Network comedies are rare; great roles for Black actresses are even rarer. Now overlay that with being the breakout star of a hit network comedy and you’ve got some idea of the trajectory for Danielle Pinnock, the Boston-born, London-trained actress who’s also a first-generation immigrant from a Jamaican family.
“It changed my life,” Pinnock said of the CBS sitcom “Ghosts,” which became the 2021 season’s most-watched new comedy series and debuted its second season September 29 with a full 22-episode order. “I’m a plus-size Black woman and many of my roles have been occupationally driven. I would be the sassy librarian who’s like, ‘Get the Harry Potter book over there.'”
Comedy graveyards are littered with the British shows that didn’t survive the transition to American audiences — for every “The Office,” there’s a “Coupling” and “Bad Education” — but “Ghosts” is a happy exception. The conceit suggests “Beeltlejuice” by way of “Fawlty Towers”: A young couple inherits a big country home that’s in bad shape — and! It contains an assortment of former residents who are now non-malevolent ghosts. The original UK version is now entering its fourth season on the BBC, but Pinnock’s role as Alberta Haynes is very American: She’s a jazz singer who died from drinking tainted moonshine.
Alberta is Pinnock’s biggest role, but it’s far from her first. Before she spent four seasons as math teacher Ms. Ingram on CBS sitcom “Young Sheldon” and had five episodes as Nurse Pamela on Epix series “Get Shorty,” she earned her MFA at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. There, she interviewed 300 people for what became her one-woman dissertation show, “Body/Courage,” and performed it over a five-year period. That led to a Second City fellowship in Chicago.
“When I moved to Los Angeles, I felt like I was in the Atlanta Olympics,” said Pinnock. “I’ve realized even though the industry will say you have to get on social media, you have to do X, Y, Z, I didn’t want to follow in those footsteps. I wanted to do my own thing. I wasn’t in it to garner 100 million followers. I just wanted to be able to create.”
For Pinnock, that meant creating “Hashtag Booked” with her friend and fellow actor LaNisa Frederick. Launched in 2018, “Hashtag Booked” began as a Facebook Page containing viral videos that documented the unfiltered trials and tribulations of being a Black actress. Episodes include the best friend who celebrates your no-dialogue casting as “Crackhead #2,” being the actor who finds every excuse to remind people of the time she was a guest star on “Blues Clues”, and even a heartfelt confessional of what it feels like, after 20 years, to finally be on a set with a hair and makeup team who understands Black hair.
“We were going into all these auditions, and nothing was happening when we first moved to Los Angeles,” Pinnock said. However, social media buzz generated by “Hashtag Booked” led to interest from CBS for “Ghosts.” (The execs were delighted and surprised by her improv skills.)
“It was tough to pound the pavement and still hear the ‘nos,'” Pinnock said. “We decided we were just going to create our own ‘yes.'”
Today, that ‘yes’ belongs to a lot of people. She finds “Hashtag Booked” fans “at the coffee shops, in the streets, and on the set of ‘Ghosts.’ People tell me they feel seen,” Pinnock said. “When they need laughter at the absurdities that happened in the entertainment industry, they go to the page. That just means the world to me because LaNisa and I created this as an outlet for us.” Pinnock and Frederick are now developing a “Hashtag Booked” movie pitch they’ll shop to studios in 2023.
Working with Emmy-nominated actress Punam Patel (“Special”), Pinnock also is developing an adult animated series, “Unmentionables.” A story of mismatched underwear and the millennial who wears them, “Empire” director Anthony Hemingway and star Taraji P. Henson are attached as executive producers.
For now, Pinnock is all about “Ghosts” Season 2, which will delve more deeply into Alberta’s past. “I am so thrilled to have a flashback,” Pinnock said. “Many wanted to see Alberta back in the 1920s in the jazz clubs during Harlem Renaissance. That’s what they’re going to get in Episode 2.” Alberta will also get a romance, as her relationship with scoutmaster ghost Pete (Richie Moriarity) continues to develop.
Or maybe she isn’t all about “Ghosts,” or even “Hashtag Booked.” “I feel like a lot of times, for actors in the industry, it’s always just go, go, go,” Pinnock said. “And there’s no self care that’s happening. And I cannot allow the industry to run me ragged. Because then I won’t have anything left.
“My courage without question comes from my mom and my grandmother,” she said. “They raised me on their own, and they are the fiercest women that I know. And seeing the adversities that they faced and how they’ve just faced them with such grace and power, that is what gives me courage to know that I can keep going, whether in the industry and in life, too.”
“Ghosts” Season 2 premiered on CBS September 29.