JFL42 Q&A: Nicole Byer sounds off on hashtags, body positivity and hecklers

Nicole Byer might soon be bestowed the title “hardest working comic in show business.” Cutting her teeth on the UCB comedy scene, Byer’s known for her roles on various MTV shows such as Girl Code and Are You The One? The Aftermatch Live, as well as star of the web series Loosely Exactly Nicole.

Now she can add host of the Emmy-nominated Netflix’s show Nailed It! and has recently appeared on A Black Lady Sketch Show, in a star-making turn as the nemesis spy to Ashley Nicole Black’s Invisible Spy.

If that’s not enough she hosts a slew of podcasts: Why Won’t You Date Me?, Best Friends! with SNL’s Sasheer Zamata and 90 Day Bae with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Marcy Jarreau.

NOW caught up with Byer to talk viral hashtags, body positivity and hecklers. 

When did you first realize you were funny?

My grandmother is from Barbados, so she says a lot of things that other people don’t say. When I would say funny things she’d say, “Oh, you tickle me.” I liked when she’d say that, so I would always try to make her laugh. 

What’s behind your Instagram hashtag #sofatsobrave? 

I was going to Palm Springs with my dear friend, Marcy, and I had this bikini I bought a year before that I didn’t wear because it didn’t look the way I thought it should look. And I said to myself, “This is my body, why not just wear it?” I [told] Marcy, “I don’t know anybody in Palm Springs. I only packed bikinis and I’m going to be very fat and very brave.” Because people like to say, “You’re so brave.” We were laughing about that, and I was like, “That’s the hashtag that I’m going to use on all my bikini pics.” 

Have you always been this confident?

I’ve always liked myself. That’s not to say I didn’t go through teenage years where I felt gross. As an adult I worked at Lane Bryant – a fat women’s clothing store – and I’d get in trouble for wearing very tight outfits. My manager would say, “That’s a little too explicit.” And I’d say, “Bodies are bodies.” I covered my arms for a while – I would wear a little cap sleeve – but it was just so stupid. About five or six years ago, I was like, “Wait a minute, who am I hiding this from and for? Somebody don’t like it, they don’t have to look at it. Also, it’s hot, who cares?”

The vibrators, the twerking, the pole dancing – do you ever get backlash for your risqué humour?

There are people who’ve brought it to my attention that there are whole Reddit threads where people are like, “Her whole schtick is being sexual and it’s not funny. And she’s loud, blah, blah, blah.” Men get to talk about their dicks all the time, why can’t I talk about my pussy? Comedy is subjective.  

How do you handle hecklers? 

People like to yell “Nailed it!” at me. So I start off my shows by letting them yell it and get it out of their systems. Sometimes people can’t help themselves – maybe they’ve had a couple of drinks – and they’ll yell it. So lately when people are talking at my shows, I’ll bring them up onstage and they’re like, “Oooh, a fun time’s about to happen!” And I give them the mic, sit down and go, “You wanna talk? Talk!” People do not like that, but it shuts them up.

The last time someone yelled “Nailed it!” at me, I brought them up and I was like, “I just want to know why?” I didn’t get a good answer. Maybe one of these days I will. 

Maybe it’s like how people say, “How you doin?” to Wendy Williams

That’s her catchphrase. I never go “Nailed it!” on the show. It’s really nice that people connect with the show. It’s just when I’m trying to do comedy, they paid to see me perform, I don’t understand why they’re talking. I’ve done shows where people won’t stop talking so I’ll do crowd work and I’ll talk to them. I’m trying to go with the flow a little more. 

Congratulations on the Emmy nom for Nailed It! Were you surprised? 

Hell yeah, girl, I was surprised! The phone call I got was, “Um, did you hear? We were nominated for an Emmy.” They didn’t realize how much it was going to connect with people. It’s super surprising but really cool and well deserved. We put a lot of work into that show. 

More JFL42 here and here

Originally published for NOW magazine.