had a show in development at Quibi — RIP. And I won’t say this…
Say it! [Laughs]
…I had a feeling I was going to need another job, and so Quinta told me that she had this show in development at ABC, and that if it went, that I was one of the people that she was considering bringing on. I was already friends with one of the other showrunners, Justin Halpern, and when I read the pilot, I just was like, “This is so funny, this is the sort of writing that brought me to the industry.”
This is the sort of show that when I was in my early 20s, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, if I had seen this, it would have been one of those shows that made me go, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a television writer.” So, it was really a no-brainer once she said she was interested in possibly having me.
You mentioned you read the pilot. After joining the team, did you and the rest of the writers room help flesh out the characters? Or were those characters and their personalities already set in stone?
So, the writers room definitely helped flesh them all out, and it was, I think, a pretty easy thing to do, because they were so well-defined in the pilot. Quinta really found that good balance of someone that you recognize, but also someone that you hadn’t seen before; really meshing those things together what was already in the pilot into everything else about these characters, and really trying to give them those levels so that they don’t feel one-dimensional, and that we are constantly learning things about the characters while keeping them recognizable to the audience as we move forward.
If you could write for any show — whether it’s currently on the air or not — what would it be?
Right now, I think my answer would be Reboot. It just went off the air. Well, it didn’t go off, they got canceled. Unfortunately, a lot of the shows that I really like have been canceled recently, like Southside. But Reboot was really clever and really sort of character-driven and understated, but still a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s also a show where I feel like I could have been additive, because I think there’s a lot of time where I’m watching shows, and I’m like, “Oh, they’re killing it! I’m not gonna get in there and help.” And then there are shows where it’s just like, “Oh, I think that I could help this. I could make this even funnier. I could really dig in and make the show even better.” And that was one of the shows where I was like, “Man, this is funny!” I think I would have had fun in that room. Or maybe not. I might not have had fun in the room. Rooms can be wild!
Lastly, what’s next for you?
Who knows [laughs]? I have a show in development at Netflix and a couple of features that I’m trying to sell. I have my own stuff that I am trying to get off the ground, but it truly does not feel urgent, because I do love Abbott so much. There are not a lot of other shows that are quite frankly going to pay 22-episode network money. And I like having the ability to pay my rent [laughs].