'Nailed It' Host Nicole Byer: 'There Isn't Just One Type Of Black' The rising comedy star and host of the Emmy-nominated baking competition Nailed It! has gone to therapy weekly, escaped grief onstage and taught herself to do her own makeup for television.

'There Isn't Just One Type Of Black,' Says Comedian Nicole Byer

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"Nailed It!" is a competition show that celebrates baking failures. So when host Nicole Byer learned it was nominated for an Emmy, she was shocked.


NICOLE BYER: We were nominated? (Laughter). Everybody was surprised.

CORNISH: And not just because Byer isn't a baker. She's a comedian who bares her insecurities. She riffs on her looks. She sings on her podcast about her sex life - or lack of it.


BYER: (Singing) Why won't you date me? Why won't you date me? Please tell me why.

I think it's funny to, like, try to sing and then really desperately plead (laughter), why won't you date me? It's a real question. I'm so single.

CORNISH: Nicole Byer and I talked before a live audience at the Downtown Independent theater in LA, in partnership with KPCC. We discussed, among other things, how she broke into comedy. There's a telling sketch from a few years ago when she was with the troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade.


LAUREN ADAMS: (As director) I need you to be blacker. Do you understand what I mean when I say blacker?

BYER: (As actor) No, I'm sorry. I don't.

ADAMS: (As director) Do you know how to be (snapping fingers) sassy? Still rolling. Go ahead.

JOHN TROWBRIDGE: (As assistant) LaShawana (ph), did you get those clams I asked for?

BYER: (As actor) Oh, child. I got them clams. I got everything on that list you gave me.

ADAMS: (As director) Blacker.

BYER: (As actor) Clams make the party - ha, ha.

ADAMS: (As director) Spike Lee.

BYER: (As actor) Oh, the clams - oh, yes.

ADAMS: (As director) Oprah.

BYER: (As actor) You're getting a clam. You're getting a clam.


ADAMS: (As director) Yes, Nicole.

CORNISH: So I think that...


CORNISH: ...What was surprising about when I first saw that was that it was still funny...

BYER: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...Like, that it still existed - that it was still funny and that actors were still going through that.

BYER: Yeah. I know what I sound like, so it would require me to code switch for me to do those things. And that's not who I am. It's hurtful when you realize, oh, Hollywood understands one type of black. Like, there isn't one type of white. Like, Emma Stone, Emma Roberts - all these girls get to exist. They can be anything they want. And we have to be just one thing. It really makes me upset (laughter).

CORNISH: No, no. No, this is interesting. And it's interesting you're using the term code switching. I mean, I think - obviously, as someone in public radio, I go through the same thing. I get the same questions of, like, is that your real voice? It's like, well, I'm talking, aren't I? You know, like...

BYER: Yeah. When I was little, people would say to me and my sister - or to my mother - wow, they're so well-spoken. And I didn't realize until I was an adult that that's a microaggression.

CORNISH: Same thing. Yeah.

BYER: Just because I'm a little black girl doesn't mean that I'm going to sound the type of way you think I'm going to sound. My name is Nicole because my mother knew that on a resume, a black-sounding or a black-looking name will not get you in the door. That is not different now in 2019.

CORNISH: On that note, there is one aspect of your story that I see always kind of on the edge of the frame, and that's, like, the story of your family and growing up. I want to play a sample of a moment like that on your podcast.


BYER: My dad would cut the grass in bike shorts. So when I was an adult, I realized why women...

MONIQUE HEART: Why they would (laughter)...

BYER: ...Would stop by the house and be like, hi, Trevor. And I was just like, our neighborhood's friendly. And it's like, nope.

HEART: Where was your mom? (Laughter).

BYER: Oh, she was inside. She was not threatened at all.

HEART: (Laughter).

BYER: Yeah. After they both passed, me and my sister found an economy-sized box of condoms in his, like, armoire. And we were like, oh, so I guess that's why she was not worried.

CORNISH: OK. So first of all, I want to say that I'm very sorry that you went through that, you know? And that's difficult. And can you tell us what happened to your parents?

BYER: Yeah. So my mom died of a pulmonary embolism, so it was a blood clot in her leg that traveled her heart. It was very sudden.

CORNISH: And how old are you?

BYER: Sixteen. And then my dad died when I was 21. I was living in New York at the time. My dad and I didn't really get along because he truly didn't understand any of the decisions I ever made. So I, like, surprised him, and then we made pizzas. And we had a really great time. He, like, went grocery shopping, got me, like, all the toppings I liked. And we just really, like, had a wonderful evening. Like - and then my sister woke me up at, like, 7 a.m. and was like, I think Daddy's having a seizure. He died of, like, a massive heart attack the next day.

CORNISH: Who helped you through those passings?

BYER: Comedy. I had started doing improv, I think, the beginning of June 2008, and my dad died in June 2008. And I'd ask him when I started taking classes - I was like, Daddy, OK - so for my grad show, will you finally come to New York and watch me perform? And then he said, hard no - I'll die before I watch you do improv (laughter). People don't like that joke.


BYER: (Laughter) I still think it's pretty funny (laughter).

But yeah, doing comedy truly helped me through that because it took my mind off of things. I didn't have to be me for the two hours of play rehearsal. It was a blessing that I had found these things before they passed away so I could escape.

CORNISH: It's a lot of pressure, though.

BYER: What do you mean?

CORNISH: To, like, hold it all to yourself.

BYER: Oh, I go to so much therapy.



BYER: So much therapy.

CORNISH: That's the part I wanted to get out here (laughter).

BYER: So much therapy. I'm a huge supporter of people getting into therapy, especially black women. We're told, you know, be a strong black woman. Your business is your business. And it's like, it's good to, like, talk to people who are not your friends or are not your family.

CORNISH: You mentioned the idea of it being helpful for black women in particular. And I want to dig into that for just a tiny bit because I think you haven't been afraid to talk about some of your frustrations, whether it be with production assistants or makeup people.

BYER: Like, if you ever see - have you ever seen a white woman do a black woman's natural hair?

CORNISH: Oh, it has happened to me.

BYER: Isn't it...


BYER: ...Wild where they're just like, OK...


BYER: ...And you're good.


BYER: And you're like, you didn't put anything in my hair.

CORNISH: (Laughter) I know. I know.

BYER: Also, you patted it into a square.


BYER: Like...

CORNISH: (Laughter).

BYER: Also, like, wardrobe things - sometimes people don't want to shop for a fat person, so I'll just bring things 'cause I've done things where they've had to cut the shirt that I'm wearing so the back is open. Yeah, it's awful. Being a woman - a fat woman - a fat black woman - you are literally garbage to people, and they treat you any sort of way they want.

CORNISH: And how do you cope with it?

BYER: I (laughter) - oh, Mary.


BYER: I - I'm past being, like, oh, I'm so lucky to be here. I'm like, well, I'm funny; that's why I'm here. So I just do my job.

CORNISH: You know, I think fundamentally, your brand at this point is joy.

BYER: Yeah. I mean (laughter) - yeah, I mean, like, when my mom died, I was a hellion. I think that's a good word. I made a lot of bad choices, and I was, like, really angry with the world. And I lived with a very reckless abandon. Like, one of my dear friends was like, when I first met you, I thought you were going to die before you hit 30.

So I think those years really shaped me into now because now I'm, like, in therapy and, like, I do a little yoga. I just started taking care of myself. I have a lot of things I want to share with the world, and I really like what I do. It really brings me joy to do comedy. Uh-oh.

CORNISH: It brings all of us joy, and we're glad you're taking care of yourself.

BYER: Thank you. Yeah.


BYER: Yeah. It was a long journey to that.


CORNISH: Nicole Byer, comedian and host of "Nailed It!" Thank you so much.

BYER: Thank you.

CORNISH: And we spoke to Nicole Byer live in Los Angeles as part of our series on the rule-breaking women of comedy.


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