While Nicole Byer’s projects were stalled due to the pandemic, she spent much of her time (like many others) turning to activities and entertainment to keep her busy, including watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and 90 Day Fiancé. However, much of her energy most recently has shifted to social justice issues and next month’s election.
In a virtual event hosted by Black Action Society and the Homecoming Committee last Saturday, the star of Netflix’s Nailed It and MTV’s Girl Code shared her experiences as a black woman in comedy, her reflections with her time at Nailed It and her stances on the political climate. The moderated question-and-answer session with Byer concluded SRU’s virtual Homecoming festivities.
Kareesha Reed, a junior education major with a minor in psychology and parliamentarian of Black Action Society, and D’Erika Cromartie, a senior dual majoring in public health and psychology and president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., moderated the event.
While Byer’s Netflix competition show is based around baking, she admits that she has not learned much since most contestants fail to read the directions. She added that some of her favorite contestants on the show are ones who make bold choices.
“I love a character,” Byer said. “Because I’m a weirdo, so I love weirdos. I love people who are just like, ‘this is me,’ very unapologetic.”
Byer said that one of the biggest challenges she faces is being seen as a comedian and actress who can play multiple types of characters, an issue she believes she will face for a while.
“The obstacle is getting people to believe that a dark-skinned, fat black woman can be believed, does have levels and isn’t just loud, sassy,” Byer said.
When she approaches a character for a scripted show, Byer said she determines how much of her personality and comedic style she should infuse in the character. When she played Gwendolyn on The Good Place, she had to be a naïve character, even though she considers herself more skeptical in real life.
“Sure, I’m a happy, peppy person, but I also had to play somebody who is so innocent and not easily fooled, but really just believes things at face value and that’s not me,” Byer said.
Byer was the first black woman to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Host this past summer. While she was excited for the nomination, she hoped that her nomination opens up opportunities for other people of color to host shows.
“I was really excited that I was nominated and people were like, ‘Did it change your life?’ and I was like, ‘No, I hope it changes somebody else’s life’” Byer said. “I hope another fat black woman who’s a comic will be thought of to host a show. I hope an Asian woman, a trans woman, I hope different people are then considered for the job as opposed to five straight white dudes or, you know, the same type of people.”
Byer also hosts the podcast “Why Won’t You Date Me?” in which she brings guests onto the show, including Monique Hart and Roxane Gay, to talk about “their dating life and figure out her own.” Byer said that since May, she only had people of color on the show.
“And I really liked that I’ve done that,” Byer said. “I like that I’m giving some people access to black and brown and queer comics and performers that they normally wouldn’t find on their own.”
Byer also acknowledged her own personal growth throughout her almost three-year run on the podcast, especially concerning social justice.
Byer, who said she attended Black Lives Matter protests, said that she supports defunding the police, and she witnesses the presence of military-grade vehicles at these protests.
“I was out there protesting and whatnot, and you see these military-grade vehicles, you see the National Guard and army fatigues in America, and you’re just like, ‘Wait, you have all this s*** like on standby?’” Byer said.
Byer, whose sister is a teacher, claims that this funding can be used to fund education and mental health resources, such as therapy.
“Billions of dollars are funneled into the police for what?” Byer said. “If I get pulled over, I don’t need somebody with a gun walking up to me to ask me for my license and registration. I don’t need someone with a gun coming to my house to save a cat in a tree. We don’t need police to be policing the way that they are.”
Byer also emphasized the importance of researching candidates and data, including the corporations funding political candidates.
When Reed asked Byer about her advice for college students who are attempting to pursue their careers in the middle of the pandemic. Using one example of becoming a comic and filming short videos for YouTube and Instagram, Byer suggested students finding an alternative route to get what they want.
Byer added that Nailed It will return to Netflix at some point and that she will be working with John Cena on Wipeout. She also filmed a pilot for NBC, and she added that she is working on other projects she could not announce yet.