As genre entertainment has exploded in pop culture and Comic-Con has ballooned with it, cosplay has become more than just a hobby. It’s a movement, where conventions have become an outlet for fanboys and girls and everyone in between to craft and wear costumes of their favorite characters.
Syfy’s newest reality competition show Cosplay Melee aims to further legitimize the art form, pitting cosplayers against each other for a weekly $10,000 prize, featuring cosplay model LeeAnna Vamp and costume creator Christian Beckman as judges.
The show is hosted by someone familiar with the community, self-proclaimed nerd and Community star Yvette Nicole Brown.
Daily Brief sat down to talk to the actress about what makes Cosplay Melee unique and how the show provides hope in the current political climate.
Daily Brief: Congratulations on getting cast in a new ABC pilot.
Yvette Nicole Brown: Thank you! That was a last minute blessing that came out of nowhere. I literally closed my deal on Wednesday at 9 p.m. and was on set at 10 a.m. the next day. It’s a whirlwind.
It’s so exciting you get to work with Daveed Diggs.
Brown: Oh my god, I’m a huge fan of “Hamilton.” He’s a friend of mine, so it’s nice to get to play with him.
Are you going to bring him on the show for a “Hamilton” cosplay episode?
Listen, if I can bring him and the lovely Leslie Odom Jr., I sure will.
That would be amazing. Obviously there’s a reason you’re hosting this show: you’re known for being a fangirl. When did your nerd-dom begin?
I’ve been a nerd my entire life. The way I categorize nerd-dom is basically being super excited about something. And you can be nerdy about anything. Most of us choose Star Wars or Game of Thrones, but you can freak out about anything. I’ve never seen being a nerd as a negative. I’ve always felt underdogs are the smartest, most talented and most interesting people. I’ve always been honored to be someone who was out of step with what everyone else was doing.
That pairs with the show perfectly. What makes this show stand out from other reality competitions is its sense of community.
I took my first trip to Comic-Con in 2009 when we were promoting Community and it was the first time I saw thousands of people that were as weird as me. And I mean that in the best way. I love that they have no problem being fully themselves in public. Whatever that was, if that was a fairy, Darth Vader, a walker. I saw someone cosplay as Mary Poppins last year. This is my people!
Something about it is like the mothership calling me home. I understand their need to create. They have to. If that’s building a costume in their bedroom that will only be seen by their family on Thanksgiving, or making something for Comic-Con or Cosplay Melee, whatever level they’re doing, I’m all in.
Have you ever cosplayed yourself?
I have not. I’m one of those people that if I can’t do it with excellence, I don’t do it. I know my skill set and creating weapons and all that stuff isn’t it.
The closest thing is I grew up near Cleveland and had two Barbie dolls, and we didn’t have the money to buy Barbie’s kitchen and whatever, so I would create different things for my Barbies. That was the closest to cosplay I ever came and that was from being poor. I’ve never tried it, because I don’t think I’d do it as well as they do. It’s enough for me to just celebrate their artistry.
Have you seen someone cosplay as “Shirley” before?
I have! The fans of Community were amazing, and they created this thing called CommuniCon, and we had it for at least three of the six years we were on the air. Gillian Jacobs and I would go one day every year it came to LA. The first year there was no Shirley cosplay and I was very upset. A lot of Annie’s, a couple Abed’s, but no Shirley’s. I said, when I come back here next year, there better be some Shirley’s. I made sure nobody would do black face, because that’s very important. Next year there was five Shirley’s.
Do you have any challenges or themes you want to see?
They hit all of the bases that I think are mainstream enough for those just entering the cosplay world with this show. We have space opera, Game of Thrones, superheroes, video games, anime. Those are all areas that, no matter how deep you are into the cosplay world, you can get some, as they say. Next year we can probably get a little more into it.
But the way our show is set up, if we do space opera, we allow the cosplayers to choose whether they want to do Star Trek or Guardians of the Galaxy. We could do space opera every year and the cosplayers could create their character that fits into their favorite. We give you the framework but you get to fill it with your love and imagination. We don’t have to get too niche with categories. We give the broad strokes and they add the specificity that makes the show special. It’s wide open.
It’s amazing how cosplay has transformed over the years—it’s a movement. Given the world we live in right now, I found the pilot inspiring. Representation matters. Was that part of the equation for you?
I’m kind of a bleeding heart. Anyone who knows me knows that the thing I want to leave the world with and teach the world about is kindness. It’s really important to take care of each other. Anything I do is going to have that at the heart of it. Syfy knew that about me, and that’s why they wanted me to host because they knew no matter what the show was, I was going to bring that ‘oh my god I think you’re amazing’ energy. Everybody’s amazing in their own way. We are all just delicious.
Because I wasn’t in the locker room to see how they were creating, I just saw their final creations. When watching the show, the thing that was the most touching to me was how much they took care of each other. Someone would be making something and something would break and they would need assistance, and they’re under the same time constraints and they’re competing, but the person would put their shield down and go over and help someone with their weapon. Because it’s not enough for me to win if we don’t all win. That is inherent in the people who do cosplay. There’s a love and respect for each other that everybody could learn from, especially in this world we are in right now. The idea that people care about each other, even though they’re not like them. There hasn’t been one time when a winner was announced that everyone hasn’t celebrated the winner. There were no sour grapes and that’s unique to this show.
You’re not going to see that on The Bachelor. It’s refreshing.
I think we’re diminished as a people, all of us, when we only care about ourselves winning. You know what I mean? We’re seeing that play out every day—where it’s this whole idea of I got mine, you get yours. I can’t be okay if somebody around me is suffering. Something within me dies inside when I have something and someone does not and I have it within me to give it to them. And all of these people have that. It’s a family. That’s what I love about the show. Anyone who watches will leave a little softer. That’s a beautiful thing right now. We need that right now.
While there have been a lot of troubling developments lately, there has been some strides made in Hollywood for African American women, with Channing Dungey running ABC Entertainment and Viola Davis winning an Oscar. Do you have any thoughts about the long overdue ascension of African American women in Hollywood?
It’s amazing. It is long overdue. It’s necessary because, sorry to be political, but we are dealing with someone in power who has decided that anyone who is not like him, which is rich and white essentially, doesn’t deserve anything. They don’t deserve human rights, they don’t deserve equal rights, healthcare, Meals on Wheels, the arts. They deserve nothing. Representation matters and not just as a black woman.
Representation matters for poor people. For gay people. For sick people. Black people, and especially black women, are finally getting to kick in the door, and that’s wonderful, but it’s not enough just for me to get in the door. I have to hold the door open, and flood through as many hundreds as I can, as quickly as I can, because our life is disappearing in front of us. A show like Cosplay Melee will help, because we’re going to see every race, all genders, working together, and nobody’s wrong, or mean, or hateful. It’s a beautiful melting pot and everybody’s okay with it.
The beautiful melting pot of Cosplay Melee premieres Tuesday 10/9c on Syfy.