Mr. Johnson wants to keep the school clean, but also make it as positive and livable as possible for the students.
When season one of Abbot Elementary hit ABC back in December of 2021, it was met with critical acclaim. The American mockumentary sitcom television series is known for its comedy and co-star William Standford Davis delivers his at the forefront – leading nearly 3 million viewers in intense laughter as he comically delivers each line.
It’s a story of a group of dedicated, passionate teachers who find themselves thrown together in a Philadelphia public school. With odds stacked against both the students and the staff, they are committed to helping the students succeed in life as they lead with love. Through incredible public servitude, the Abbott Elementary community flourishes although they are outnumbered and underfunded. Even when the school district’s less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children is a reality – they love what they do.
This year the TV series received 7 nominations at the Television Academy’s annual Emmy Awards Show, including a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series – 2022. It was a nomination that could not have been achieved without the stellar on-screen comedic performance of William Stanford Davis as Janitor Mr. Johnson.
“For me this is a great opportunity to be a part of something so funny and yet impactful,” Davis tells Sheen. “When I decided to leave standup, I had done it for 15 years, working clubs all over the country on TV. I always wanted to do standup since I was a kid. I watched all the great comics, Richard Pryor to Jackie Mason, you name it. In my house, we watched Ed Sullivan every Sunday. He had the top comics in the world on his show every week. If it made my people laugh, like my grandfather, who was a tough guy to make laugh, I would try to make him laugh too.”
“I didn’t know that this was going to be my life’s work, but as I got older, it just became more and more of a survival technique for me to make people laugh. I also got into music. I became a DJ and at the time thought that was where my career was going to stay but realized that everything, I had done has led me to the now. I have always wanted to be an actor, to have the opportunity to do something that makes people feel good about themselves and have them experience something that made them feel better than before is what it’s all about for me,” he added.
On September 21st, Season 2 of Abbot Elementary debuted with 2.8 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Research. It was ABC’s highest-rated show during Wednesday primetime. With top television critics at Rotten Tomatoes giving the show a 100% rating and IMDb soring the show with 8.2 out of 10 stars – it’s clear that the lovable comedy is impacting households and lives nationwide.
Sheen spoke with Davis about his role as Janitor Mr. Johnson, what excites him most about season 2, and much more!
Tell us about your role in Abbot Elementary.
Mr. Johnson is an integral part of the cast. Janitors are a very big part of the school system, especially in public schools. Mr. Johnson wants to keep the school clean, but also make it as positive and livable as possible for the students.
When I was growing up, I only saw one black program on American television, which was Julia. Then there was I Spy with Bill Cosby. Before that, there was Amos ‘n Andy and Stepin Fetchit and all these demeaning roles for African Americans. I think that the cultural relevance of the role is that there are more working black actors and black decision-makers. Quinta’s a decision maker, she’s a boss, and she’s going to be making decisions from now on. She’s really put together a stellar cast. I think that based on what the fans have indicated, this show is not just funny, it sends a message. It’s about empowering not only teachers, who should get paid more than they do in this country but the education system. Making it a better experience, all while putting more people who look like me on television.
With Season 2 of Abbot Elementary at hand, what excites you the most?
Season 2 gets more personal and takes you into the personal lives and homes of some of the characters. There will be lots of surprises as the season unfolds. I wish I could share some of them. I think the audience is going to be very pleased. The writers are really taking the time this season to illustrate and detail the personal lives of everyone in the cast. The fans are going to be very happy and pleasantly surprised. For sure this season promises to be bigger and better than the last.
Having a second wave in your career as an actor and comedian with a reach that impacts the new generation, what type of values do you personally want to instill in them?
When I used to teach class, I would always tell young actors to be prepared to hear a lot of no’s … they need to have the drive to not quit because One of those no’s will eventually become a YES!!
If the entertainment industry is something that you really want to do whether as an actor or comedian, you must be ready to make sacrifices and be dedicated to the craft. If you really want to be a comic be prepared to eat a lot of ramen! You might have days like me where your lights are turned off, or you can’t put gas in your car, but if you love what you do, you’ll overcome that you’ll find a way. If you really love it, if you really want to do it, then you must stick to it. It may not happen in the time that you think it should happen, you know? I would love to have been a star in my twenties or my thirties or my forties or my fifties or my sixties, but I feel like I’ve been lucky. I’ve been a working actor for about 25 years and didn’t have to work a square job. To me, that’s a success. Even if Abbot hadn’t come along, and I am so happy and grateful it did, I would still feel successful. I think that if you’re passionate about this, you can’t quit. You can’t stop, you have to keep going. Look at it like any other profession, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, or if you want to be a schoolteacher, you keep doing it, you don’t quit!
What do you want your legacy to be?
I would like my legacy to be Kind of like what I just talked about, I want to be remembered as someone who didn’t give up, that I was someone who always enjoyed what I was doing. That I hoped to, through what I have done, been able to change people in some kind of way, make them feel better, and to make them think. Hopefully by the end of their experience with me, whether it be on TV or in person, I left them in a better place.
Watch William Stanford Davis as he leads the nation in laughter through his comedic role as Janitor Mr. Johnson on ABC’s Abbot Elementary alongside ensemble castmates LaQuinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, and Chris Perfetti. The TV series is available on VUDU, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Apple TV streaming platforms.
For more information on William Stanford Davis, follow him on IG @thewilliamstanforddavis