For W’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
If there’s any star who could use a twin to share her workload, it’s Nicole Byer. Ever since her turn as a talking head on MTV’s GirlCode the comedian and actress has been seemingly everywhere. She’s landed guest spots on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, launched the popular podcasts Why Won’t You Date Me? With Nicole Byer and Best Friends With Nicole Byer & Sasheer Zamata, and voiced characters in The Bob’s Burgers Movie and Tuca & Bertie. Now she’s starring in Peacock’s Grand Crew and the disaster baking series Nailed It! for which she’s been nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition program three years in a row. This year, she also received an outstanding writing nod for Nicole Byer: BBW: Big Beautiful Weirdo, her first solo comedy special now streaming on Netflix. Meanwhile, off-screen, she continues to perform stand-up live. Here, the busy 35 year old opens up about how she balances her many projects, gender parity in the comedy scene, and why talking about sex shouldn’t be taboo.
In the 1990s, there were so many Black sitcoms, from Martin to Living Single. With shows like Grand Crew, do you feel like we are entering a new era of Black sitcoms?
It is kind of wild that the ’90s did have a plethora of Black sitcoms. Friends is a rip-off of Living Single. I think that happens in television a lot. People of color set trends, and then those trends get co-opted. I'm hoping this time around, there are Black shows, and then they let us be Black. Like, I don't want to see the white Insecure, you know what I mean? Not to say that I don't want to see a white show, because yes, gimme some messy white ladies! I love The Flight Attendant. I just think that there's room for everybody at the table.
Your Grand Crew character, Nicky can’t get enough of the single life and you’ve said she was basically written for you. How would you describe Nicky in three words?
Professional, sexy, and fun.
How about Nicole in three words?
Goofy, cute, and hardworking.
Where did your love of comedy and performing come from?
That came in junior or sophomore year of high school. My mom was like, “You talk a lot; why don’t you try out for the play?” Everyone got a part, but we did short one-acts by Christopher Durang. I did one called DMV Tyrant, and people laughed in rehearsals at first, until they saw it enough and stopped laughing. But on opening night, in front of a lot of friends, family, and parents, I remember saying my first line and getting this huge eruption of laughter. I was like, I control this audience! I make them laugh with the words I say! That was eye-opening and addictive.
On Grand Crew, your character and her friends drink a lot of wine. What’s your wine of choice?
If I’m with the boys, I like Lambrusco. It’s a sparkling red. If I’m alone or not with the boys, I’ll have a rosé. Lately, I’ve been liking orange wine, but not too funky—just a nice skin-contact orange.
The comedy scene has historically skewed toward men, but in the past decade, more women and even nonbinary comedians are booking larger stages. How have you seen things change in the industry?
I’ve had jobs where—and I’ve talked to other female-identifying people about this—we’re hired, but then they’re like, Bring it back. Then the dude in the scene gets to be the wackadoodle one. Why am I being pulled back? We’re getting more opportunities, but I still think that comedy is a boys club. The gatekeepers are men; the power producers are usually men. But you have Three Busy Debras, which is three women who are so fucking weird and funny. Patti Harrison is crushing it. Ziwe is killing it. You have a lot of young women who are doing weird shit, which is exciting.
You appeared on Ziwe’s show as a guest. What was that like?
I was watching Ziwe’s Instagram interviews, and I loved them so much. I started following her and asked her to do [my podcast] Why Won’t You Date Me? I just loved her so much, and I couldn't figure her out. I was like, Is this a character or is this her? But she’s really wonderful and sweet. Being on the show is funny, because I know the game—whatever you say, she can flip it around and make you look bad. I went in with that mindset. I was a little nervous, but we ultimately had a really fun time.
Speaking of Why Won’t You Date Me?, have you always been so open about dating and sex?
I love telling people my business. I'll meet you one time, and I'll tell you everything. I don't think sex and sexual experiences are mysterious. I don’t think it happens to one person and nobody else has a similar experience. It’s a shared experience; it’s relatable.
For this portfolio, you’ve chosen to portray Michelle Tanner from Full House. Why did you pick that character?
Initially, I wanted to do the baby from Dinosaurs, but that’s a lot of makeup. Then I thought of Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development. But I really loved Michelle Tanner growing up! My middle name is Michelle, and I would tell people that I was Michelle Tanner from Full House. A lot of nice adults just nodded their heads at me. I was a full-ass Black child being like, I’m a white child on television. I grew up loving the Olsen twins, and I owned every single one of their VHS movies. I watched The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley. Michelle Tanner is an icon. From baby to youth, a fucking fashion icon, always in overalls and pigtails.
Did you dress like her as a child?
Not really. We had to shop in the clearance section, and there was never any cute Michelle Tanner–looking stuff on clearance.
Baby Sinclair from Dinosaurs would have been wild.
The show is a full-blown fever dream. What the fuck was the pitch? “We just get a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs, and they're a working-class family.” And then someone was like, “Yeah, let's do that.” TV is still fucking bonkers, and I love it.
You also host Netflix’s Nailed It! How are your baking skills these days?
I can make a pound cake. I can follow directions and make chocolate chip cookies, but not really. I don’t like cleaning up in the kitchen—if someone else can clean it up, then I’m happy.
You've got your comedy special on Netflix, several podcasts, and you host more than one reality TV series. That's a lot. How do you balance it all?
I am technically constantly doing something. But I stack my podcasts and record a bunch in a row, then slowly release them. I'm not always recording them. With Why Won’t You Date Me?, people say, “It doesn’t feel like we’re keeping up with your life.” I'm like, well, nothing is going on in my life. I'm not dating right now!
What are you most looking forward to for season 2 of Grand Crew?
I don't want to spoil it if you haven't seen it, but there are three cliff-hangers, and I'm so excited to wrap them up. I pitched something with my character that I hope happens to her. There’s a character she interacted with whom I hope we see again.
Hair by Moira Frazier and makeup by Jen Fregozo.