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The creative freedom of Nicole Byer

Byer’s television version of herself makes terrible decisions — hooray for that

Nicole Byer is not here to be your stand-in for black women the world over. She’s here to be her, to speak and act and to tell her truth, and hopefully you’ll smile. Byer is the Nicole in Loosely Exactly Nicole, the new scripted MTV show based, well, loosely around the nutty happenings in Byer’s own life. Previously, she was a fan favorite on MTV’s Girl Code, an unscripted comedic series about the oddities of ladyhood. At a time when so much television is created with the aim of baiting the think-piece industrial complex, Byer doesn’t care about that. Glean what you glean, and write what you write, but look — it ain’t that deep.

I just wanted to make the funniest show possible. I just want to make people laugh, I don’t really have a message. I just want to be funny. I did a lot of stupid stuff that, when I made the choice, seemed like the best choice. Then, when I tell people about it and they’re like, ‘That’s crazy. That’s funny and that’s very crazy. Why would you do that?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know. To me, there was no other option.’ When I make choices, it doesn’t ever seem like it’s going to be funny until it’s done. I married an … Indian man for money because I got myself $30,000 in debt in a year and the only logical thing, for me, was to marry someone for money. They could have a green card and I would be paid. That is like a weird thing that nobody would think of but that was the only thing that I thought of. I never thought of getting a better job, or getting two jobs, or trying to actually talk to my dad about it. I was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get married. Obviously.’

People want to put you in their little box of what they think black is. They’ll ask you to be sassy, or more urban, or edgier, more street, more ‘hood, then you have to turn it on. Yeah, it happened a lot. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but also I can read what they want … Why does every casting director feel like all black people sound alike? Why, when you watch movies, do most Indian people have accents? I know a bunch of Indian people who don’t have accents, who were first-generation Americans whose parents have accents but they don’t. It feels wild to have my own show with my name in it. Last night, I was going through on-demand and the show came up and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s a thing. It’s a thing in the world.’ It feels insane. It feels crazy. It feels good, though.

I think the only thing about being a woman of color and having my own show is people are like, ‘It’s crazy that there are so many people of color with television shows and this is an interesting thing that’s happening.’ To me, it’s not ‘a thing that’s just happening.’ We went back. There were so many shows with black people back in the day, in the ’90s. There were so many shows when I was growing up and then they just trickled away. I want to know what happened. That’s what I actually want to know. After The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Sister, Sister, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper and Living Single, what happened? Martin. Why did they all go away? The Jamie Foxx Show, A Different World. It doesn’t make sense as to why they all went away.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the senior culture critic for Andscape. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts and literature. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on Black life.