Quinta Brunson’s humor is etched into the pop culture zeitgeist of the digital age. Some first encountered her comedic genius in an episode of her “The Girl Who Has Never Been On A Nice Date” Instagram skit series in 2014, which is said to be the first viral video on the platform. Other consumers of the world wide web have undoubtedly witnessed — and hilariously used — the comedienne’s enduring presence as ubiquitous memes of cultural commentary. While her virality has transcended its formative space, in her debut memoir “She Memes Well,” the maestro of digital content is formally documenting her unconventional experience with wit, relatability, solemnity.
The memoir, a collection of personal essays, delves into the humanity and dimensionality behind Brunson’s internet stature. “I wanted to contribute to documenting what it’s like to be a creator in the digital age,” Brunson tells Grazia. “I wanted to actually try to document what it looked like to be in this pseudo-journalism-acting-comedic creator world during a social media boom specifically.” For those of us who’ve watched her flourish from the inception of her “He Got Money” earworm catchphrase, it’s also an intimate exploration into her culturally rich upbringing in West Philadelphia, the unwieldy trade-offs of fame and even the transformative cultural moments in her younger years.
Brunson, who is named after the word “fifth” in Spanish, is the youngest of five and was born to devout parents who were largely influenced by the revolutionary radicality of the seventies. She credits descending from a politically active, spiritually in tune family for her grounded approach in a career that can often drift into focusing on reception rather than intention. “I think with my parents being faithful people grounded me in always trying to keep a spiritual connection to my work and making sure I feel good about my work,” she says. “That sounds altruistic but that means in whatever I’m doing I feel okay.”
From the improv stage to Instagram, producing at Buzzfeed to starring in A Black Lady Sketch Show, and now creating the forthcoming ABC comedy “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson’s evolution has been meteoric. Yet, behind a bevy of gilded accolades is the identity tugs-of-war of life. Discussing how materialism, advertising and consumerism (a concept she coins as MAC; “not to be confused with the makeup brand”) contorted the self-perception of her younger years, she candidly writes, “The truth was, the more pop culture I ate up, the more I wasted away as a person.”
Social media has doubly intensified this vulturous nature of consumption. Oversharing, the pressure of aesthetically-manufactured internet identities and subscribing to unrealistic beauty standards are insidiously ingrained into consumers — a struggle that the hailed digital personality wasn’t exempt from. Finding the delicate, and often obscured, middle ground meant retreating for the sacredness of privacy. “It often took a lot of pulling back. I would limit how much I wanted to be in the public eye because I wanted and still want the freedom to grow up in private,” she says. She earnestly admits, “When you give a bunch, people expect a bunch.”
Moreover, “She Memes Well” not only cements Brunson’s identity in her own words, but it’s also an offering unto the canon of Black girlhood. Growing up, Spike Lee’s 1994 film Crooklyn and neo-soulstress Lauryn Hill’s album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, were her memories of encountering the indescribable essence of girls who looked liked her. Those wondrous moments of representation is something she hopes to have returned to the literary space.
“Very often, we talk about Black girlhood and how Black girlhood is often skipped over — especially like regular Black girlhood,” she says. At the core of this transparency that weaves throughout Brunson’s anecdotes is her yearn for representations of Black girls navigating the mundane activities of life, rather than stories that hinge on their trauma.
When devising what recollections she would include, she looked to what her younger self could have benefited from engaging with positive stories of romance that weren’t fraught with turmoil. “I felt like I wanted those relationships out there so that younger girls can have something,” she says, regarding writing about her dating experiences. “My relationships weren’t traumatic. They were sad at times and they ended clearly, but they weren’t traumatic. I wish that I read stuff like that when I was younger.”
Returning to her adolescence also meant confronting the fear that comes with bearing one’s truth and providing herself the space of grace for who she once was. In one of her essays, she recounts the influences that fed her insatiable appetite for pop culture. Amongst her litany, she names Tina Fey’s Bossypants autobiographical comedy book for inspiring her venture into comedy and reminisces on how the visuals for “D.I.D.D.Y, ” the hip hop mogul’s self-titled track featuring Pharell, encapsulated an endearing persona that she admired.
With both figures now reckoning with the tides of cultural re-evaluation, Brunson says transposing that reality onto paper was one of the hardest parts of composing her memoir. “All of that feels scary to talk about because I never wanted it to look like I was praising these people, but I did want to be honest about my influences,” she says. Brunson adds, “Sometimes when we look back on our old selves we create this reality of who we think we were or who we wished we were and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be honest.”
While the New York Times bestselling list is the de facto measure of success in the literary realm, Brunson asserts that she measures herself a little bit differently. “For me what has proven to be the marker of success is Black girls saying, ‘I feel seen. I feel heard. I feel like I just talked to a friend. I feel like I have a roadmap.’” She adds, “My hope is that they pass it along to someone else.”