'Nailed It!' Host Nicole Byer: 'There Isn't Just One Type Of Black' : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders We're sharing 'All Things Considered' host Audie Cornish's conversation with comedian Nicole Byer, whom she calls a "star on the rise." Byer has helmed a comedy series, two hit podcasts, a Netflix comedy special and the Emmy-nominated Netflix cooking series, 'Nailed It!' The pair sat down in front of a live audience in Los Angeles earlier this year to talk about her successes, auditioning as a black woman in comedy and using improv to cope with the loss of her parents.

Comedian Nicole Byer On Auditioning As A Black Woman, Coping With Loss And Fat Jokes

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(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. Today I am taking a break. I'm passing the mic to a good friend and colleague, Audie Cornish. You know Audie as one of the hosts of NPR's All Things Considered. But what you might not know is that, for a while now, Audie has been putting on this awesome series of live events - interviews with authors and actors and interesting people. I've been to a few of these events. They are quite fun. And today in my podcast feed, we're going to give you one of those chats - comedian Nicole Byer in conversation with Audie Cornish in front of a live audience.

Audie calls Nicole a, quote, "star on the rise." She has a comedy series. It's called "Loosely Exactly Nicole." She also has two hit podcasts, a Netflix comedy special and, most recently, an Emmy-nominated show called "Nailed It!" This is the Netflix competition show devoted to baking failures.

All right. Nicole Byer talked with Audie in front of a live audience at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles earlier this year, right around the time when the team at "Nailed It!" heard about their Emmy nomination. This event was put on in partnership with NPR member station KPCC. And one last bit of warning - there's some sensitive language in this episode that we have bleeped, and there's some discussion of sexual content. It may not be the best for kids. OK. Here we go.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

NICOLE BYER: Oh, boy. I feel like my...

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: All right. First...

BYER: OK. Yes.

CORNISH: ...I should just say congratulations.

BYER: Thank you.

CORNISH: Emmy nomination...

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: ...Is huge.

BYER: Isn't it wild?

CORNISH: And for the one or two people who came in here and maybe don't know the premise of "Nailed It!" it's a show that's basically like the opposite of all competition shows. Right?

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: Instead of striving for perfection, it celebrates effort in the face of incompetence.

BYER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: All right. So this category has the usual suspects - "Top Chef," "Amazing Race," "America Ninja Warrior," "RuPaul's Drag Race." This is all about, like, be the best; be amazing.

BYER: Yes. And our show is truly like - as long as you don't kill people with your food...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: ...You might win.

CORNISH: And even then...

BYER: Even - yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: There's been some times when you guys have scooped into a cake and you need a spoon.

BYER: Yeah. The call I got from Netflix - one of the execs on the show, she was like - did you hear? We were nominated?

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: And my friend D'Arcy was doing the announcements with Ken Jeong. And she was like, "Nailed It!"? Like...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: ...Everybody was surprised.

CORNISH: The thing is, all of the hosts of those shows are also, like, the smartest, best person at that thing.

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: Do you bake?

BYER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: No, I don't bake.

CORNISH: Are you a terrible baker? Like, would you be the best of the terrible bakers?

BYER: Well, I can follow directions. So I'm already...

CORNISH: OK - which clearly people on the show...

BYER: Truly, they don't.

CORNISH: ...Cannot.

BYER: Well, some people won't even try.

CORNISH: OK.

BYER: All they have to do is hit that little button on the tablet. And they're like, I couldn't possibly.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: I don't know why. But yeah, I can follow directions. I made Jacques a ooey-gooey (ph) butter cake for his birthday. And he tasted it. And he was like - (imitating French accent) Nicole, this was pretty good.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: I do an amazing French accent.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: But yeah, he's the only person I baked for this year.

CORNISH: I would be so scared to bake for him.

BYER: Yeah, but everyone likes good food.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: So like, I know my ooey-gooey butter cake is good; it's a Paula Deen recipe. Be racist and feed me. You know?

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: I want to get into your background a bit 'cause...

BYER: OK.

CORNISH: ...I don't know if people know that much. But I had a question about who your first laugh was. Who was the person in your life that, like, you made them laugh, and then you thought - I enjoy making people laugh?

BYER: Well, my granny is from Barbados, so she has a lot of things that she says that, like, people here don't say. So instead of saying - ha-ha-ha that's funny, she'll go - hoo-hoo-hoo (ph), you tickle me. And...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: ...That, when I was little, used to make me laugh. So then I would try to get her to say that when I was little. So anytime she said it, I was like, I did it; I won. So she was the person that I would try to make laugh and my mom.

CORNISH: Did that spread? Did it - did you become the funny kid in class or the - or was it something for home and something for those people you loved?

BYER: No, no. I was funny in class. I'm funny everywhere.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: But...

CORNISH: I only ask 'cause we spoke to Aparna Nancherla a few days ago - amazing comedian but deathly shy as a child.

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: Like, her parents were like, let's practice eye contact.

BYER: Oh, I was...

CORNISH: I take it that wasn't you.

BYER: ...Very different.

CORNISH: OK (laughter).

BYER: I loved talking to strangers. Like, I'm the reason why you tell kids not to talk to strangers.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: I'd be like, hello, here's my house.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: And I learned at a really early age if you complimented adults, they would give you things. So we would go to through the McDonald's drive-through and I'd leaned over my mother's lap and be like - oh, my God, you're so pretty. And the girl walking would be like - oh, my God, you're so cute. Here is an extra toy. And I'd be like, got it.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Not wrong. I think that trick still works basically.

BYER: It doesn't when you're an adult. They're like, you can't have a Happy Meal.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: Please leave.

CORNISH: So you end up pursuing acting and, on the way, get involved in the Upright Citizens Brigade.

BYER: Yes. So in high school, I had done some plays and some musicals. So by the time I graduated, I said - you know what? - I want to be a serious actress. I want to be in "A Raisin In The Sun." It was my favorite play at the time, and I loved Edward Albee - even though those were, like, period pieces for white people. I was just like, maybe one day they'll flip it and let a black be Martha.

CORNISH: Not wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: His estate won't let you.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: OK (laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: He said, before I die, no - no, I'm kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: There's reasoning - because it's - like, if you did "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf" with a mixed-race cast, then the time period, it would be about the mixing of the...

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: ...Races. Like, I get it, but it makes me sad.

So I went to school. And I was doing this, like, dramatic scene, and my teacher was like, ha-ha-ha. And I was like, that's not it; you're supposed to be crying.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: And she was like, your face is funny.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: So then I started pursuing comedy 'cause I was like, I guess I can't be serious.

CORNISH: Did that hurt?

BYER: No (laughter) - no.

CORNISH: So you were just ready anyway.

BYER: Well, I say things all the time - or people say things all the time to me that are not nice. But also, I'm like, well, what you think of me is none of my business. So like, think whatever you want. I don't care. I do me.

I had a teacher tell me that I would never have a career in television because my face moved too much and it overemoted. And this is, like, before Botox, too. So I'm like, what are you talking about? Like...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: ...People's faces move. But like, that stuck with me in a way where I was like, I will. I will have a career in television, and you'll eat those words. He probably doesn't even remember saying it. But like, that stuck with me.

CORNISH: Oh, now he does.

BYER: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Trust me. When the Emmy nominations came out...

BYER: He was like oh, dang.

CORNISH: Dear journal...

All right. Well, I want to play a sketch where you are kind of riffing off your audition experiences.

BYER: Ah, yes.

CORNISH: And this is with Upright Citizens Brigade.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BE BLACKER: A SKETCH FROM UCB COMEDY")

LAUREN ADAMS: (As director) So glad that you could come in. OK? You're standing great. That's right. Now, my assistant here is going to be reading with you. So just play everything to him. OK?

BYER: (As actor) OK.

ADAMS: (As director) And whenever you're ready, go ahead.

JOHN TROWBRIDGE: (As assistant) LaShawana, 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) OK. Great. I love what you're doing. I love what you're doing. I have an adjustment, if that's OK. How can I say this? I need you to be more urban.

BYER: (As actor, laughing) What?

ADAMS: (As director) This role calls for, like, a really urban, ethnic black person. Can you be that for me?

BYER: (As actor) Sure. Yes, I can.

ADAMS: (As director) That's great. We're still rolling.

TROWBRIDGE: (As assistant) LaShawana, 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.

TROWBRIDGE: (As assistant) Good, LaShawana (ph). You know parties aren't complete without clams.

ADAMS: (As director) OK. Let's stop right there. Hey, Nicole - 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? Yes. Let me see - yes, sassy. That's great - sassy. I want you to take that. Go right into it. I love that. Sass it up.

BYER: (As actor) Yeah, OK - sassy.

ADAMS: (As director) Still rolling. Go ahead

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

BYER: (As actor) Oh, child - (snapping fingers) I got them clams. (Snapping fingers) 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. Yeah, they make the party.

ADAMS: (As director) More "In Living Color."

BYER: (As actor, singing) Oh, the clams - the clams make the party.

ADAMS: (As director) Urkel, Urkel.

BYER: (As actor) Laura, Mr. Winslow - clams.

ADAMS: (As director) Oprah.

BYER: (As actor) I love clams.

ADAMS: (As director) More Oprah.

BYER: (As actor) Clams are my favorite thing.

ADAMS: (As director) Where are the clams?

BYER: (As actor) The clams are under you seat.

ADAMS: (As director) Who's getting a clam?

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

ADAMS: (As director, clapping) Yes. Nicole, I really thought I was getting a clam. That was great. Love that so much. Thank you for coming in.

BYER: (As actor) Thank you. So did I get the part?

ADAMS: (As director, laughing) You know, we're really just looking at all of our options. But I want to say I feel really good about that read.

BYER: (As actor) Oh, OK. Thank you.

ADAMS: (As director) You get a clam.

BYER: (As actor) Oh, I got a clam.

ADAMS: (As director) Get out of here (laughter). Get out of here. That was the blackest we've seen all day.

CORNISH: So I think that...

(LAUGHTER)

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.

CORNISH: ...Because I grew up in the '90s, and I feel like this was something you heard about all the time. And to hear it now actually kind of surprised me. How much of that was a reality for you in your early auditioning days?

Or is that, like, collective stories you brought together?

BYER: No, it was specifically because I booked it. You can see it. It's a commercial where I play a fairy. It's a Nestle commercial. But it was for Israeli Nestle. So I guess in Israel, they don't know black.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: So the casting director was a white lady. And I did the sides or whatever. And she was like, OK, Nicole, how do I say this? I need you to be as black as possible. And if you go too black, I'll bring you back. And in my...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: And in my head I was like - what does that mean? Like, if I go too - like, if I, like, shout, Crips, Bloods - like, I don't know. Like, what...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: What to you is too black?

CORNISH: Right.

BYER: Also, like, if I'm a gang member, like, how are you bringing me back, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: So it was very confusing. And then other auditions - she was, like, the one who flat-out said it, so I'm not mad at her.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: You said it. Other people will coat it with urban or street or edgy or things like that. And 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.

So you are asking me to literally put on your version of black, which is, like, to me a blackface 'cause that's not me. And it's hurtful when you realize - oh, Hollywood understands one type of black. And there isn't just one type of black just 'cause, like, there isn't one type of white - like, you know? Like, Emma Stone, Emma Roberts - all these girls get to exist, and they don't have to be one thing. They can be anything they want. And we have to be just one thing.

So you'll go to auditions. And whoever the current hot, black female comedian is at that time, all the breakdowns will say, we want that.

CORNISH: Oh, interesting.

BYER: And you're like - but why are you calling me in if you want that? Call that in.

CORNISH: Right. It'll say a blank type, and it's just the name of that person.

BYER: Yeah. It's so closed-minded. You know what I mean? And then, you know, when things break through and people are like, oh, my God, that was like a breath of fresh air. It was like, yeah, 'cause it wasn't the thing you keep seeing. It's something [expletive] different. People like to see themselves. The world isn't just one thing.

When people come and see my show, I see a lot of black women who sound like me, who maybe grew up around a lot of white people or nerdy or whatever - who sound like me. And they go, thank you. Thank you for not adjusting who you are because I see myself in you. And then I'm like, I mean, like, Hollywood, listen to these women. They have money. Like, when "Girls Trip" did well, they were like, oh, what do you mean? And it's like, these [expletive] have jobs, and they have money.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: They want to spend their money.

SANDERS: All right. Time for a break. You were listening to my friend and colleague Audie Cornish interview live on stage in front of an audience the comedian Nicole Byer. After the break, Nicole tells Audie why she is so open about her personal life and how she sometimes masks her emotions with comedy. All right, we'll be right back with more IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

CORNISH: When people watch you, the way you're able to move and manipulate your voice, and it is like singing. And I do want to play the theme song to your podcast...

BYER: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ..."Why Won't You Date Me?" which I think is, like, an effective way you use your voice comedically.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHY WON'T YOU DATE ME?")

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

CORNISH: So the first time I heard this, I was like, oh, my God (laughter). Like, why did you do this?

BYER: My producer was like, do you want to do that again?

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: And I was like, nuh-uh (ph), no. I can't sing, one. Two, I think it's funny to, like, try to sing and then really desperately plead, why won't you date me? It's a real question. I'm so single.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: But it's a question I feel like this figure in pop culture is a person who's supposed to be pitied. Like, you're not supposed to admit that you feel like I want to be dating someone. You know, if you think of the term thirsty, I feel like...

BYER: Oh, I need water so badly.

CORNISH: ...You lean into your thirst. You lean into...

BYER: I am dehydrated. I am so thirsty. I don't mind. I - the reason why I don't mind is because my experience is not just my experience. There's other people in the world who are just as thirsty as me, and they identify with me. Also, people are like, you put all your business out there. I'm like, I make a lot of money telling my business. So, like - (laughter).

CORNISH: But did you at first? And at first, did you feel vulnerable?

BYER: Oh, no. I don't really - I'm not good with vulnerability. I mask a lot of emotions with comedy. There was one episode of "Nailed It!" where they were like, how do you feel? - like, in my ear. And I was like, great. And they're like, you don't feel any emotion to this? And I was like, you don't pay me enough for me to cry on camera (laughter). You don't. You don't pay me enough.

That's like - I cry alone at home. That's for me. That's the one thing I won't do publicly. I save that for myself.

CORNISH: That is crazy when I think of all the things you talk about publicly - just, like, masturbation very...

BYER: Everyone does it.

CORNISH: Yeah, exactly. And then crying - you're like, do it at home.

BYER: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Don't let anyone see you.

BYER: Well, you've been around people crying. You don't know what to do. Like, I've had people meet me and start crying. And I'm like, suck it up. I don't know. I don't know how to talk to you. Yeah. I don't know. Crying is my private thing. That's the one thing I - that's for me.

CORNISH: I...

BYER: I sound insane.

CORNISH: Yeah. No. It's fine. We'll get to that in a bit.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: So I want to ask another question, which is you often talk even in your stand-up about the idea of, like, I'm saying this, and if a man was saying this, you wouldn't mind - when it comes to sex.

BYER: Yeah.

CORNISH: And why is it important for you to underscore those moments? Is it - like, have you dealt with hecklers in the past - or kind of, like, how did you come to that kind of approach?

BYER: So I spent, like, six months trying to work out fat material because you'll get on a stage and you'll go, I'm fat. And then people will go, no, you're beautiful. And you're like, one, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Two, I am fat. Like, why are you lying to my face? Like, I know it. The mirror knows it. People on the street know. It's fine. I - if I was getting on a stage to go, I'm fat, for people to go, oh, my God, you're not, I'm a sociopath, OK? Like, I didn't leave my house for you to feel bad for me.

So I was just, like, really racking my brain, and I was talking to - I think it was Dave Ross. He's a comic in LA. And I was like, Dave, I'm having a really hard time cracking this. We were, like, outside the Improv. I had just done a show. And I was like, these fat jokes aren't working. I feel like a dude can get onstage and say the same thing.

People do not feel bad for men. Men get to be self-deprecating. Men honestly get to say whatever they please, and everyone's like, OK. And women truly, at every turn, get criticized.

CORNISH: You have taken this even a step further. If people go to your Instagram, they are most likely to see you in a bikini...

BYER: Yeah, baby.

CORNISH: ...At some point (laughter). And...

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: And the thing is, you've talked about being - at one point being the kind of person who, like, wore cardigans in the summer.

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: So how'd you get from that to this?

BYER: So I used to work at Lane Bryant, which is, like, a fat lady clothing store. And I remember this one time, I was covered. I was wearing a turtleneck, but it was very tight. You could, like, literally see the spandex. And my manager was like, Nicole, that's inappropriate. And I was like, this is inappropriate? I'm fully covered. And I was like, oh, it's so tight you can see, like, my whole body.

And then a couple years passed, and I was like, oh, I remember that tight thing I was wearing. If I'm wearing a cardigan, people can still see that my arm is fat. So if I don't wear the cardigan, my arm is still fat. The equation equals my arm is fat. So I was like, I'm tired of being hot. I'm just going to show this little fat arm.

And then I really loved swimming, and I stopped swimming because I was like, God forbid I jump in a pool and someone goes, ew (ph), yuck, a fat. So I truly was - it was - I went to Palm Springs with my friend Marcy, and I said, Marcy, I brought a bikini. And she was like, did you? I was like, yes. I'm brave. And she was like, yes, you're very fat and brave. And then I started that hashtag specifically because people kept saying that I was - or not kept. I kept seeing on other people's profiles people going, brave. And it's like, is it? People, like, fight fires. Homegirl's at the beach, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: So then I started that hashtag. But also, if anyone ever wants to be like, you're fat, in the comments, it's like, well, you're just being redundant. I already told you in the caption.

CORNISH: Yeah. You've gotten to it first.

BYER: Yes.

CORNISH: What is the recipe for a good fat joke?

BYER: Oh, I think a good recipe for a fat joke...

CORNISH: Which - even as I'm asking that question, it's like, I'm not sure if that's an OK question to ask.

BYER: I think it's OK. I'm not defined by my fat, but I did enjoy telling fat jokes. Now I don't do it because I did 13 minutes of it in my special.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: It's long, but I - it was on purpose. So I think a good recipe is to not be truly - like, if you're making fun truly of yourself - we still live in a world where fat is a bad word. I think you have to step outside of yourself and be like, this is what people think. So, like, I told a joke about how a homeless man called me a fat slut, and I was like, well, how did he know I'm a slut? Because he could see the fat. So yeah. I think telling the jokes from a world perspective, I think, is better because then people watch, and they go, oh, God. That's how I think. But then also, I think just some things are funny. Like, I describe jeans in Lane Bryant as a denim tablecloth.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: And you're like, who does it fit? Me. Yeah. I don't know. I think I just - it's also my truth. It's - like, I worked in Lane Bryant for a very long time, and I remember unfolding a pair of jeans and truly really being like, (laughter) these are huge, and then sliding them on my body and being like, OK.

SANDERS: OK, one more break here. When we come back, Nicole talks about improv and acting. OK. BRB.

CORNISH: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHY WON'T YOU DATE ME?")

BYER: My dad would cut the grass in bike shorts, and you better believe I grew up with a bunch of white people. So when I was an adult, I realized why women...

MONIQUE HEART: Why they would...

BYER: ...Would stop by the house and be like, hi, Trevor.

HEART: What was...

BYER: How's it going, Trevor?

HEART: Oh, they didn't call him Mr. Byer?

BYER: Nope. It was Trevor. And, like, they always had makeup on, and it looked really nice. And I was just like, our neighborhood's friendly.

HEART: Yeah.

BYER: It's like, nope. There's a man in bike shorts doing, like, yard work.

HEART: Where was your mom?

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

HEART: (Laughter).

BYER: My mother was a very confident woman, not threatened in the slightest.

HEART: I live.

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

HEART: Girl, go on ahead. Go and look, girl. It's fine.

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

BYER: Yeah. So my mom died of - I think it's called - it's a pulmonary embolism. So it was a blood clot in her leg that traveled to her heart. It was very sudden.

CORNISH: And how old were you?

BYER: Sixteen. Very sudden - she drove us to school and then was dead by, like, I think last period, which is, like, rude. Like, can't you wait till school's out? And then my dad died when I was 21. I was living in New York at the time. I had seen a stage reading of one of my favorite plays, "Fat Pig" by Neil LaBute. It's a brutal play.

CORNISH: I see. Yeah.

BYER: But, like, all of Neil LaBute's stuff is so dark. So I had seen a stage reading of that. My friend Chris (ph) had gone with me, and I was like, Chris, why don't you just take me back to Jersey with you? I have a ton of stuff at home. I haven't seen my dad in a couple weeks. Why not?

And my sister was home from college, and we had a really nice night. My dad and I didn't really get along because I had undiagnosed ADD in my youth, and he truly didn't understand any of the decisions I ever made, and neither did I. I was just like, my brain's broken. 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, saw eye to eye and really had a wonderful evening. Like, my sister and I didn't get into a fight. It was honestly, like, magic.

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: So you're only 21 at that age.

BYER: Yeah.

CORNISH: Who helped you through those passings?

BYER: Comedy. I - one of the first jokes I wrote - because I didn't start doing standup till 2013. I was doing a lot of improv and sketch. So I had started doing improv June - 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.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: (Laughter) I still think it's pretty funny. (Laughter) Who wants to watch someone do object work? But yeah, doing comedy truly helped me through that because I was really sad. Like, me and my dad never got along, and my mother really wanted us to get along, obviously.

CORNISH: And losing her at 16...

BYER: Yeah...

CORNISH: ...Which is such a difficult age.

BYER: ...Was really tough. But I - she had told me - so I guess - well, she died in October. I don't remember when I - so I - that was junior year. She had encouraged me to do the school play 'cause she was like, you talk so much. Why don't you talk other people's words on a stage and, like, don't come home for a couple hours? So I started doing the play, and that was amazing for me.

And then I was in the musical when my mom died. And then that was a nice thing to not take my - it - actually, yeah, it took my mind off of things. I didn't have to be me for the two hours of play rehearsal. I got to be whoever I was playing in the play.

So then when my dad died, I was doing improv. I didn't have to be me. I could go onstage and be like, I'm a elephant or whatever. I'm making fun of improv, but I truly have a show tonight at 9:30...

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: ...Where I'm going to do improv. So yeah, it was a blessing that I had found these things before they passed away so I could escape.

CORNISH: Is there also an element of you making it easier for other people? - 'cause whenever you bring it up, you often say it on the way to a punchline. And sometimes people laugh. Sometimes they're not sure. Sometimes they're waiting for you to respond. Are you, in effect, kind of managing that experience for people? - 'cause you seem to not like pity. You seem to not...

BYER: No.

CORNISH: ...Like when people feel bad for you...

BYER: Don't. I...

CORNISH: ...In any way.

BYER: Well, I don't need people to feel bad for me because I have ups and downs like everybody else, and I'll feel bad for myself sometimes. So, like, I don't need other people to feel bad for me.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: Also, who wants that? Like, I don't want to ever seem like I'm a victim or play the victim. I've had a lot of hard things in my life. But also, there's somebody else probably sitting in this room who's had it much harder than me. So, like, I would hate to be like, woe is me. My parents are dead. I'm an adult orphan. You know, like, someone else has it harder. So I don't - yeah. I don't like pity.

CORNISH: Yeah. But every - I mean, not to get my Oprah on, but everyone's pain is their own pain, right?

BYER: Yeah. Sure.

CORNISH: Like, it doesn't have to be compared to anybody else's. And I only think of it 'cause earlier, you're like, I cry at home, you know? And I just thought, like, oh, outside of the frame, there's more going on there. And you are giving us...

BYER: Sure.

CORNISH: ...A part we can handle.

BYER: Yes. I'm not going to give you all of me. Are you kidding?

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: I got to keep some things for myself. I mean, I do - I can't remember what it was, but my friend said something to me, and I was like, damn, I tell all my business. But I just - I save that for home. Nobody wants to watch a woman cry or anybody cry, like, onstage. You came to a comedy show.

CORNISH: Yeah. 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.

CORNISH: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BYER: So much therapy.

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

BYER: So much therapy. I - my Mary - I love her. She - I see her every Thursday, and I unload.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: Like, I hadn't seen her...

CORNISH: So you're doing the work.

BYER: Yeah.

CORNISH: Yeah.

BYER: I hadn't seen her in, like, a month. And then last Thursday, I don't think she said two words. And (laughter) - and then I was like, OK, Mary. See you later. So this week, she'll have more things to say to me. But I was just like, I need to tell you so much.

But I love therapy. I'm a huge supporter of people getting into therapy, especially black people. We hold a lot of trauma. And I think especially black women - we're told, you know, be a strong black woman. Your business is your business. And it's like, sure, your business is your business. But, like, a therapist can help you manage your business.

And people are like, that's for rich people. No. There's sliding-scale therapy where they look at your paycheck and go, oh, you make eight Skittles; therapy's half a Skittle, you know? Like, it's good to, like, talk to people who are not your friends or are not your family.

CORNISH: You know, I think fundamentally, your brand at this point is joy. How has that affected the kinds of parts you're offered, the kinds of jobs you're offered? What's happening now in your career in this moment?

BYER: I've been pretty lucky for most of my career that I haven't had to, like, be the sidekick. I've gotten to be the star. Like, I was the star of my own sitcom for a little bit. So, like, the parts I'm offered are usually - they're funny. Like, people let me be funny. And then on set, they let me improvise. And it's just been, like, really great.

(APPLAUSE)

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

BYER: Thank you.

CORNISH: And very briefly, I have to say the credits. We have to - thank you to KPCC, Downtown Independent. Bilal Qureshi and Joanna Pawlowska and Lauren Hodges produced our show. Patrick Murray is our engineer. Jessica Goldstein is our senior director of events, and Anya Grundmann is our VP of programming. Thank you and have a good night.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Thanks again to All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish and comedian Nicole Byer. You just heard their live chat. It was delightful, and audiences make things so much more fun. They really do - the energy, the energy.

OK, folks. We're back in your feeds on Friday, but it's going to be a different kind of episode because it's a different kind of season. It's Thanksgiving season, and I love Thanksgiving. And we're having a special, special, special Thanksgiving episode featuring a surprise guest and a chat with one of my favorite chefs, Samin Nosrat - perfect companion for your holiday travels. I guarantee it.

All right. I'm Sam Sanders. Thank you for listening. Till then, talk soon.

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