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Perfection isn’t the goal for Nicole Byer and ‘Nailed It!’

Nicole Byer, host of the baking competition show "Nailed It!"
Nicole Byer hosts Netflix’s “Nailed It!,” a baking competition with less than perfect contestants.
(NETFLIX/Netflix)

An acting teacher once told Nicole Byer she would never have a career because her “face was too expressive.” That person’s bitter remark couldn’t have been more mistaken. The effortlessly charismatic Byer recently received her second consecutive Emmy nomination as host of the competition show “Nailed It!” after having been the first Black woman ever nominated in the category last year.

Five regular seasons, plus two holiday spin-offs into the unpretentious bake-off show where perfectionism isn’t one of the ingredients, Byer finds replenishing excitement in her banter with French co-host Jacques Torres, a renowned pastry chef, and the eclectic contestants that populate the Netflix program’s chaotic kitchen.

“I get to meet three new people every day. The framework of the show doesn’t change, but the interactions change, the challenges change,” she says in a recent interview. “That keeps it super fresh and fun.” From the latest season where bakers came in pairs, dubbed “Nailed It! Double Trouble,” her favorite participants were two hilarious and stylish drag queens: Selma Nilla and Lagoona Bloo.

Helming reality television didn’t figure among the opportunities Byer originally sought out. Stand-up comedy and acting have always been her prime sources of artistic fulfillment. But when “Nailed It” came her way, she was honest about her lack of experience and learned on the job. “When people are like ‘fake it till you make it,’ that’s truly what I did,” she says.

Guided by the “yes and” philosophy of improv troupes, which demands the performer takes a piece of information from a scene partner and builds on it, Byer’s method to her role relies on spur-of-the-moment reactions. That spontaneity is not only pivotal for the enjoyment of those watching at home but for everyone on set who stands on the sidelines for the couple hours it takes the amateur dessert-makers to complete their challenging tasks.

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Ultimately, the worse the results, the more comedy she can mine. “If it tastes terrible, that’s good for me because now I have something to comment on,” she says. “If something is wonderful and good, that’s what it is. It’s wonderful and good. What else can I say about it?”

Still, the experience hasn’t increased her interest in baking, or cooking in general. Byer does, however, consider herself a competitive person, so if she ever found herself on the other side of the judges table vying for the trophy, she is certain she’d win.

Such infectious confidence transcends her professional facet, and when other women asked her how they could feel the same, she put together a tongue-in-cheek book titled “#VeryFat #VeryBrave: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being #Brave and Not a Dejected, Melancholy, Down-in-the-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl in a Bikini.” The bombastically titled tome released in 2020 mostly comprises pictures of her in a bikini with empowering humor.

Beyond the frosted realm of her breakout streaming hit, Byer has consistently found work voicing animated characters in series such as “Tuca & Bertie” or the revamped “Rugrats,” more recently in the animated feature “Vivo” (on Netflix). Her aspirations for the near future include acting in films and scripted episodic content.

“I just want to keep making people laugh truly,” she says. “I just want a career that spans a very long time, and then I can retire and buy a yacht!”

Byer hopes that the recognition for “Nailed It!” opens the door for others who wish to take a more casual, less buttoned up, approach to hosting. “I’m not a very uptight person. I present the show in a way that I would want to watch a show being presented to me where it’s like, ‘Wow, this host seems like she’s having a very nice time,” she adds.

The ongoing popularity of the show, now a fan-favorite concept with iterations in half a dozen countries, continues to surpass Byer’s notions of success.

For the candid Emmy nominee, the resonance the project has had with audiences is the poignant reward for her work. People often reach out to tell her it’s the only show everyone in the family can agree to watch while spending time together. “Honestly, that’s heartwarming and really f— cute,” she says. Part of the appeal, she believes, is that beneath the laughs lies a message of personal acceptance despite failure.

“We should normalize not being good at everything. I feel like on social media, we all try to present that we are the crème de la crème of whatever. But honestly, it’s kind of fun to not be incredible at something that you enjoy doing,” Byer notes. “I like pole dancing. I’m not great at it, but it brings me joy. I like seeing the progress. It’s fun. If you burn things in the oven sometimes, but you enjoy the process and maybe you do it with a significant other or your kids, the whole journey is better than the product. People are missing out on just enjoying life.”


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