Nicole Byer knows that she gets what she deserves—and she wants everyone else to remember that, too.
This unflinching sentiment is part of Byer's philosophy when it comes to carving out a place for yourself in the crowded comedy scene, a space where Black women are not often made to feel welcome and supported. It's also probably why Women Write Now, a writing fellowship intent on cultivating a new generation of Black women, tapped Byer to helm one of their 2022 fellows' short films.
For its second year, the Women Write Now program—presented by Kevin Hart's Hartbeat, the Sundance Institute, and Chase Sapphire—selected three writers to develop and produce their scripts into shorts, which would eventually premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Writers Mayanna Berrin, Kiana Butler Jabangwe, and Danielle Solomon were paired with three guest directors: Nicole Byer, Logan Browning, and Tika Sumpter. Byer took on Berrin's script and, together, the duo created the raucously funny Power Dynamics, which chronicles the office antics that ensue after a moonlighting dominatrix is hired as her sub's executive assistant.
The short showcases the magic that can happen when an established force like Byer is paired with a fresh-faced novice like Berrin, who came up with the idea for the script after writing a fanfiction based on her own experience working as an executive assistant. In many ways, Women Write Now is about facilitating those kinds of relationships between industry newcomers and comedy authorities, building an infrastructure of resources and connections that's often missing for any non-white cis-heterosexual man who wants to pursue a career in this ferocious business.
Byer knows all about that show biz ferocity. She hosts multiple reality competition shows and podcasts (she's best known for hosting Nailed It and Why Won't You Date Me?), stars in NBC sitcom Grand Crew, launched her stand-up Netflix special Big Beautiful Weirdo, has landed cameos in award-winning shows like The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and made Emmy history as the first Black woman nominated in the category of Host for a Reality or Competition Program. And, of course, with Power Dynamics, she's now a certified director.
Her advice for someone who's just starting out? "Always ask for more money and nobody knows you don't know what you're doing. Fake it till you make it," she tells BAZAAR.com this past weekend after Sundance's Women Write Now screening. "I don't understand imposter syndrome. If you're in the same room, that means you did something to get there. So, just keep doing what you're doing. Women have a lot of imposter syndrome because we're told that we don't belong in spaces, but if I got in the room, obviously I belong." She admits, "It's easier said than done, but I think we all need to be a little delusional."
It's an attitude that Berrin shares. "People like Nicole are at the forefront of getting people's heads wrapped around [the idea that] Black people, Black women are funny," she says. "Give them jobs, give them opportunities. They can write, they can direct, they can act, they can do so many things. Open the door."
But, getting into the room is just the first step. The next, Byer says, is to give Black women access into the channels that will allow them to further advance their careers. "There's a huge gap between low level [and] high level [writers]," she says. "You open the door and then you don't let them to the staircase. So they have to stay in the kitchen or in the basement? It's like, help us get up to the [executive producer] level."
To her fans, it might not come as a surprise that Power Dynamics is likely just the start of Byer's directorial career. Though she previously co-directed shorts with comedy theater Upright Citizens Brigade, she jokes that this was her "first time directing something with a budget."
The experience reaffirmed her confidence in herself as a director; on set, she often encouraged her cast to improvise, finding the humor between the tension of latex and ball gag necklaces versus nine-to-five suits and PowerPoint slideshows. "I just like being on set. I like finding different things in the moment," Byer explains.
In the meantime, Byer is still busy blazing her own trail. "It sounds like I'm on my high horse, but it's nice to be recognized for my comedy. [With Women Write Now], it was nice to just be recognized that I've done so much that it's like, 'Well, why not have a little bit of nepotism happen where we slide you in and let you direct and teach you how to do it? Why not?'" she says. "Through this, I learned truly so much that, if I were to direct something, I would know exactly what I would want. I would know exactly what to do. That being said, it is kind that people think of me as a person who's done a lot. 'Cause sometimes you lose sight of what you've actually done."
"And please give her an Emmy already," Berrin adds. "My god."
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