Nicole Byer, of MTV’s Girl Code fame, has appeared on Netflix’s Lady Dynamite, NBC’s 30 Rock and Fox’s Party Over Here. Her web series, Pursuit of Sexiness, co-stars Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata. Now Byer has an opportunity for something new: her own scripted series. Loosely Exactly Nicole is based loosely/exactly on the life of Byer herself, and the experience of writing and taping was truly grueling. I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Byer to talk about the experience, the highs and the lows, and what it is she really wants.
How did Loosely Exactly Nicole come to be?
This woman who used to work at MTV pitched a family comedy to me and I was like, “That sounds like fun.” So, we found a writer, Christian [Lander] to write the pilot. The plot was, basically, that I was kind of a mess, living in New York, and I accidentally start a fire in my apartment and then have to move in with my sister and all her kids. So then we wrote it, shot it, and then MTV was like, “This is more like Nicole in a situation as opposed to Nicole being a situation.” So then we scrapped the pilot and then started at zero. The writers would interview me and ask me questions about my life and I would tell them stories and then we would take a nugget from a story and then put some fiction in it. Or we would take a full story and turn it into an episode.
How long did this take to come together?
We shot the pilot last October, then I think we got the green light and went to series, maybe in December? I know I read packets through Christmas break. I think we had our room staffed in January and I believe we started writing in February. I think that timeline makes sense, February, March, April. And then we started shooting in May and we wrapped July 7th.
That’s a lot in a pretty short span of time.
You have no idea. We shot ten episodes in eight weeks, so we had three days per episode. Minimum ten hours a day, max sixteen-hour days. I would go home, drink two glasses of wine, learn my lines, go to sleep, wake up, go over my lines, and then try not to be more than fifteen minutes late… Because I’m late to everything.
What was it like playing a character that both is and isn’t you?
That’s an interesting question. Not hard. Sometimes I would get a note and I’d be like, “No, I disagree.” But then again, I’m not watching the monitors so I do have to trust my directors and producers, so that was a thing to let go, being like, “I know everything about this person!” I have to trust somebody, you have to. Unless I was going to direct, edit, and star in it, but I didn’t, I had other people around to help me. My showrunner was there for a reason. So then it was like “Yes, I have to take this note on that.” So yeah, I think that was a challenge.
Was there any point in which you were like “Actually you know what, maybe just forget this?”
Yeah, there was a couple sixteen-hour days where I was like, “I don’t think I want to do this. This is awful.” I had pitched a scene where I was running and I was like, “This will be funny.” We started shooting it and… Sometimes it’s not even you, it’s the camera’s fault that something happened, the angle wasn’t right, or something like that. There was one scene where I ran for like an hour. Action! Run, run, run, run. Action! Run, run, run, run, run. Things that you think are funny, then actually have to shoot are wildly different. Because you are like, “This will be funny.”
Right, but you can’t just bail because you’re already so committed to it.
Yeah, and then you write love scenes. I’ve never kissed someone on screen unless it was a joke. So then we wrote real things where I was kissing people and I was like, “This will be fun.” And then you’re like, “Hi, I don’t know you! I’m going to put my mouth on you. I’m going to put my mouth right on yours and try not to touch my teeth to yours.”
We had one day where we had to re-shoot the cold open for the first episode. This was well into shooting so they just tacked it on to the end of the day. So we got through everything from the day and then went to do the cold open where I had to act sweaty and tired and I really was sweaty and tired. So then acting sweaty and tired on top of being sweaty and tired, it was just like, “What are you doing?” What you think you’re doing is different than what’s happening. And they’re like, “We need you to have a little more energy.” And I was like, “I don’t have any energy.” But I needed some sort of energy. And then Jen [D’Angelo] came in for four hours and had so much energy and was saying funny things and having the time of her life. And I was like, “Everyone likes Jen more than me! I’m not funny!” Then they put glycerin on my face to make me look sweaty and I was wearing a wig and I had taken the wig off to go home. I didn’t wipe the glycerin off because I just wanted to go home. I was sobbing down the 101, I get to the gas station to buy cigarettes so I had kind of dried tear marks on my shiny, glycerin face, bald headed, and I was like, “Can I have a pack of cigarettes?” and the gas station attendant was like, “Are you okay?” And I was like, “What?” And she was like, “Are you okay?” And then I realized I was a shiny, bald crying person and I was like, “Oh, okay.”
Yeah, it was so silly! But when it was happening I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this.”
What are you looking forward to now that the first season is wrapped up?
Honestly, this has taken up so much of my time that I haven’t planned for anything. I’m hoping we have the same timeline so we’ll start again in February. So from now until February I’d like to book a movie or something. I’d like to book something fun. If you could make the headline of this interview be, “Nicole would like to book a movie,” that would be great.
Sure, just that? What about like a list of the top five things you’re looking for in your life right now.
Yes! A boyfriend, a movie, someone who can braid my hair whenever I need them to braid my hair. I need a hair stylist.
That had to be another level of confusion in the experience of taping everything. You’re focusing on all these elements that are features of your life but in reality time you’re putting all those things on hold.
It was interesting to play a character living a very full life where I was like, “I’m not doing good.” I truly go to work. I went to the writers room and maybe I do a show. I didn’t do anything. I was just tired. It’s a lot of hours. Also, nobody tells you that! I wish someone would have gently been like, “Hey Nicole, get on a treadmill before we start shooting. Not to lose weight, but just to have some stamina.” Because there was times where I was like, “I’m so tired. I don’t want to get up again. I want to sit forever.” It’s grueling. Shooting something is very grueling. I was in like ninety percent of the scenes, so I would learn eight pages a night. We shot like eight to ten pages a day. And I would learn eight to ten pages of dialogue every day. It was tough. I have a bad memory so I would have to learn it the night before. Jen D’Angelo, who plays my best friend, has a great memory. So she would come in easy breezy and I’d be like, “You know your lines?” She’d be like, “No. Give me ten minutes.” And then she’d come and she’d know them. And I was like, “I hate you. I truly hate you.” But yeah, she’s great. Everyone was so nice. Honestly, from my co-stars to the camera men to everybody. Everyone’s work relationship was wonderful.
What are you mostly hoping for the show?
I would really just love to do a second season. I had the most fun doing this show. I got to work with so many friends which is cool. One of my friends, Chioke [Nassor], wrote on it and then directed two episodes. It was really cool that we started from nowhere and now we work on a fucking TV show. It is wild that so many of my friends are doing so well. And it was nice to be able to include them in the show.
I assume at a certain point, once you start getting really productive with your comedy career, you start seeing your friends less, since you’re all off doing different things. So it’s probably nice to have an opportunity for everyone to get together. How long ago did you move out to LA?
I was in New York for eight years and I moved to LA… I think it was October 23rd, 2012. So I’ve been here for like four years. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s very weird because soon I’ll have been performing at UCB LA longer than I’ve been performing in New York. Which is crazy to me because New York is my home. Whenever I go to Chelsea, I’m like, “Home.” I love UCB Chelsea. There is, to me, no stage like it.
Do you feel like your life’s been more busy and hectic since you’ve been in LA or is it kind of the same since you’ve left New York?
Definitely more hectic since I moved to LA, because when I lived in New York it was when there wasn’t very much TV there. There was just 30 Rock and the late night shows when I lived here. Then when I moved, more things started shooting here and then Netflix became a network. They shoot stuff here now. But I’d gotten Girl Code as soon as I moved to LA, so I was going back and forth. I never truly settled in LA. I moved to LA and then became immediately bicoastal. Nobody ever knows where I am. I get texts all the time, they’re like, “where are you?”
The air between LA and New York is your home.
Sometimes I literally am in the air. I’m on a plane. I don’t know. I might be over Utah.
Anything else you want to add?
My type of man is six foot eight, has nice, kind eyes, a good soul, and a big ol’ dick. Also, please watch my show.
Loosely Exactly Nicole premieres Monday, September 5th at 10:30/9:30c on MTV.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes. If you’ve read this far you are legally required to follow him on Twitter.