‘Abbott Elementary’: Janelle James’ Favorite Ava Joke Is 1 That Fans Might Have Missed

Ava Coleman may not be the best boss, but she sure has a lot of fans. The Abbott Elementary character, played by Janelle James, quickly became a meme-worthy and fan-favorite part of ABC‘s hit sitcom last year. And now that Abbott Elementary is back for season 2, many viewers can’t wait to hear more of the school principal’s witty one-liners. In a recent interview, James reflected on her character and shared her own favorite Ava jokes, including one that fans might not have caught during their first watch.

Abbott Elementary star Janelle James shared her favorite Ava Coleman joke from the show.
‘Abbott Elementary’ star Janelle James, who plays Ava Coleman | Leon Bennett/FilmMagic

Janelle James plays Ava Coleman in ‘Abbott Elementary’

Fans of Abbott Elementary know Ava Coleman as the tone-deaf principal at Willard R. Abbott Public School. She’s not exactly qualified for the job, but she got it by blackmailing the superintendent. Ava often dismisses the challenges that teachers face at Abbott Elementary, flirts on the job, and makes selfish decisions. Still, her sense of humor and relatability has made fans fall in love with her. James’ excellent portrayal of Ava even landed her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. (The award went to her co-star, Sheryl Lee Ralph, for her portrayal of Barbara Howard.)

In an interview with USA Today, James said she thinks people love Ava because she represents a boss that everyone has had at one point. Plus, some people probably want to be more like Ava.

“I think people all secretly want to be a narcissistic layabout, you know what I mean?” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, that person says what she’s thinking all the time. Don’t we all wish we could say and do that? Especially in the workplace, I could just tell everybody what I think about them.’ She fulfills that hidden desire in people.” 

Janelle James said fans might have missed her favorite Ava joke in ‘Abbott Elementary’ Season 1

James also shared her favorite Ava joke from season 1 in the interview. The line comes from episode 4, “New Tech,” in which the teachers at Abbott Elementary must learn their way around a new computer program. During the first meeting about the program, Ava greets her staff by saying, “Damn, last time I was up this early was to cuss out the mailman. Don’t need all those bills coming.”

The comedian said that fans might not “catch” the joke until they rewatch the show. However, she loves the randomness of the line.

“It’s just so random and out of nowhere, like, ‘What is she talking about?’ Those are the kinds of jokes I like,” she added.

James’ first improvised line is often quoted by fans

In addition to Abbott’s hilarious scripted jokes, James has pulled from her stand-up comedy experience to improvise a few lines on the show. One of these lines, “Let me back my tasty a** up,” has become the most-quoted joke the game show host hears from fans. Speaking to Variety, James shared that it was her first improvised joke on Abbott Elementary, so she’s proud of how popular it has become.

“A lot of the things that made me happy are not necessarily a line, but little things that I added as an actress, because the funny is coming from the writers’ room. The scripts are coming to us already funny, and then we add our spice to it,” James revealed. “Of course, ‘back my tasty a** up.’ That was the first ad-lib that I got through. Ava isn’t on screen as often as people maybe think she has been since I’ve been memed so much, but I’m glad that when I am I’m landing it, so that makes me happy.”

New episodes of Abbott Elementary air on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

RELATED: ‘Abbott Elementary’: Janelle James Calls Playing Ava’ Exhausting’: ‘It Gave Me Insight Into What Truly Cheerful People Feel Like’