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After extensively touring in 2019, Nicole Byer thought she had her one-hour Netflix special all worked out. Then the pandemic hit, and a rewrite became inevitable.
“I tend to find a lot of humor in tragedy. That’s how I process trauma sometimes,” says Byer, who worked her COVID experience and the Black Lives Matter movement — among other subjects not always ripe for hilarity — into a surprisingly jubilant set. If the tone of Big Beautiful Weirdo (complete with Byer’s pole-dance intro dressed in a hamburger bikini) is pure exuberance, it is safe to say that the material was born out of a range of emotions. Sharing her bewilderment over the discourse between Byer and her white friends during the racial uprising turned out to be a unifying moment for her and the audience.
“I mentioned, off the cuff, that a bunch of white people kept texting me during the marches, asking me if I need anything. As I started traveling again and working out the hour, I would ask Black people in the crowd if it happened to them. I realized that wasn’t a monolith. That was a universal thing that was happening to a lot of Black people. Then I realized none of the guys I’ve ever hooked up with have reached out. That’s rude.”
But it is perhaps her encounter with a woman in Appleton, Wisconsin, whose intoxicated celebration of her birthday disrupted Byer’s set, that reflects the greatest evolution from anger to empowerment.
“White women truly are the most powerful when they have a birthday. And I was so angry that she thought it was OK to interrupt my show,” recalls Byer. “I hardly ever write anything from top to bottom, but I came home and wrote it. I don’t really love harping on sad shit or being too upset, but sometimes I’m my funniest when I’m angry. I get so angry about trivial things — but also important things.”
In the end, Byer feels she has come out with a special that feels very much like her. “I’m proud that I stuck to my guns,” she says. “The opening was expensive, but I think it really sets the stage for who I am. And I really like that I was able to juxtapose being beautiful with being weird and also being very funny, because I think women are often told to choose between funny, weird and beautiful. I wanted it to feel special and it felt special. [The Emmy nomination] is just recognition that my hard work paid off and it was as funny as I thought it was.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
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Robert De Niro