The fuzzy orange hockey supporter plays himself in the Season 2 premiere, titled “Development Day.” Janine, the second grade teacher played by series creator and recent Emmy winner Quinta Brunson, invites Gritty to Abbott Elementary to surprise the students on their first day of school, though things inevitably go wrong.
“Gritty, to me, is such a beautiful representation of Philadelphia,” Brunson says in a behind-the-scenes video Variety can exclusively unveil. “The way he is joyful, the way he looks, the way he feels, the way he is.” Adds Sheryl Lee Ralph, who also just won an Emmy for her “Abbott Elementary” work: “There are a lot of people who might be iconic in Philadelphia. There are a lot of people that might be loved in Philadelphia. None of them come close to the love and admiration that is given to Gritty.”
Over email, Gritty took some time to give Variety an exclusive interview about his time on the ABC sitcom.
Are you an “Abbott Elementary” fan? Did Quinta Brunson approach you as a guest star, or did you ask to be in the show yourself?
When you’ve reached the level of fame and success that Quinta and I have, you have people for that. Her people reached out to my people. Of course I’m a fan … It’s comedy, it’s Philly and it’s school. I love two of those things!
How did you approach playing yourself? Did you get to contribute any action or did you stick to the script?
Some, less experienced actors, have described the challenges of playing yourself on camera. I can’t relate. Truly, I found it refreshing that Hollywood didn’t try to get some C-lister like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to play me at a discount. I stuck to the script but of course added some of my Gritty charm we all know and love.
In the episode, since he isn’t from Philadelphia, Gregory (Tyler James Williams) doesn’t understand why you’re such a big deal. How do you explain the phenomenon of Gritty to people outside of Philly?
I’m not in the business of explaining myself or my actions. You either get me or you’re wrong.
You’ve been described in the New York Times as “somebody you wanted to high-five, but not hug.” But you hug Janine at the end of the episode. How do you decide who to open up to?
Every hug is different. That one in particular wasn’t for me, it was for Janine. I have a keen eye for when someone needs a hug, a high-five or a sheet cake hurled at their face. Although I do sometimes get them confused. Never ends well.
Should Gregory end up with Janine or Ava?
Only a matchmaker quiz from Seventeen Magazine has the power to answer that question.
Who on the “Abbott Elementary” set did you get along with best? Did you make any enemies?
I’ve had my fair share of showmances, but I kept it professional this time around. My rules are simple. You like me, I like you. As of right now, I’m not beefing with anyone from the cast but I might stir up some drama next week if I’m bored.
Who’s the bigger Philly icon? You or Quinta?
In terms of height, me. Trusted sources (Wikipedia) have Quinta listed at 4 ft 11 in. If we’re going by Emmys, she’s got me beat.