A PEEK INSIDE HER AGENDA

Powerful women give us a peek into their agendas. Each woman embodies the no one ever slows her agenda motto in her industry.



A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Nicole Byer

Think about your all time favorite hero or heroine. Now think about what it might be like to know that person before they were insanely famous. This is how I feel about my afternoon with Nicole Byer, a very funny lady, improviser, and actress here in New York City. We met at a restaurant of her choosing off of 125th & Broadway called Toast. I arrived first and took my seat opposite the painted dancing monkeys on the wall.

Enter Nicole Byer.

Looking fabulously famous already, she sat down and we began our discussion talking a lot about the historic Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on 26th street, where Nicole is currently a performer for two very big nights for the theatre, Harold and Maude Night, every Tuesday and Mondays respectively. She also has her own improv team, Doppelganger, at the recently opened UCB venue in the East Village (cleverly referred to as The Beast). She performs here every Wednesday at 8pm with two other up-and-coming improvisers, Keisha Zollar and Shasheer Zamata.

At UCB, where I myself am currently enrolled as an improv student, teachers tell you not to watch Nicole Byer because only she can do what she does, but even then I can’t help but admire the confidence. Whether she’s randomly doing a crab walk across the stage (an act that involves your WHOLE body) or convincing a group of people to not save a “shitty kid” who’s just been kidnapped, she’s always having fun, she’s always fully engaged, and she’s always listening, which in improv makes everyone else on stage look like a genius, but it’s always Nicole who comes out on top as the gutsy one. OR maybe it’s the fact that she’s the first black woman to appear on a Harold Team– in the theatre’s 14 year history– and it’s nice to see someone who looks like me making it in this industry. Whatever the case, I admire her greatly even though she breaks the rules. While that might get someone stuck between the steady (amateur) learners and the master class performers, Nicole nails something on stage you wouldn’t expect. Being real.

So Nicole, Where are you from and how did you get into comedy?
I’m from New Jersey. And the way I got into comedy is kind of a long story.

I’m ready for it.
Well my dad wanted me to go to Rutgers, I wanted to go to school in New York and become a famous actress. I was always thinking, “I’m gonna be on broadway!” And my mother really pushed me to do theatre in high school so I had this notion that I was gonna [move] to the city and become this famous person. I went to AMDA (The American Musical Dramatic Academy), but the week before I was supposed to go, I saw a play called “Taboo” and this guy in the box office was like SCAMDAAAAAA. I ended up going and it turned out it’s not a scam, but it’s a bunch of 18 year olds running around the city with no parents. So I graduated from AMDA in 06. Messed around from 06-08, got myself 20 grand in credit card debt in a year so the next logical step was to get married! I got married in March 07 and divorced in March 08 at which point I applied to be an intern at the PIT (People’s Improv Theatre). They turned me down and I just went to UCB. I don’t know why I didn’t just take classes at the PIT, but I took improv 101 and my dad died while I was doing that.

Wow. How has that effected you as a performer?
Well my mother died while I was in a play in high school so performing literally saved my life.

What is improv?
I think I’m stealing this from someone, but it’s like throwing diamonds in the ocean. It’s so weird and the feeling you get… Sometimes I forget that I’m just making it up. Improv’s insane. Sketch is harder because sometimes you have to sell a sketch that you don’t think is funny.

Speaking of funny. Were you always funny? Can you be taught how to be funny?
You can be taught the mechanics of being funny, but I don’t think you can teach charisma. You can’t teach someone to be a Chris Farley or a Will Ferrell, I think they’re born with that. Or even a Jimmy Fallon! He used to break all the time on SNL, but he was breaking because he was having fun! I love that.
And I don’t know if I was always funny, but I like to laugh so I say things that would make me laugh. I think I’ve always been that way.

Now your improv group, Doppelganger [consisting of fellow UCB improvers Sasheer Zamata and Keisha Zoller] How did you all get started?
Anywhere we could do shows we would. We beat an improv team at UCB in a show called Cagematch. We actually are starting a webseries soon!

And what’s that going to be called?
The Pursuit of Sexiness. My character is kind of happy go lucky, her {Sasheer] character is a curmudgeon, we basically play ourselves.

How far along is production?
We just have to finish filming them!

Who has influenced you the most?
My mom. And Whoopi Goldberg!

Why Whoopi Goldberg?
(without skipping a beat) I love her. If my career resembles anything she’s done, I’m happy. I can watch Sister Act till the cows come home. I’ve seen Ghost at least a thousand times. I love Ghost.

Ok and what about your mom?
Mom because she was just a good person. She loved laughing. She would say things that I would be like, ‘You just said that cause you wanted to laugh!’ And I’m a selfish person and she wasn’t selfish.

What!? Give me ONE example…
I don’t know! My room mate does things for me all the time and I just yell at her.

That doesn’t make you selfish! I do that to!
Then that makes you selfish, Lauren.

Oh…. Anyway…
Would you say you have a philosophy? Words of wisdom to live by in approaching the entertainment industry?
The worse thing someone can say to you is no and even then it’s not no, it’s just not right now… especially in this industry. AND always be a good person. Always be nice to everyone you meet because you don’t know where people are going to end up.

Is there anything you don’t like about industry?
When it’s not fun. When it’s not working.

What’s up next for you?*
The webseries. Doppelganger. I’ll keep shooting commercials and going to auditions. I think something big’s gonna happen soon, which is so weird to say out loud, but good s**t’s coming to me.

Ah! That’s wonderful! What makes you say that?
My dad use to tell me, ‘If 3 people tell you something, it must be true.’ He was referencing that I’m loud, but enough people have told me ‘you’re going to end up somewhere’ so that I believe them and I believe in myself.

*Between the interview and the publishing of this article, Nicole had a speaking role on NBC’s 30 Rock opposite Tina Fey in the episode “Grandmentor.”

For more information on Nicole’s current shows go to:
http://east.ucbtheatre.com/talent/view/13058

For reservations/tickets to Doppelganger visit: http://east.ucbtheatre.com/shows/view/2609

Lauren Clark

About Lauren Clark

Lauren is a comedy writer currently studying improvisation and sketch writing at the Upright Citizens Brigade and The People’s Improv Theatre. She lives in Harlem and enjoys talking about herself in the third person. Probably enjoys it a little too much.
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