‘Abbott Elementary’: Here’s Why Principal Ava Looks so Familiar

The hilarious yet absurd principal in Abbott Elementary, Ava Coleman, has quickly become a fan-favorite. Comedian Janelle James portrays the character in the mockumentary series; here’s why she looks so familiar.

Janelle James as Principal Ava Coleman standing onstage on 'Abbott Elementary'
Janelle James as Principal Ava Coleman during ‘Abbott Elementary’ | Raymond Liu/ABC/Getty Images

Who plays the principal in ‘Abbott Elementary?’

Saint Thomas-born comedian, writer, and actor Janelle James stars in ABC comedy Abbott Elementary as Principal Ava Coleman.

The unqualified and self-involved educator only received her position due to blackmail, with her admitting, “I needed a job.” Her lack of experience shows as she tends to misuse the school funds and seems more focused on wanting recognition than genuinely helping the students.

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Recognizing how much help their underfunded school needs, the principal has attempted to help by landing the elementary a spot in a documentary. Additionally, she assisted her staff in obtaining the materials they needed for their classroom by helping them make catchy videos.

It worked for second-grade teacher Janine Teagues, portrayed by Quinta Brunson, who also created, produced, and wrote the mockumentary series, and kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard, even though she went too far. Regardless, the principal has become a favorite character in the sitcom.

Here’s why Ava (Janelle James) in ‘Abbott Elementary’ looks so familiar

After moving to the United States at the age of 16 from St. Thomas, James began her career in 2009 by performing at an Illinois-based open mic.

She continued performing standup and eventually gained steam, landing a spot opening for Chris Rock in 2017. She then released her debut comedy album, Black and Mild, wrote for BET late-night talk show The Rundown with Robin Thede, and appeared in an episode of comedy-drama, Crashing as Julie, before getting featured in Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup (2018).

James then came out with podcasts You in Danger, Gurl, and Strong Black Laughs in 2019 until becoming a staff writer for Showtime’s Black Monday (2020)starring Don Cheadle and Regina Hall.

She also frequently appeared in a recurring role as Joyce. Before landing Abbott Elementary, the comedian portrayed Maggie for an episode of Corporate (2020) and voiced a recurring character Fran for Apple+ animated sitcom Central Park (2020), in which she also wrote.

James previously described portraying Ava as ‘exhausting’

James admitted she enjoyed portraying Ava during a January 2022 interview with The GATE but found it “exhausting.” The comedian explained the principal is peppier than her, requiring the actor to “basically stay in that character all day.”

Although she found it tiring, James admitted the process gave her “insight into what truly cheerful people feel like.” According to the writer, it’s difficult to “fake” a constant jovial attitude as “a lot of energy goes into those good mornings.”

However, when it comes to flirting with Tyler James Williams’ character, substitute teacher Gregory Eddie, the actor admitted it comes easier to her as she considers herself more of a natural flirt.

As James has made her career in standup, and Ava comes as her first main role, the comedian pointed out her character incorporates more “physical comedy” than she’s used to due to her experience in standup. However, James noted she enjoys having to run around and “scream” as the outgoing principal. Abbott Elementary airs Tuesdays on ABC.

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