Douglas Adams, the late “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author, had a vertical theory of humor:
All truly funny people, he said, were 6-foot-5-inches tall.
That might have seemed true in his native England. But now, in the U.S., it’s off by a foot-and-a-half.
Meet Quinta Brunson (shown here, foreground), who is about to rescue us from a slow year for network-TV comedy. She’s the producer, star and sole creator of “Abbott Elementary,” which has an advance showing at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 7) on ABC, then gets a regular spot next month. She’s listed at 5-foot, but some of that is wishful thinking.
“I’m 4-foot-11, if you must know,” she said. “You’ve got to be up (exaggerate) in my business.”
That size puts her in good territory – an inch under Queen Victoria, an inch over Danny DeVito – and sometimes makes her life simpler. “I can pretty much fit on any airplane seat,” she said.
Added Lisa Walter, her “Abbott” co-star: “And in the overhead compartment.”
It also adds some comedy perspective to Brunson, who tends to be confident: “I watch other comics do all this self-deprecation stuff and I’m like, ‘I don’t really have anything except for being short, so I’ll use that.”
And it makes it easier for her to go eye-to-eye with her younger co-stars. Brunson plays an elementary-school teacher, a subject she knows well.
Her mother taught kindergarten in Philadelphia for 40 years. “So many friends are teachers,” Brunson said. “I kind of use them to do my research.”
With the pandemic, their work got more complicated … and parents got more appreciative. During “school-from-home, you very quickly saw a lot of people going, ‘Please take my children from me,’” said Tyler James Williams, who co-stars.
Brunson, 31, went to Philadelphia schools, stayed in town for Temple University and scored with short-form comedy, starting with an Instagram show, “Girl Who Has Never Been on a Nice Date.” (She’s now engaged and has, presumably, been on nice dates.) Then came two series on Buzzfeed, one on Facebook Watch, a year on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” a flashy role(as a cowboy outlaw) this summer on “Miracle Workers” and failed pilots for CW and CBS.
The former was with two producers, Josh Halpern and Patrick Shumacker, who also do the offbeat animated show, “Harley Quinn.” That’s when Brunson suggested an animated show about teachers.
Two years later, Schumacker bumped into her on a studio lot and gave her a ride home. She suggested the teacher show as live-action, not animation. “It just kind of was serendipity,” he said.
“Abbott Elementary” is done in the pseudo-documentary style of “The Office” or “Modern Family.” It has earnest teachers (played by Brunson, Walters, Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Chris Perfetti) and a clueless principal (Janelle James). It skips COVID, but digs into other frustrations.
There are other producers, but they defer to Brunson. “We saw ourselves as facilitators,” Schumacker said. “This was Quinta’s vision.”
And it’s a funny vision, refuting any vertical theories.
Adams based his view on several countrymen he felt were 6-foot-5 – John Cleese, Adams himself, P.K. Chesterton, Peter Cook. The latter two are disputed, but he could have added other Englishmen (Jeremy Clarkson, who co-created “Top Gear,” and Stephen Fry) and a token American, Blake Shelton.
All are clever enough. But America’s new comedy star has much more leg room in an airplane.