Tyler James Williams grew up before our very eyes on Everybody Hates Chris. The beloved child star is a grown-up now and has returned to his sitcom roots with the wildly successful new show Abbott Elementary. The series has reintroduced him to a whole new audience. He caught up with Tamron Hall this week to discuss its success and why Abbott Elementary was the right project for his comedy return after swearing off sitcoms.
Tyler James Williams is from Westchester, NY, and was raised by his parents, who worked in the school system. He and his two younger brothers have all become actors, with Tyler being the first one to take off in the early ’00s with roles on Little Bill and Sesame Street. He went to star as a young Chris Rock on the series Everybody Hates Chris, which ran for four seasons and wrapped in May of 2009. From there, he would do roles for Nickelodeon (True Jackson VP) and The Disney Channel (Let It Shine, Go On) before taking a break from comedy and teen projects to pursue more serious work.
James would land roles in The Walking Dead, Dear White People, Criminal Minds, and The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Despite opting to take a break from comedy, Tyler confessed that when he was approached by Abbott Elementary star and creator Quinta Brunson he felt immediately drawn to the character. Hall asked what did Quinta say to convince him and Tyler admitted it did not take much. She did a brief 30-second pitch, but he felt so connected to the comedy and understood the characters so well. The series is currently breaking records, being one of the only shows to quadruple its ratings following its debut episode.
Abbott Elementary is a workplace comedy shot in the same mockumentary style as The Office and 30 Rock. It follows a group of teachers working at an underfunded school trying to make it work every day for their students. It also features Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James. When asked why the show is doing so well, Tyler says he feels that it has a lot to do with the fact that the show is funny. He says everyone can relate to it because everyone’s gone to school and everyone’s had a teacher.
Tyler admits that when Everyone Hates Chris wrapped, he didn’t want to do another similar role because he was attempting to get away from TV Comedy. He recalls a lot of the ones out at the time being very “broad,” with him feeling like everyone was fighting to get their joke across. “That’s not how I like to do comedy.” Following the show, the actor went on to do drama.
Williams says he values grounded comedies and shows that feel relatable, and for a while, he did not feel like anything was being presented to him quite like that until Abbott Elementary. Tyler says the show felt like the best way to “return to peoples living rooms.” He felt especially drawn to the role because he gets to showcase a black male teacher. Tamron briefly turned their discussion to how fans are swooning over James, who is a grown man now and in great physical shape. He says he enjoys growing with his fans and admits that it is a new space for him to be desired in that way.