As the work day dwindled to an end on Monday, September 29th, I was doing my standard last check-in with Twitter before leaving the office, when the news broke that Yvette Nicole Brown had asked to be released from her contract for the sixth season of Community. It feels like a massive blow to the show and the fandom (as Yvette was always the most accessible cast member on Twitter), as we are now down to the Greendale Four, having lost Donald Glover and Chevy Chase in season five. My initial response to the news was an Annie Edison style “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”…until I finished the article and learned that she was leaving the show in order to be able to spend time with her ailing father. While I hate that she is leaving, she has nothing but my respect for making what I am sure was an incredibly difficult choice. Shirley can’t be replaced and Community won’t be the same without her. Many fans expressed their displeasure that Community is a completely different show now from when it started. Why should we even watch season six now when the ensemble is a shadow of what it used to be? My feelings are this: things change and evolve all the time. I’m with this show until the bloody end. I have fought hard for it and I’m going to keep watching. Because that’s what Shirley Bennett would do.
This, however, is not a time to mourn, my friends. It is time to CELEBRATE the wonderful things that Shirley Bennett brought to Greendale and to be thankful for all the gifts that Yvette Nicole Brown gave us over the course of five seasons (and a movie, cause that’s happening). Thus I give you my top ten reasons Shirley Bennett has my heart forever.
1) Her Catchphrase
Thanks to Shirley, there is no way I can say “That’s nice” unless it’s in Shirley voice. My favorite thing about “That’s Nice” is all the way Shirley uses it. She says “That’s Nice!” when she is delighted by something (after Jeff mentions Jesus as a winning point in “Debate 109”), she says “That’s nice!” when something truly IS nice (when Jeff pronounced them a Community in the pilot”), she says “That’s nice” snidely to Britta when the hitchhiker they picked up starts talking about Jesus. It’s a truly universal catchphrase, as evidenced by the super-cut embedded below.
All together now…”THAT’S NICE!!!”
2) Her Miss Piggy Voice
Errrmmmm…I mean her sexy voice for Andre.
3) Her Thinly Veiled Rage Issues
“And Shirley, Shirley has earned our respect. Not as a wife, not as a mother, but as a woman. Don’t test her on that, because that thing about the jukebox was too specific to be improvised.” –Jeff Winger, “Pilot”
My favorite thing about Shirley is that beneath all the sweetness and light and goodness that she constantly projects to the world is a tough bitch who WILL cut you if you get in her way. Yvette Nicole Brown played with this dynamic beautifully as she would drop her voice an octave or two whenever Shirley’s rage came bubbling to the surface. You KNOW you are in trouble when you get the deep voice.
“All of your fake sweetness and religion is just a veil covering a horrible monster!” –Jeff Winger, “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”
4) She Took Jeff Winger To Tinkle Town
“Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” is one of my favorite episodes because it is a wonderful showcase for Yvette and because it explores the Jeff and Shirley dynamic. Jeff and Shirley never would have been friends had Jeff not accidentally formed a Spanish Study Group as a means to get into Britta Perry’s pants. Even then, Jeff was often dismissive of her, writing her off as just a mom who he had little in common with except for school and various Study Group adventures. You never got the idea that he valued her as a person…until a foosball grudge match happened.
Jeff: Shirley, I’m gonna be perfectly blunt with you. The few times that you’ve been a little bad are the times I’ve liked you most.
Jeff: Remember making fun of Britta’s boyfriend’s tiny nipples?
Shirley: Oh, yeah, they were tiny.
Jeff: Remember what you did to Pierce’s hoagie? That was so disturbing, I almost proposed on the spot.
I think I actually seal-clapped the moment Shirley showed up to school Jeff in her foosball moves. Yvette’s performance is perfect and her delivery of “You don’t know me” encompasses everything that Shirley is about. Shirley just wants to be valued and seen for more than she appears to be on the surface. Yes, she is a mother and a wife and a Christian…but she is also ruthless and cutthroat. She’s Big Cheddar and she WILL put your ass back on the train to Tinkle Town.
And of course, once Jeff and Shirley discovered their shared history of Big Cheddar and Tinkle Town the only thing they COULD do was have a screaming match until they burst into Anime. As you do.
Shirley: This game is all I had.
Jeff: It’s all I had.
Shirley: Well, that’s stupid. You’re a perfectly fine person.
Jeff: So are you.
Shirley: Thank you.
Jeff: You’re welcome.
Shirley: I’m sorry, Jeff.
Jeff: You don’t have anything to be sorry for, Shirley.
The core message of Community is the need to look past first impressions and surface levels and see a person’s true worth. Jeff is not just the smooth talking and vain lawyer that he purports himself to be…he’s also a deeply wounded man who covers up his insecurities with sarcasm and over inflated ego. Shirley is more than a mild-mannered and devoutly religious mother…she’s a woman who dealt with being smacked with the awkward stick when she hit puberty by bullying others. It’s, as Dan Harmon put it at CommuniCon 2, about embracing all aspects of humanity. That’s what Jeff and Shirley do in this episode and their relationship is forever changed after their foosball adventure. They both see each other TRULY for the first time and they discover that not only do they like what they see, but they have much more in common than they originally thought. My head canon is that after this, Jeff and Shirley would have a monthly date at Senor Kevin’s for margaritas and trash talking. You can’t tell me anything different.
5) Her Determination
When we first meet Shirley, she’s a single mother (recently divorced after her husband cheated on her with a stripper) who has enrolled in Community College in hopes of obtaining a business degree so she can support her boys. She’s beaten down, shy, and lacks confidence in herself and in others. My favorite thing about Shirley’s arc over the course of the series is how she grew into being a confident and polished business woman while remaining steadfast in her character. While Shirley’s journey may have started because of her boys, it ultimately became a journey of self discovery and finding the potential that she had always been capable of.
One of the most heart warming moments of season one is when Shirley enlisted Pierce to help her in her presentation for business class (which kicked off a long running theme of Shirley and Pierce working together). Pierce was really the first one to see the value in Shirley (be it her sexual power over him or what) and it was really wonderful to see him encouraging her to be the best person she could be and helping her find the courage to do exactly that. If you heart didn’t soar when she froze in her presentation, only to then find her way once she looked at Pierce in the audience, then you may need to get your feels checked. While he may have enjoyed sexually harassing Shirley (and partly I think he did it because he KNEW he irritated her and that’s how Pierce liked to get attention), Pierce always RESPECTED Shirley and her character, as we saw in his final words to her (which may or may not have left me sobbing on my couch)…
Once Shirley discovered her potential and business smarts, there was no turning back for her. She found her backbone and she found her self-worth at Greendale, and once she found it she wasn’t giving it up. Season Three Shirley was a completely different person than Season One Shirley, as evidenced by her exchange with Andre at their second wedding:
Shirley: The person you’re making promises to is going to change. You have to accept that.
Andre: I do. But do you promise to be patient when that person’s stereo business takes a little while to get off the ground?
Shirley: I do, but do you accept that ten years is more than ‘a little while’ and iPods aren’t going away and maybe it’s time to let somebody else take the lead?
That’s a woman who knows her value right there and knows that she deserves to be taken seriously. FOUR FOR YOU, SHIRLEY BENNETT.
(I’m totally ignoring the whole Season Five “Andre left me because I was too devoted to my business” story because I want more than that for Shirley and I thought that was crap and lazy writing. SORRY NOT SORRY.)
6) She Taught Britta About The Ladies Room
Britta Perry desperately needed a friend like Shirley Bennett. Britta was all hard edges and abrasiveness when we first met her. She was a woman who tended not to get along with other women and appeared to wear that badge proudly. She took pleasure in decrying anything overtly feminine from makeovers to going to the Ladies room in groups. To Britta, that made her a stronger woman. But the wonderful thing about Shirley Bennett is that she proves you can be girly and soft and STILL be a strong woman.
Shirley: I like you too. I even like that you’re a little hard. But if you can’t learn to be soft in THERE, you need to pee alone.
Britta: (starts to cry) I’ve peed alone my whole life. Women have always hated me. I don’t even know how it started. Maybe it was when I got boobs before everyb–
Shirley: Shh, shh, shh. Not out here. In there.
What I love the most about the Britta/Shirley friendship is that Shirley softened Britta and taught her about the importance of female friendship In turn, Britta toughened Shirley up a bit and taught her that it’s okay to be needlessly defiant. After Shirley teaches Britta about the ladies room, you see the change in their friendship in the very next episode, where Shirley confides her hurt over Andre leaving her. Unlike in “Football, Feminism, and You”, where Britta probably would have immediately started ranting against the situation and calling Andre a pig, Britta simply listens and comforts her friend.
Shirley: I have a confession to make. I think some of what I just said may have more to do with my situation.
Britta: Yeah, the long-neck, weave-having bank teller didn’t feel universal.
Shirley: My ex-husband came by this morning, and he, uh, he asked for his ring back. It was his mother’s, and he wants to give it to his new girlfriend.
Britta: Shirley, that sucks.
Shirley: Don’t get me wrong. Best thing ever happened to me was him leaving. I just I always thought he’d come crawling back, and I’d get to tell him to go to Hell. He couldn’t even give me that. You know what the crazy thing is, Britta? Everything I’ve done tonight? It’s like I was too proud to admit I was hurt, so I had to pretend that you were.
Britta: I totally get that.
Britta and Shirley never stopped challenging each other over the course of their friendship…they were too ideologically different NOT to butt heads on a regular basis. But the most important thing is that they always came to a place of understanding between them, because that’s what the best of friends do…inside the ladies room and out.
7) Her Halloween Costumes
Just don’t ever mistake her for Urkel or Miss Piggy. She’s Harry Potter and Glinda the Good Witch people. Get with it like Ben Chang did.
At least Princess Leia was unambiguous.
8) Darkest Timeline Shirley
Because Drunk Shirley and the way she delivers “Of YOU” will NEVER not leave me cackling with delight on my couch.
9) The Way She Made Fun Of Vaughn
Like Clairee Belcher in Steel Magnolias, Shirley likes to candy coat her meaner side. If you can’t say something nice, go sit next to Shirley and she’ll say mean things in a way you THINK is nice. This is never more evident that when she and Jeff bond over their mutual dislike of Vaughn (Shirley, bless her, is SUCH a Britta and Jeff shipper). The Shirley and Jeff dynamic is wonderful “Social Psychology” as the two discover their mutual love of gossip and it’s a shame it took them almost 2 seasons to visit this relationship again in a deeper manner. Joel and Yvette have such a lovely chemistry here as Jeff finds solace in Shirley’s gossipy side. And every time Shirley delightedly says “TINY NIPPLES” in this episode, an angel get its wings.
Plus, without Shirley and Jeff’s meddling, we would have never gotten that Top 40 Jam “Getting Rid of Britta (Getting rid of the B)”, so let’s take a moment to thank them for that.
10) She Is Humbled By Abed
I know I keep saying things are my “favorite” Shirley moments…but this one really IS one of them.
You humble me too, Shirley Bennett.
Leave your love for Shirley and Yvette Nicole Brown in the comments! I’ll be writing a post for each of the remaining characters over the course of Season Six, whenever we get that air date.