Food & Culture

Nicole Byer on hecklers, baking fails and sweet memories of pizza

The comedian and Nailed It! host talks cake, chicken, and what it's like to work at a restaurant that featured on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.)

By Lee Tran Lam
Comedian and Nailed It! host Nicole Byer.
What did you eat while growing up in New Jersey?
My mother used to make macaroni and cheese and it's my favourite to this day. We only got it at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Didn't you wait tables early in your career?
I waited tables at an Indian restaurant that had a performance space. Sometimes there'd be drag shows, sometimes there'd be comedy shows.
Wasn't it on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares?
It was. My old roommate is in the episode.
Did it deserve to be on the show?
Yeah, it was one of the most disgusting restaurants I've ever been in. It was so gross. You'd pull apart the coffee machine and cockroaches would crawl out. The cooks would drop food on the floor, put it back on the plate and send it right out. It has since closed.
What inspired you to take up comedy?
I've always liked doing comedy, but watching dudes talk terribly about women, I was like, "oh, I think I'm funny enough to be on a stage as well." I started doing improv first and then found my way to stand-up.
Was there an early gig that you celebrated in a memorable way?
Not really. Most of comedy is, "We had a bad show, let's drink." You kind of drink a lot.
Some comedians find that their work can help them through tragedies. Is this something you can relate to?
Yes. I started doing improv when my dad died, so it was nice to think, "okay, for three hours a week, I don't have to be me and I don't have to deal with this. I can go improvise and pretend to be a whale."
Did you share one last good meal with your dad?
The day before he died, we ate pizza. He bought minced beef, because I like minced beef the way he made it on pizza. It was a nice night, it was really sweet.
What has been a highlight of your comedy career so far?
Selling out is cool and wonderful. In Portland, I did seven sold-out shows. In DC, I did six sold-out shows. Whenever you do a sold-out show or weekend, you feel really accomplished. It hasn't all been in vain. You eat shit a lot during your career and when you do six sold-out shows you feel great.
Dealing with hecklers is a common when you're a comedian. I hear you had to put up with a guy yelling about chicken recently?
People are always screaming at me. I think he thought I said "real chicken", but I said "grilled chicken". And he was like, "all chicken's real chicken". Then I realised he was really drunk, and I told him he had to leave. He was wearing a Christmas sweater that had a pocket for his beer. So I said, "stand up, let's see your sweater." So he stood up, he twirled around. And I said, "perfect, you're standing. Now get out!"
On Nailed It!, the Netflix baking show that you judge, you've seen many spectacular cake fails. What have been some memorable disasters?
There was an episode called "Nicole at the Pole", where the contestants had to make cakes with me on them; a woman named Lynette made the grossest-looking thing. A man put salt in the cake instead of sugar, that was pretty awful to have in my mouth. A lot of the things that people make are truly outstanding.
Is salt or eggshell the worst thing that's ended up in a Nailed It! cake?
Salt. Salt is very jarring and terrible.
The baking challenges that contestants face on Nailed It! are so technically complex that it's comical – whether it's producing an active-volcano cake or creating an edible version of Michelangelo's David. Was there a challenge that was unbelievably hard for people to attempt?
They're all pretty difficult. I wouldn't do it, but every time I watch people try it, I think, "this will be bad!"
Acclaimed chef Jacques Torres is a fellow judge. Have you learnt any good cooking tips from him?
Personally, I like to add a little more of everything, which isn't a tip he's given me. When you add a little bit more, you make it your own. Jacques says, "no, Nicole, you have to follow the directions."
What's a highlight from your previous visits to Australia?
Honestly, I ate a lot of chicken nuggets and French fries. I stayed at a hotel opposite the Sydney Opera House and they had the best chicken nuggets and French fries. I kept ordering.
You have a podcast called Why Won't You Date Me?. Have you ever dined somewhere unusual for a romantic encounter?
Yeah, I went to the Burbank airport to eat at Guy Fieri's restaurant. I love Guy Fieri and the man I was dating liked him as well, so I suggested that we find one of his restaurants. Then I did some research and realised he only has one in LA and it's at the Burbank airport. I asked my date if he wanted to go and he said, "Sure." Honestly, it was a lovely time, it was a great date. We went to a tiki bar afterwards; it was wonderful.
So not all airport food is bad.
Not when Guy Fieri is there.
Nicole Byer hosts Nailed It! on Netflix.
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  • undefined: Lee Tran Lam