Quinta Brunson

Quinta Brunson in Los Angeles. Photographed by Austin Hargrave.

Quinta Brunson made history in 2014 with the first Instagram video series to go viral("The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date"). Since then, the 27-year-old comedian/actress/writer has partnered with Buzzfeed to become an internet video star, racking up millions of views for funny, relatable fare like "9 Perks of Being Short" and "When You're Forced to Hang Out With a Child." Together with the digital publisher, she's sold shows to YouTube Red and Verizon's Go90 and is currently at work on a Facebook Watch series. Below, we catch up with the LA-based Brunson to talk about the merger of web and Hollywood, internet celebrity and the time Scott Toilet Paper once gifted her in bulk.

Hi Quinta! We hear you're really busy these days. What have you been up to?

This week was a really fun one. I pitched a movie to a big studio so that was really cool. I also worked on pre-production for my new show that will be on Facebook’s Watch platform. Besides that, I made some travel plans. Next week, I’m going to Seattle for a meeting with Amazon. And the following week I’ll be going to a girl’s coding event in San Francisco.

Do you code?

I started out coding on MySpace. But I haven’t done it in a long time. I don’t think it’s like riding a bicycle, I’m pretty sure you forget.

What’s your Facebook show about?

It’s called “Quinta Versus Everything” and it was inspired by some popular videos I’ve done where it’s me versus something inanimate or abstract. It’s based on the concept that every human problem is a “versus” scenario. Any action you perform throughout the day is like, “Can I accomplish this? Can I get over it? Will this thing define me, beat me, help create the person that I am?” So it ranges from everything from “Quinta Versus Feminism” to “Quinta Versus the Curb” where I just trip on a curb one day.

When it does it come out?

I don’t think we have a release date yet. We’re shooting later this month.

So many of your videos have gone viral. Do you think you’ve discovered a secret sauce?

I actually think it boils down to a principle I learned in college in an advertising class. Basically, to make a successful commercial, there are these different emotional strings you can pull—empathy, shock, vulnerability, etc. The same is true for a viral video. You need to make people feel something. What's the human connection? What will it evoke?

Where do your ideas typically come from?

Things that happen to me and to friends are really inspiring right now because I think that personal stories are a huge catalyst for change in our climate. So, I’m taking a lot of things that happen to me on a daily basis and using them to create these stories.

Of course, there are other times when I think a completely fictional world is a better way to do storytelling. Recently, I’ve been watching this show called “The Good Place” on NBC and it inspired me to try and create something with a moral compass.

So you want your videos to have a social message?

Sometimes yes and sometimes I just want to create things that are very stupid. Sometimes I can’t decide what to do —is it more important to have a message or more important to give people something they enjoy where they don’t have to think?

Do you ever read your comments section?

I do, although as I’m sure as you’ve heard, it’s not good to do that. But yeah, I’m guilty, everyone is. I still think there’s good feedback in there.

Have you ever taken a commenter’s notes?

One of my shows, “Broke,” we wrote without knowing what platform it was going to be on. YouTube Red ended up buying it. And one of the comments was like, “This is very simple. I wish there was more meat in it.” And I remember thinking “Wait! This person is right.” And I realized it was because I wrote it as simple as possible because I had no clue where it was going to wind up. So that feedback helped me to be like, you know, in the future, I would like to try to know where my content is going so I can format it properly.

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'"What are you?' is still a question I get asked a lot."
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You recently did a stint in the writer's room for Adult Swim's "Lazor Wulf." Do you write with a different sense of humor for the internet than you do for TV?

On the internet, it’s all about the relatability factor, it’s the share factor. So what you might see on a YouTube video might not be as funny on a TV screen. On TV—with a plot and a story—you’re engrossed in it, but you’re not necessarily going to share it.

But it’s been interesting to see it change as more internet companies like Facebook are getting into stories and serialized content. So there is a shift happening between what’s relatable and shareable and what’s just like good, watchable content.

What’s it like being a YouTube celebrity? Do you get recognized on the street?

Yeah it’s definitely there, it’s been there for awhile. I think the internet is a weird place and people don’t want to acknowledge that it’s a vehicle that can make you famous. People tend to talk about the fame that comes with the internet as not comparable to the fame that comes from being on TV or whatever but, in reality, it is. I’m pretty much recognized everywhere I go. I’ve gone out with friends who are on TV and people don’t know who the hell they are but they know who I am because of the internet. So I’m trying to practice humility and not get to wrapped up in that kind of thing but it’s definitely there.

Do sponsors ever approach you?

Occasionally. I tweeted about how buying toilet paper in bulk will change your life. Next thing I knew, Scott tissue emailed me and were like, “We’d like to send you some free toilet paper!” It was great.

What’s your experience been like with Hollywood?

I feel like it’s gotten better recently. A lot of it is just like an age gap, the industry generally is older, which is not a bad thing, I mean they’ve taught us everything we know. But they’re like, we don’t know what to do with you because you’re not in terms we understand. “What are you?” is still a question I get asked a lot.

I’ll take general meetings and they’ll go wonderfully but they’ll be like, we don’t know what you guys are yet—because it’s not just me, it’s a lot of other, far more popular internet creators with kajillions of followers. They’re just not digestable yet to the mainstream industry. A perfect example is Issa Rae, who now has her own TV show but had been creating on the web for a very long time.

And of course, diversity-wise, the internet is much more representative.

100 percent. It’s blown it out of the fucking water. The TV and film industries are playing catch up, which is fine because I’m happy that it's happening.

But it’s not like they're snubbing you, right?

Yeah, they would be stupid to ignore it. It would be to their detriment. I feel like they are trying to understand us and work with us. Both sides are trying to create a bridge.

Are there creators who’ve made the leap into mainstream media that you admire?

I would say Franchesca Ramsey, she’s doing a show on Comedy Central. But people who haven’t transitioned to TV yet, that doesn’t make them not a success story.

I look at TV as just another platform. All these platforms are just as viable at this point. Three or four months ago, the scales actually tipped where it showed that people are watching more internet than TV. People like Kevin Hart and The Rock, you know they get it, they’re like, “I’ve got to be on all this shit.” Today, it's not just about being on one platform versus the other, it’s about being everywhere, being omnichannel.

But look, I just want to create things and the internet is like the heaven of making shit to be honest. It still feels like the Wild Wild West, so for people like me it’s like, oh, I can just make a show over here? Word. I can make another show over there. Fun. I’m just helping you guys figure out what you want to do? Great.

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“I just want to create things and the internet is like the heaven of making shit to be honest.”
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In terms of up-and-coming YouTubers, who should we be paying attention to?

Liza Koshy, she’s young but she's pretty huge already. We had a great conversation, something that made me feel like she would be good to work with. I don’t know what she’s going to do but I think she can do a lot. Khadi Don is also hilarious. She’s another one to watch.

What about YouTube shows?

It’s funny I don’t watch a lot of YouTube, actually. I love the show “Honest Trailers” on Screen Junkies. They preview old movies and it’s so funny. Two of my co-workers, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej, have a show called “Buzzfeed Unsolved” and it cracks me up. I’m not even being biased. My rapper friend in Philly was like, “Yo, I love that guy Shane,” and I was like, “How the hell do you know Shane?!”

I actually still watch a lot of traditional TV shows on the internet. I’m a huge fan of "30 Rock" and "The Office." I watch them on Netflix at work all the time. Recently, I went on a “Friends” binge during lunch, I don’t know why. "Shameless," I love so much. It’s just a beautiful show. “Insecure.” I didn’t want to watch it while it was on because it’s too easy to get caught up in the conversation with people. So I’m going to be binge-watching that probably this weekend.

That's ironic, given that you work predominantly in new media.

I think there's still so much to learn from traditional that, as a creator, I'd like to learn and apply to my own work. Besides that, I typically enjoy traditional more.

What did you think of the “Why I Quit Buzzfeed” trend? [Where former employees made videos that bashed the company.]

I thought it was whack. It’s publically burning a bridge that doesn’t need to be burnt. I think it was a lot of people not understanding how jobs work. Like, it’s a job. I left the Apple Store because I didn’t work on phones anymore. I wasn’t going to be like, “They made me work on phones more than I wanted to!” I’m sure our PR person is going to kill me but I thought it was just really immature, millennial, arrogant behavior.

Speaking of the Apple Store, do you nerd out on their products?

I used to be but not anymore. Although, I still use all their products.

What changed?

They’re just products, you know? I mean, the iPhone is great but it’s just a material thing.

Did you like working there?

When I first started, it was like a dream come true. I was a huge Steve Jobs fan and everything. Also, the people were amazing, and that’s always a wonderful experience. It’s always been a point of mine to work with people that I like and can get a drink with.

That’s what I also like about Buzzfeed, there are just good people there. And that's hard to get.

Buzzfeed aside, are you part of any comedy communities?

I'm part of the LA improv and standup scene. Twitter is also kind of like a community. It cracks me up.

Oh yeah? Who do you follow?

You’re hitting me with the hard questions. Let me go through my likes. Aparna Nancherla, she’s an actress in LA. I love her tweets. People should follow her.

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"I’ll be damned if I’m just going to sit around my house listening to podcasts, that’s just not happening."

Do you listen to podcasts?

I don’t. I wish I could get into them. I think it’s because I don’t drive. And I’ll be damned if I’m just going to sit around my house listening to podcasts, that’s just not happening.

But I do stream a lot of music. Spotify is my jam. I built my library there so I use it the most probably. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of oldies: Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder is just like the cure. All my stress goes away when I’m listening to him. New stuff, I really like The Internet, Frank Ocean, Rihanna.

Ok let’s wrap this up. What digital tip can you offer our readers today?

I think what a lot of people don’t know—which is kind of fascinating–is that if all your devices are synced up, it makes things A LOT easier. My phone, laptop and iPad are all connected. I tell people they don’t know the beauty of it, especially if you’re a creator.

And lastly, what do you do online that you wish you didn't?

I’ve developed a bad habit of just, like, scrolling. It’s now an automatic response to boredom or a lull in my day. I’ve been really challenging myself not to do it. Sometimes, it’s just information overload. Scrolling through Twitter can put me in a bad way. So I’m trying to get out of that habit and do stuff like read smart books that I don’t want to read.

Keep up with Quinta:

t: @quinta b.
i: @quintab
s: buzzfeed.com/quintab