Nicole Byer on Netflix Stardom, Body Positivity, and Her New Book
If you’re a fan of the comedic baking show, Nailed It! on Netflix, you have probably laughed along with the show’s co-host, comedian Nicole Byer.
In the new season, Byer and her pastry chef co-host Jacques Torres critique regular people on their baking fails. But offscreen, Byer is a busy lady. Besides being one of the funniest hosts on a streaming service today, the standup comedian, actress, podcast host, and frequent guest on Conan is now a bikini star releasing her first book.
Yes, Byer has become a bikini model for a photo book out June 2 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. The book features over 100 photos of Byer posing in different bikinis around California; she stands alongside a shopping cart in Palm Springs, poses with colorful murals in Los Angeles, and hops on a Ferris wheel in Santa Monica. Loving her own looks, she pokes fun at herself, too. This body positive book is a way to help other people feel brave with their bodies.
It’s also an exercise in photo captions, as Byer writes jokes to accompany each photo. (In one, she is holding up cotton candy, and it says: “Look at me eating what I love most: whipped sugar with food coloring. What if someone saw me and preemptively gave me an insulin shot without even asking if I needed it?”)
Byer hosts five podcasts, including the hilarious dating podcast Why Won’t You Date Me?, and will be a guest judge on the forthcoming fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, premiering June 5. She speaks to ZORA about her favorite Black comedians, getting undressed on a Ferris wheel, and how she became a Netflix star.
ZORA: Your new book is so cool. Did it all start as an Instagram hashtag or with your friend Alison Rich?
Nicole Byer: Ha! It started on Instagram as a hashtag; me and my friend Marcy went to Palm Springs in 2017, and I only packed bikinis. I was like: “I’m only going to use the hashtag #veryfat #verybrave.” We know that when fat women post pictures of themselves in less clothing, people say: “You’re brave!” That’s when my friend Alison Rich told me I should turn it into a coffee table book. And I said, I will sell this, and I won’t give you any money.
How many bikinis do you own?
I think I own over 100 bikinis.
Why is it so hard to accept our bodies today and be “brave” in a bikini?
I don’t think it’s just Instagram, it’s ingrained misogyny. You are meant to be seen and not heard. Don’t take up space, apologize if you’re too loud, type of thing. I think it just stems from years of women’s bodies being told how and what they should be. Now, if you’re on the gram, you see people saying they’re on a journey of discovery and self-love, so people are heading in the right direction. We see different size models, which is great, too.
What has been your journey like to hosting Nailed It!?
It has been wild. I took a meeting with Magical Elves, the production company, who had a concept sheet of what they wanted people to do for a show, and how to test people on what they have done. They said they were looking for a host who could call out the reality of the situation while cracking jokes and being kind. They were worried about that — they didn’t want it to be a mean show.
What did you say?
I said, “I’m pretty sure I can do that.” I’m not an insult comic, and I don’t get mean with people. We did one day of blocking, and there were no contestants. I didn’t really know what I was doing. “Well, we’re shooting it tomorrow,” they said. I got very little direction, which was the beauty of the whole thing. There were no notes, I just kept doing things over again. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m not sure they knew what the show was. We shot for 10 hours for the first episode. The jokes that stayed in I’m proud of.
Those moments are probably unscripted?
Yeah, most of the stuff that people like is just me. It’s not scripted. When I wanted to roll off the table, I asked: “Can I please roll off the table?” and they didn’t understand why, but they let me, and I still think it’s one of the funniest moments on the show.
So what do you find funny nowadays?
Silly shit is really funny; when someone is doing something dumb. I think I’m a dumb comic. I don’t mean dumb, I mean silly for silly’s sake. Not political commentary but social commentary humor. There’s a joke in Nailed It! that I really like where Jacques says, “I’m going to go for the darker piece of cake,” and I said, “Oh thank you, I’m dark and sometimes the dark ones get left behind.” We all laugh. It’s a joke, but real. I like smart comedy but dumb, dumb, dumb stuff.
Who are some of the Black comedians you’ve looked up to?
When I got into comedy, I was really into Mo’Nique, I’m still heavily into Mo’Nique. The Queens of Comedy has heavily influenced me, and Adele Gibbons is one of the funniest people I have ever seen, even her standup sets are so funny 20 or 30 years later. I love Sheryl Underwood, who brings her purse onstage in one segment. I love Black women in comedy. Whoopi Goldberg is another big influence. I just like women who look like me who are funny.
Are women getting more space in comedy?
I do think there are more women. I think there are more inclusive spaces so its easier for women to get up. When women say: “It’s so hard to get your foot in the door,” I say, “It’s not the 1980s, you just have to get up and be funny.” Or create your own space, do your own thing.
You’ve been a trailblazer in doing that — your YouTube series and Facebook TV show before co-hosting a Netflix show. Was it hard to create your own space?
Way back when, I did a show called the Pursuit of Sexiness in 2013 and that came from both of us doing stuff with the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is really where I got my start in trying to be funny. At the theater, other people were doing their own web series, so we decided to do our own. We had the resources, access to cameras, directors, and wrote it ourselves, that was making our own space.
You host five podcasts today. How did you get into podcasting?
A friend said to me: “You’re so good at talking and being funny.” It took a push from someone for me to do it. I learned to be self-starting and realized that if a door is closed, you can open a different door.
How do you explain this new book? Like a photo book with jokes in the captions?
Yeah, exactly! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo book like this, it’s a coffee table book with little short essays that coincide with wearing a bikini and being fat, or whatever. Each photo has a caption of the worst-case scenario, something that just wouldn’t happen. There’s one review of the book on Goodreads and it says: “I think the author might hate herself.” And I think, ha! You think I hate myself because I took a picture in 100 bikinis and made jokes about it? You’re delusional. Someone who hated their body would be hiding their body.
Did you stumble upon any roadblocks?
We went to one ATV place in Palm Springs called Off-Road Rentals that asked us, “Is this photo for business or personal?” I said “business.” They said “no.” So, I said “personal,” and he said: “You can’t do that.” But they still let me in.
You owe a lot of people ice cream.
I truly do!
I love the amusement park photos, where were they taken?
The Santa Monica Pier. When I’m sitting on the Ferris wheel, we weren’t sure if we were allowed to take photos on the ride, so every time it rotated downward, I put clothes on top of my bikini, then disrobed when we were back at the top. It was a lot of hiding. There is a shot of me inside a shark ride, too, the ride operator asked me, “Are you Nicole Byer?” I said, “I am.” She said: “I think you’re funny.” So, I asked, “Can I take a photo inside the shark ride?” She stopped the ride and let us get the shot we wanted before starting the ride up again. I love her for that.