She calls him Mr. Perry.
And Cocoa Brown, the comedian from Newport News who stars in "Tyler Perry's For Better or for Worse," says she is just fine with that rule on the set of the TV show.
"Oh, my, no, I don't call him Tyler," Brown says with a laugh. But then she takes on a more serious tone. "And I'm addressed on set as 'Ms. Brown.' He's very big on respect where respect is due. He's a stickler for respect and integrity, and that's one of the reasons we all walk off that set as better actors and as better people."
Brown was hand-picked by the ubiquitous writer-producer when he adapted his hit movie "Why Did I Get Married?" into the TBS TV show last year. The second season begins on Friday.
She plays Jennifer, one of the sassy stylists who works in the salon where the show is set. The role had been played by Jill Scott in the movie and its sequel, and Brown was eager to audition for the part in the TV series. She was flattered to learn that Perry was familiar with her stand-up work.
"He had seen me perform at the Laff Factory in Los Angeles, and he remembered me when it was time to cast the show," Brown says. "I didn't find that detail out until much later. He told me that he was a fan, and that after he saw me he knew that he wanted to work with me. What a great thing to hear from someone like Mr. Perry."
In fact, she says Perry "re-wrote the entire role" in order to make the character mesh with the persona Brown has developed in 15 years of stand-up comedy.
"He allowed me to fine-tune Jennifer," Brown says. "He let me make her the way that I saw her. We incorporated some Cocoa into Jennifer."
Cocoa Brown – it's pronounced "Coca," like the cola – was born Farrah Brown. That's how people knew her when she was at Menchville High School and Virginia Commonwealth University.
In the late 1990s, when she was living outside ofWashington, D.C., the owner of a small comedy club met her at a party, thought she was funny, and asked if she wanted to try warming up audiences before his comedians took the stage. A few years later, she was doing her first headlining gig at Cozzy's in Newport News.
She continues to do live shows, and is preparing a new hourlong set to pitch as a cable special. She became a mother this year – her son Phoenix was born on May 18 – and she says that parenthood has only served to make her a better comedian by giving her new experiences.
Perry and his cast finished filming 35 episodes for the new season of "For Better or Worse" this spring in Atlanta, and Brown promises big changes for her character over the coming season.
"You really spend the first season defining who the character is," Brown says. "In the first season, you saw Jennifer's exterior, and it was mostly comedy, but in this season you're going to see a lot more. That was the blueprint, and the second season will be Mr. Perry building on what I showed in the first season.
"You're going to see more of her character's life outside the salon. You're going to see her vulnerable and hurt, and you're going to see her fight for what she believes in and for what she wants."