SAM SANDERS, HOST:
Hey. Is this Nicole Byer?
NICOLE BYER: Hi. It is.
SANDERS: How are you?
BYER: I'm good. How are you? Sorry for running late. I over-[expletive]-slept (laughter).
SANDERS: (Laughter) It's OK to sleep. You've got to sleep. Listen; this - what is time these days? Time means nothing.
BYER: What is it? Who knows?
SANDERS: I don't know what day this is.
BYER: Me either. Yeah, last night I was like, what weekday is tomorrow?
BYER: No. What was I saying? I was like, what is tomorrow called?
SANDERS: (Laughter) I do this thing every day around 2 or 3. I play this lovely game called, Did I Brush my Teeth Today?
BYER: Oh, I've been playing Did I Shower for the last, maybe two weeks.
BYER: And the answer is, I didn't, and I don't know the last time I did.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. As you just heard, my guest today is comedian Nicole Byer. You may know her best as the host of the very popular "Nailed It" series on Netflix. I love that show, y'all. You may also know her from the bajillion podcasts that she hosts. You may know her from her standup comedy. Either way, dear listener, you are in for a treat this episode.
In this chat, Nicole and I will talk about her new book, "#VeryFat #VeryBrave: The Fat Girl's Guide To Being #Brave And Not A Dejected, Melancholy, Down-In-The-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl In A Bikini." Nicole will talk about what it was like taking hundreds of photos in a bikini for this book and how it helped her accept her body as it is. She'll also discuss her complicated relationship with Christianity and that one time she worked at Lane Bryant.
All right, before we get to it, two quick things to note. First, you're going to hear a lot of bleeps in this episode. And second, Nicole and I taped this chat back in late May, so that's why you're not going to hear us discussing that issue. However, several previous episodes in this podcast feed deal with that, and I welcome you to dig through our back catalogue for the last few weeks. All right, let's begin this chat, which was recorded at a time when the No. 1 thing on everyone's mind was just surviving in lockdown.
So I have to thank you for doing my podcast because you are busy a lot of the time with other podcasts. You're, like, this podcast legend. You have - what? - you host four?
SANDERS: At a certain point it was six. How many...
BYER: No. [Expletive] Five.
SANDERS: (Singing) Oh, my God.
BYER: Five. I also called you a [expletive] like we were friends. I'm so sorry (laughter).
SANDERS: We are friends. We are (laughter). That means now we have to be friends.
BYER: It was so familiar. Usually I don't do [expletive] like that.
SANDERS: You know, I charm. What can I say?
SANDERS: You've got a bunch of podcasts. How do you keep up?
BYER: Yeah, five. I mean, when I was busier, it was easier. But now, everyone has time. Nobody wants to stack episodes...
BYER: ...So I'm recording multiple days a week. But I guess that's good, to stay busy. I don't know. Are we all going to die?
SANDERS: At some point, yes. Hopefully, not all this year. But who can tell? Who knows anymore?
BYER: Who [expletive] knows? It's [expletive] wild. Pier 1's going out of business? I can't handle it.
SANDERS: Wait, Pier 1, too?
BYER: Yeah, Pier 1, but here's the thing.
BYER: There's no good sales.
BYER: Accent chairs are still $300. This is not a sale. Bring it down, and I'll buy stuff.
SANDERS: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. It's just like, I keep telling my friends and family. I'm like, you know there's not going to be a day where they flip the switch and it's all just normal again. It's going to be a slow creep towards normal. And we'll all be so jaded by the time it gets normal that we can't even realize it.
BYER: Oh, yeah. But also, normal is not going to be old normal. Like, we're going to have a new normal.
SANDERS: Mmm hmm.
BYER: And then I just worry about people not - like, it's - the whole mask thing is really confusing to me 'cause I'm just like, OK. So, like, you're not going to not get corona by wearing a mask. But like, you can reduce your chances by 50%. Aren't those better odds?
BYER: Put on a [expletive] mask. What's wrong with you people? It's like, we ask you to wear clothes. Are you going to stop wearing clothes?
SANDERS: (Laughter) My freedoms. I get to be naked everywhere.
BYER: It's your freedoms to be naked and sit on whatever you want. No. There are rules, and this is just a new rule.
SANDERS: New rules, and it's just like there's no end in sight.
SANDERS: We're going to be in this for the rest of the year, at least.
BYER: I - no. I don't think so. Here's the thing. I really think everything's going to turn around in October. Please don't ask me, why October? It doesn't make any sense.
SANDERS: October, OK. Did your horoscope tell you October?
BYER: No, sure didn't.
BYER: So I kept saying 2020 was going to be my year, and then this happened. And then I was like, but 2020 still has to be my year. Twenty divided by two, that's 10. Tenth month, October. October will be better.
BYER: It's arbitrary, but I fully believe in it (laughter).
SANDERS: Hold on to that. Hold on to that. Hold on to that. Speaking of things to feel good about, I'm holding your book in my hand.
SANDERS: I love how you, like, channeled, I think, Lil' Kim for the cover.
BYER: Hell yeah, dude. Yeah, that's Lil' Kim.
SANDERS: I love it.
BYER: I grew up loving Lil' Kim - still do.
SANDERS: We all did. I did.
BYER: I love her so much. And, yeah, I was like, why not do - it kind of like came - it wasn't intentional.
BYER: So, like, I had the wig. I had the fur coat. I had the purple bathing suit. I had the purple stripper shoes. I had the purple sunglasses just (laughter)...
SANDERS: You say it so casually. I just had all of these things, as one does.
BYER: I did. I literally had every - I didn't go out and buy anything.
BYER: And then I, like, threw them all in a bag, and I was like, I think all this purple will look good together. And then I put it on, and I was like, I'm Lil' Kim. It was very exciting.
SANDERS: Yes, yes. I love it. This book is called "#VeryFat #VeryBrave: The Fat Girl's Guide To Being #Brave And Not A Dejected, Melancholy, Down-In-The-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl In A Bikini."
BYER: (Laughter) It is a long title.
SANDERS: Come through with that title. Tell folks who don't have it yet what's in the book.
BYER: So I was talking to somebody else about it. And I was like, I don't think I've seen a book like the one I wrote. It's strange. It's hard to describe. It's a coffee table book with pictures, but then the pictures all have captions. And then there is some - very few, like, narratives in it. So, like, there's a couple stories about, like, me buying my first bathing suit or buying my first bikini or whatever, and then some tips to deal with the world.
SANDERS: And, I mean, like, you bury the lede here. Every photo is you in a bathing suit.
BYER: Oh, yeah, yeah. Every photo is me in a bikini. And there's, like, a hundred pictures or so, so 100 different bikinis.
SANDERS: Yes. My two favorite, there's one of you outside of an In-N-Out...
SANDERS: ...Like, in the bikini with a fur coat eating an In-N-Out burger like a boss. Then there's this other one you have where it's you in a bikini pointing at a photo hung on the wall of you in a bikini.
SANDERS: All right, time for a break. When we come back, Nicole Byer tells us what it was like to shoot all those bikini photos and what she learned from it. Also, while we're here, I'm going to do that thing again where I ask you to go to Apple Podcast, rate us and review us and help us out. Through some magic of some sort, when y'all do that, it helps other people find the show. I know you're tired of hearing me ask about that. I'm tired of asking you to do it. So this will be the last time for a while. I promise, OK? This will be the last time for a while. But go to Apple Podcast, rate and review. Bless you. All right, BRB.
What was - so, like, you wrote in the book that, like, because you only had a few days to do this on a low budget, a lot of times you were going from site to site literally changing bikinis on the side of the road. Like, how was the experience of being in a bikini for days on end and changing here and there and going here - how was it with just people in the world? What was the general reaction to you doing these photo shoots?
BYER: Women mostly were like - they would look and then go about their day because, like, whatever. Or they would say, you look good. And it was nice. Men - honestly I learned this - men look at women like they have never seen a woman before. They don't know what it is. They don't know if they'll ever see it again. It does matter how big or small this woman is. They just need to know what this woman is. At Palm Springs, we were at the Parker Palm Hotel. And this man was, like, with his wife. And I was like, you have your own business to mind. But sure enough, this nosy-ass man was in my business and was, like, looking, oh, yeah, you're hot. Look at that. And I was like, talk to your wife. Leave me alone. This isn't for you. I think also men - not to generalize men - but I think a lot of men seem to think that women only exist for their pleasure, which is crazy because, like, I don't even [expletive] know you, you know?
SANDERS: Yeah, you're wearing the bikini for you and for your book to make your money.
BYER: Hell yeah, dude. Got to make my cash.
SANDERS: Come on. And, like, what is the biggest nugget or takeaway that you want readers of this book to come away with?
BYER: I guess - like, I don't consider myself body positive because I feel like body positivity is such a weird word. I don't know. It's like...
SANDERS: Why is it weird?
BYER: Because I don't think you need to be positive about your body because you could just - you could be like, I don't like this body that I have, but I'm going to change it. And then that's, like, a journey for you. Go ahead and [expletive] do that. But if you like your body the way it is and you don't want to lose weight or you - then that's fine, too. I just think it's just, like, everyone just be chill about your body. I think it's, like, maybe body accepted. I don't know. I just - I hate that there's a name for, like, not hating a part of who you are. Do you know what I'm saying? Like, it's insane...
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.
BYER: ...That there's a word for it. Like, it's just...
SANDERS: We should all just be like, oh, this is the body I got. OK. That's it.
BYER: Yeah. Like, I don't - it's weird when people are like, Nicole, you're so body positive. And I'm like, no, I just don't hate the body I'm in because the world is already really hard. Like, imagine being inside for months on end and then looking in the mirror and being like, I hate it. Like, no.
BYER: No, that's insane. I'm inside. And I'm like, whatever. This is my body, and I'm going to do what I want.
SANDERS: (Laughter) Just do it. Just do it. You write in the book that one of the last hurdles for you when it came to accepting your own body was bathing suits. And you tell a few stories of, you know, how you got over your, like, fear of the bathing suit, fear of the bikini.
SANDERS: So does that mean that releasing a book like this with literally hundreds of photos of you in bikinis, does that mean that you feel that journey is complete, or is it one of those journeys that never really ends?
BYER: No, the journey's so fully complete. Like...
BYER: ...It wasn't that, like, I wasn't wearing bikinis for my body and, like, my head and me. I wasn't wearing bikinis because I was like, nobody else wants to see this. And then I got to a place where I'm like, who [expletive] cares what anybody else wants to see? If they don't want to see it, they can turn their head and mind their own business. So it was me being like, oh, I literally don't care what this person on the street thinks of me. I'm going to do me because I do that in every other facet of my life. So like, that's what it is. Do you - it's hard to explain. But like, it's just, like, not letting outside people determine how you feel about what you have.
SANDERS: Yeah. And I like how you unpack that in a few stories about, like, your journey with the bikini. Like, I'm thinking about you talking about the club in New Jersey called Paradise or the trip to Palm Springs where you only packed bikinis. Like, I kind of want you to tell one of those stories, if you will, briefly for our listeners.
BYER: Sure. Well, so we went to Paradise, me and my best friend Nick (ph), like, a club - a gay club, one of my favorite ones in Jersey. And we were going back to his mom's house because his mom was out of town. And she's got a pool, and it was summer. So Nick was hooking up with whoever. And there was another guy there - don't remember his name. And I was like, I don't have a bathing suit, but I want to get in the water. And then I was like, underwear's kind of a bikini. So then I just, like, stripped down, dove in and was like, yeah, I got what I wanted. I wanted to be wet. I wanted to be in the pool. I wanted to swim.
BYER: Who cares what this other person wants? If they don't want to look at me, they can leave. If they want to look at me, they can look. If they want to get in the pool, they can get in the pool. And he got in with me. But then I was, like, drunk, do you know - so it was just, like, drunk...
BYER: ...Drunken bravery, if you will. And then Palm Springs - so my friend Marcy (ph) and I were going to Palm Springs to write. And I was, like, Marcy, I'm only bringing bikinis because I don't know nobody in Palm Springs, so, like, nobody will have to see my body that I know, which was an insane thought. But I was just like, if a friend sees my body, what will they think of me? And the thing is they'll think nothing. That's your friend. Do you know what I mean?
BYER: So we go. And I was like, Marcy, I'm also going to use the hashtag #veryfatverybrave because, like, everyone keeps saying that, like, fat women are brave in bikinis. And we, like, laughed about that. And then at the pool, I was wearing my bikini. We were laying out. And this, like, old man with a family, he, like, looked over at me and, like, couldn't stop staring. So I looked at him. And I was like, daddy, do you like what you see? And then he...
BYER: ...Didn't like that and wouldn't look at me ever again. And I was like, oh, my God, I can't believe that worked.
BYER: I didn't write that. That is a little exclusive. I didn't write that in the book, but yeah.
SANDERS: You heard it here first, listeners. You heard it here first.
BYER: Yeah, it was - and then Marcy was just like, who is she? Who is this girl sitting next to me? And I was like, I don't know, a brave woman.
SANDERS: Time for one more break. Coming up, the Lane Bryant experience and the gospel according to Nicole Byer. BRB.
You know, I think a lot - I was thinking a lot going through the book about, you know, this idea of just, like, accepting yourself no matter what it is, you know, being real about your body and the body you're in. It's just kind of radical acceptance that feels - it feels bigger than just, like, a rational thought, right? Like, it's almost spiritual. And it's almost, like, I don't know. It's not - I'm trying to think of a way to describe it. Like, it's more than just body work. It's, like, soul work. I don't know what I'm saying here.
BYER: Yeah, it's also about being, like, at peace with yourself. Like, I watched my mother diet from, like, the whole time I knew her. I knew her for 16 years. And my earliest memories of her are filling up a Weight Watchers water container and going for a walk with her friend Angela (ph) down the street, and then my mom being like, oh, I have enough points for this. I have enough points for this. I don't have enough points for that. And I'm like, that's one of my earliest memories of my mother - dieting. And not to say that she made a mistake or she was, like, bad, but, like, that's the culture that she grew up with. And she was only doing what she knew she should be doing. But like, maybe if she was OK with the way she looked, maybe she could have lost weight because it wasn't about pleasing other people.
SANDERS: It comes from the inside. Well, and, like, also hearing you talk about this, like, for me, a lot of acceptance issues I've had to resolve of myself around weight, race, whatever, sexuality, et cetera - for me, like, it felt like almost two phases of my life. Like, I grew up very religious in a Pentecostal church, son of the church organist. And I didn't realize until several years into adulthood, like, growing up like that in a church like that, your entire notion of love and acceptance is built on rules. You follow these rules. You get these things. God has written these rules for you. The Bible says do this. And you only succeed and get love if you follow the rules the right way. And I had to unpack a lot of that through a lot of work and a lot of money spent on therapy to move towards this version and vision of the world that was just rooted more in love and kindness and acceptance and, like, screw arbitrary rules.
BYER: Mmm hmm. I mean, I also grew up in the church. And I have issues with organized religion and the church because a lot of the Bible is rooted in God is a jealous god, God is a vengeful god, but God loves you.
SANDERS: And, like, petty.
BYER: And you're like, wait a minute. So this man or this entity will strike me dead if I disobey him, but he loves me? This...
BYER: ...What do you mean? What do you mean he loves me? So yeah, it's a confusing message, I think.
SANDERS: So what kind of church did you grow up in, if you don't mind me asking?
SANDERS: OK, Black Baptist.
SANDERS: OK. Do you miss it ever?
BYER: You know, I don't - that's a tough question. Like, OK, so I guess I miss the people from the church or whatever. I do not miss waking up so early to go to Sunday school at 9 and then to have service start at 11 and then not get out till 2 - or 3 if he's really feeling the Holy Ghost. And then...
SANDERS: And then you got to eat food with all them after that.
BYER: Yes, then you have to eat food. And then it's 5, 6 p.m. And you're like, I spent the day in one building, and I couldn't do anything else, and I had to pay for it? So I just - I feel like 10% of your earnings going to the church is an insane thing to ask. Like, that's how much I pay my agent and my manager. Do you know what I'm saying? And they get me jobs.
SANDERS: (Laughter) And they get you work.
BYER: So like, what tangible thing is the church doing for me?
SANDERS: Getting back to this, like, you know, moving away from this ideology of rules to an ideology of acceptance, how did you get there? Did it just happen on your own in your own heart and mind? Or did you have help? Was there therapy? Were there books? What was it?
BYER: To, like, get to my own bodily acceptance?
SANDERS: To get to - yeah, yeah.
BYER: Well, so I was fat my whole dang life. But I've always just worn whatever I wanted. And I wear fun things. And I like to wear skintight things because I like the way it looks on me. Truly the only hang-up that I had because when I worked - I worked at a store called - I call it lame giant, but it's called Lane Bryant.
SANDERS: Oh, Lane Bryant. Oh, I know Lane Bryant well because my mama made my brother and I accompany her there all the time. And she'd make us hold her big, old Dooney and Bourke purse while she shopped in Lane Bryant for hours.
BYER: Oh, love me a Dooney. But when I worked there, I would always wear - all these outfits were, like, skintight. And one day my boss, this woman who looked identical to Shrek, Judith (ph) was like...
BYER: ...I use her real name because she was so rude to me several times. But so Shrek waddled over to me. And...
BYER: And it sounds like I'm being fat-phobic, but, like, some fat people waddle, and that's OK. So she waddled over to me - fee-fi-fo-fum - and (laughter) - now I'm just being so rude. And she was like, Nicole, we got to talk about the way you're dressed. And I was like, what do you mean? She's like, I mean, your boots aren't in season. And I was like, everyone wears boots like this. And she was like, well, I mean, maybe your clothes are also a little too tight. And I said, what? What is this? I was like, you can't see anything. I'm wearing a turtleneck. She was like yeah, but I can see you, like, your bra through it. It's just - it's too tight, and it's unsightly. But like, it was just, like, you were telling me I can't show what my body looks like at a store catered for fat people. It's FUBU, For Us, By Us. It's literally for the fats. And you're telling me this fat can't be as fat as possible in this skintight outfit. I hated Judith. She was literally Satan. Petty, petty, petty till my death.
SANDERS: Petty, petty, yeah. You know, reading this book, talking to you now, it seems like you're really confident in what you believe and what you feel certain about. And you're someone who speaks your truth. Are there still things you feel uncertain about that you're still working through that, you know, might be in the next book?
BYER: I mean, not body-wise, but maybe like - I don't know. Before every stand-up show I kind of get in my head. And I'm like, will these people like it? Am I funny? Will this be the day that I'm not funny anymore? Because that happens to a lot of comics, and you can see it in their specials, that, like, they were funny at one point, they came back to do a special...
SANDERS: And then they weren't.
BYER: ...And then they weren't funny. I worry about getting to a point in my career where nobody tells me no or criticizes me. Like, you think that, like, Lindsay Lohan got out of control by herself? No. No, she just had a bunch of people around her being like yes, queen, go to that club. Yes, queen, you're not that drunk. Yes, queen, drive your car. Do you know what I'm saying? Like, there's - like, people don't take care of you, and they let you just run around and do whatever. So I just - I try to keep it chill and grounded and - I don't know.
SANDERS: I'm into that, chill and grounded. I am - the thing that I take away the most from the book is that, like, your message of just, like, accepting your body, damn it, it feels like this big truth. And it's almost like - I don't know - it feels - it's like - I don't know, like, the gospel according to Nicole Byer. And especially talking with you about church now, I'm like, huh, if Nicole Byer had to make a church right now, what would the gospel according to Nicole Byer be? What's the first sermon?
BYER: It would truly just be, like, love yourself. Like, really just - I started doing therapy a couple years ago. And my therapist was like, why do you want to do therapy? And I was like, to change into a better person. She's like, why do you want to change? And I was like, I don't know. And she's like, well, there you go. Like, you don't need to change. You just need to accept who you are and make choices that better yourself as opposed to put yourself in a worse position. And I was like whoa.
So, like, that's how I live now. And then I say in the book - I think it's at the end - I'm like, this doesn't have to be just about bikinis. This can be about any hurdle in your life. If you, like, want to be an animator but you're, like, I don't think I'm good enough, it's like, I don't know, that's what you want to be, so go try to do it. Like, don't worry if you're good enough. You are. You are good enough.
SANDERS: The Nicole Byer church of you are good enough.
SANDERS: What would you play at the church? What kind of music?
BYER: Oh, probably a lot of Megan Thee Stallion, a lot of Doja Cat...
BYER: ...Some Beyonce...
BYER: ...Nicki Minaj...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: Thanks again to Nicole Byer. Her new book is called "#VeryFat #VeryBrave: The Fat Girl's Guide To Being #Brave And Not A Dejected, Melancholy, Down-In-The-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl In A Bikini." That's a title. I love it. Oh, man, I love it. I love it so.
All right, listeners, don't forget, this Friday we're back in your feeds with another episode. And in those Friday episodes, we regularly hear from you sharing the best parts of your week. You can do that at any point throughout any week. Just record your voice onto your phone and send that file to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com. All right, y'all, thanks so much for listening. Till next time, be good to yourselves. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.