As a comedian and actor, and host of the Netflix baking competition show Nailed It!, Nicole Byer projects an exuberant and infectious energy, evidenced by her dynamic stand-up material and playful vocal inflections — both in full form on stage at the Moore Theatre in Seattle, Washington. But, as she told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another, comedy wasn't initially her first path.
Originally from New Jersey, Byer moved to New York City in the early 2000s, where she started out waiting tables at a restaurant and cabaret club. "I didn't really think about doing stand-up," she recalled, saying that during that time she eventually became interested in performing. "I would serve tables, and they would give me a lot of money because they were like, 'You're very funny. You have to get out of here. You're very bad at this [waiting tables].'"
From there Byer began studying improv, and years later, as she transitioned to stand-up in order to go on solo tours, she recalled those early years at the club, watching male comedians' routines. "I remembered all of those men and how they would talk about women's bodies. I hated it," she said. "So when I started writing, I was like, 'I want to talk about men's bodies the way they talk about women.'" As Byer honed her craft, her comedy has become more open and personal, delving into both her sex life and body positivity.
Now based in Los Angeles, Byer has achieved broader success and recognition, thanks, in part, to her role as host on Nailed It! Currently in its third season, the show showcases Byer and acclaimed pastry chef Jacques Torres as judges of amateur contestants attempting to create dessert masterpieces — often with hilariously disastrous results. Or, in Byer's words, "It's three people who don't know how to bake who are competing to kill me." Byer said she was cherry-picked for this position because the show's producers had seen her perform and were looking for someone they believed could be, as Byer put it, "Good at poking fun but not being too mean." She added, "I'm not mean, I can't do a roast. It's so hard for me to insult people."
What fans and critics have praised about Nailed It! is its distinctive, unabashed celebration not of unequivocal skill, but of the relatability of failure. As an antidote to a social media climate saturated by images of near perfection, Byer praised Nailed It! for how the show encourages the viewer to think, "Look at those idiots! Maybe I'll try to do something!" Byer continued, "It's good to watch other people fail."
Outside of Nailed It!, Byer seems to be everywhere right now — from a recent Netflix stand-up special, to voice acting on Netflix's animated series Tuca & Bertie, to guest spots on shows like NBC's The Good Place. She also hosts a variety of podcasts, including Why Won't You Date Me?, which centers around her dating life. Reflecting on the ways she has grown over the course of more than 80 episodes, Byer explained how making the podcast has encouraged her to feel "healthier," especially after having opportunities to communicate with people from her past. She continued, "I feel like I'm living out a couple of people's dreams to be able to ask someone, 'Seriously, why didn't you date me?' and then to have them give me an honest answer."
Similarly, Byer proudly relayed the benefits she has experienced from therapy, stating: "I love therapy. I talk about it a lot because I feel like, especially among black people, it's stigmatized." And for people who are interested in finding help but concerned about barriers, she insisted, "If there's a will there's a way."
Nicole Byer also played a round of Fact Bag — joined by host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton — about the history of the word "orange" and the latest scientific explanation for why zebras have stripes.