11:19am PT by Kate Stanhope
Nicole Byer on Working With White Exec Producers on Semi-Autobiographical Comedy: "The Key Is Listening"
Viewers of MTV's Girl Code already have a pretty good sense of who Nicole Byer is. The stand-up comedian has been become one of the breakout personalities on the unscripted series since it premiered in 2013.
However, now Byer is making the leap to scripted with her upcoming half-hour MTV comedy Loosely Exactly Nicole, which promises to reveal even about the comedienne.
"Most of it is based on my life," Byer told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "Almost every episode has a nugget from my life in it."
The series centers on Nicole, living in the San Fernando Valley and trying to achieve the Hollywood dream as she navigates friendships, relationships and more mundane topics like bills.
"The show came about because I kept being like, 'Give me a scripted show. I'm not going away, give it to me,'" Byer joked. However, there were a few bumps along the way to a series pickup, namely a scrapped pilot that "had a bunch of kids in it and I was like, 'No, thank you,'" she recalled. "Their novelty wears off so fast."
Executive producer Christian Lander, who wrote the original pilot, said the biggest problem was that Byer had to hold herself back in front of the children, since her mouth will "make a sailor blush," he said. "With kids around, we were going to handcuff that part of the show."
Joked Byer, "I can't tell you have many times I said, 'F—' in front of their faces."
On the second try, the executive producers — also including new showrunner Christine Zander — decided to base the series more on Byer's life.
"We were very lucky that we had Nicole in the room with us for breaking stories. … We were able to pull a lot from her life," said Lander. "Everything that Nicole's done has been pretty crazy, so it's very easy to pull from."
However, with two white executive producers sitting besides Byer on the panel, the questions arose about the ability of the writers room to accurately and truthfully depict the experiences of an African-American girl. Byer addressed the issue head-on: "They're very white, but they listen to me," she said, pointing to a particular upcoming episode about braids. "You don't know anything about braids," Byer said as she turned to the executive producers.
Another episode deals with the racist stereotypes Byer must face while auditioning in Hollywood — something she's discussed at length in her stand-up and on other platforms.
"I think listening was a key thing," she continued. "I don’t think you needed to be black people. We had two black writers so that …"
"And a small room," interjected Zander, who noted half consisted of African-American writers.
"So the blackness was trickling up," Byer joked.
She also praised her longtime network for its ability to listen, and allow the writers room to figure out the show. "MTV has been so supportive and so wonderful and they gave us these parameters that were so wide," Byer said. "It was so easy to be creative when there wasn’t anybody breathing down your neck."
The process is a far cry from the racist stereotypes Byer has faced in Hollywood through the years — something that she has discussed at length in her stand-up and on other platforms.
"There isn't really any different perspective ... it's just one, and it's 'sassy,'" she recalled of the struggle of the audition process as an African-American actress. On the panel, Byer recalled one casting director telling her to go black, and "If you go too black, I'll bring you back."
When asked whether she was embarrassed about anything she pulled from her life for the show, Byer had no regrets. "No, I'm OK," she said. "I've made a lot of mistakes and it's funny so I'm happy to share them."
Loosely Exactly Nicole is set to premiere Monday, Sept. 5, at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.